A job-share – where two employees share a full-time workload – is a great way of overcoming the challenge of retaining full-time cover while accommodating the needs of people seeking reduced hours.
The majority of job-shares are created when a woman returns from maternity leave wanting to work part-time and her employer is keen to retain her skills. Over the years I’ve come across many very successful job-shares and a few disasters. In my experience the key lies in thorough preparation, mutual, mutual trust and compatibility.
Consider how the sharers will manage tasks. Some roles – for example those in L&D or Policy – can more readily be split as two ‘portfolios’ with each sharer having her own areas of responsibility. For a Business Partner role where managers often expect immediate support this is less likely to work. In this case the two sharers need to ensure a thorough handover process is in place so that each is ready to tackle whatever arises on the days she is in the office.
How will they manage the handover? This can vary depending on both employer and sharer preferences. For example, some organisations build in an hour or so when both sharers are in the office together. Where this is not possible sharers will often schedule a specific time for a telephone handover. Just the other day Harriet and Jane met a job-share couple who use a google share drive (others are available!), visible to both with instant updates as to what’s been done and next steps. Another option could be to note down the things your partner needs to know in a handover book. In an age of technology that may appear a little antiquated, but it seems to me that writing things down as they happen may actually prove more effective. The pace of work is fast and relentless. Relying on your memory when you get to the handover period could be risky.
How will they ensure clients receive a ‘seamless’ service? The most successful arrangements share a generic email address – for example: Head of HR Policy – and whoever is in the office responds. A comprehensive handover (discussed above) will also ensure that both sharers are able to resolve issues as they arise. Even where the work is being done on a ‘portfolio’ basis it’s a good idea for both sharers to have some familiarity with the work of their partner so they can step in should an emergency arise.
If they are to work together successfully then sharers must trust each other’s professional capability, judgement and common sense. This may be easier said than done – particularly where one partner is about to share her job. The key is to accept your colleague may have a different approach or outlook. That’s not to say it’s better or worse, it may simply not be the way you would have resolved something.
A second aspect of trust involves the sharers’ manager. He must feel comfortable that both partners will pull their weight and make every effort to ensure the job-share is a success. In my experience this is rarely an issue where professionals are involved. But it is a reason why part of evaluating the performance of sharers should be to consider how well the share is working.
Finally we come to the issue of compatibility. A job-share is most likely to be successful where the two partners are at the same stage in their career; preferably sharing career aspirations and ambitions. Indeed in my working life I’ve come across one or two where the partners have matched each other so successfully they’ve built their entire career as a job-share – all the way to director level.
Anna Meller is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and one of the UK’s leading experts in re-balancing work. https://www.linkedin.com/in/annameller/