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Job shares bring many benefits for both employers and employees – from having two people’s experience in one role to a better work life balance. But what are the challenges for those taking them on, particularly in senior roles, and what is it like managing a job share?
Melissa Case and Nicola Hewer have been doing a jobs share since last April and have just recently taken on a new role.
Having been Deputy Directors, Victims and Witnesses Policy at the Ministry of Justice, they have taken on a new role in the Victims and Criminal Procedures Policy team. It’s a sideways move rather than a promotion, but they say it has brought probably their biggest challenge to date as a job share. “It’s meant making new relationships and sharing those,” says Melissa.
Before last year, Melissa and Nicola had never done a job share. They had both worked in several roles at the Ministry of Justice before and had come into contact with each other in in the past. Both came back from their first maternity leave around the same time and both worked part time in overlapping teams. They found this fairly unsatisfactory and had ended up, like many part-time workers, working on their days off, feeling they were not giving their children their full attention.
They felt torn between work and family roles. “If people were having problems on the days I wasn’t there and they were things only I as their manager could deal with I felt I was letting them down and I also felt I was letting my children down if I had to respond to work issues at home,” says Nicola.
They had their second children around the same time and Melissa then took a three-year career break. Nicola went back to work after a year of maternity leave, but kept in touch with Melissa. It helped that they live within four roads of each other. Indeed their sons are in the same class at school. “We had talked about a job share part jokingly before,” says Melissa. “We then started talking about it seriously.”
Nicola was looking to reduce her hours. She had worked compressed hours before she had children and worked part time four days a week after they were born. She wanted to be the person picking her children up from school for some part of the week. “Having two children and one of school age slightly tipped the difficult balancing act between work and home into something I didn’t feel happy with,” says Nicola. She had researched job shares before she considered one with Melissa and had started the process of finding one. “A big selling point of job shares was that someone else could be me on the days I was not at work so I could be mum on the days I was at home,” she says.
Melissa and Nicola started the job share last April and line manage 10 people. At the time they didn’t know anyone else doing a job share, but there are now an increasing number across the Ministry of Justice as a whole. They say there is a lot of support within the Civil Service for job sharing, including cross-Whitehall initiatives to promote job shares through conferences and the development of an online job share finder platform that was launched last year.
Melissa adds that knowing Nicola before they started the job share helped save time. They knew each other’s work styles and skills and knew that they shared similar values. “We could hit the ground running,” she says. That meant they could talk frankly about some of the challenges quite easily and early on.
Nicola adds that a lot of the language around job shares is similar to a marriage. She thinks that can put people off because they think it has to be a perfect fit. She says that isn’t necessary, though.
She and Melissa spoke to another job share partnership before they started to see what the main challenges were and had a couple of sessions before they began, sitting down and working out how the job would be split – how they would run their inbox, how they would do handovers and how they would manage staff. They decided to review this regularly.
They have a joint inbox and a joint diary which makes for a seamless service for those contacting them. They do not look at the inbox on their days off. The only thing that isn’t joint is their phone numbers.
Their original plan has broadly worked, but there have been some tweaks. They have added in handover calls on a Sunday night rather than just a handover note which Melissa does on a Friday night. They feel they can get more about the subtleties of meetings or office politics over in a call than in a note.
Nicola does a handover note on Tuesdays and they try to have a catch-up meeting on Wednesdays when they both overlap.
“We put quite a lot of effort into the handover,” says Melissa, “but that is the price you pay for the benefits of a job share. It’s definitely worth it.”
Challenges and benefits
Melissa and Nicola have opted to jointly manage everyone and alternate one to ones with notes being written up for the job share partner who is not present. Appraisals have been trickier. They tried with both of them present, but this has had mixed success.
Melissa and Nicola feel there are definite benefits to their employer of job shares. They have different strengths and weaknesses, for instance, and their employer gets the benefit of two people’s experience. Nicola adds that it is good to have someone who you can share opinions and views with over issues such as staffing, someone who might provide a different perspective or just someone to support your view.
Another benefit is that when one of the job share partners goes on holiday, the other is still around so there is continuity and the holidaying partner doesn’t come back to a mound of emails. That doesn’t mean they can’t take time off at the same time since if it was one person doing the job full time they would be away for whole weeks at a time, but they don’t tend to.
Melissa adds that having two people sharing the job allows them to do more. “We are more than the sum of our parts,” she states. “We can do more and we both feel more refreshed than if it was just one of us doing the role full time. It gives you time to reflect more.”
Melissa and Nicola’s line manager is Stephen Muers, Director of Criminal Justice Policy. He had never managed a job share before Melissa and Nicola, but he now manages two, making up half of his direct reports. He says he was really keen on the idea because having two people in a post instead of one brings different skills and perspectives as well as a second pair of eyes. Plus it is a great personal development tool in terms of the kind of communication and other skills job sharing requires. It is also good for retaining talented staff, he says.
He says the trickiest part of the job share has been communicating to staff how personal talks would be handled, but he says this has been managed well. He sees no reason why Melissa and Nicola shouldn’t be promoted to an even more senior position as part of a job share and cites a similar case where a job share partnership got promoted in the Treasury.
Stephen himself works flexibly – a nine-day fortnight – due to childcare issues and says he is “attuned to the pressures”. He would like to see more men working flexibly and considering job shares.
In both cases the job share partners came to him with an outline of how the partnership would work. Both work slightly differently, but they both have an overlap day in the office on Wednesdays so it made sense for Stephen to move team meetings to that day.
Although the Ministry pays for six days per role rather than five, Stephen thinks it is good value for money. “What they achieve adds up to more than six days,” he says. He adds that there have not yet been any communication or other problems. “They all put a lot of effort in to make sure it works,” he says. “From my point of view it’s a roaring success.”