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Why now is the time for senior job shares

Mandy GarnerWhen Visa in Europe was advertising the post of Director of Talent, Pippa Edwards, who was a Talent Manager, was interested in the role, but was keen not to work full time. She spoke to her manager who said: “Have you considered a job share?” “In that one sentence everything changed for me,” says Pippa who has four children. “I started to believe I could have my cake and eat it.” The role is the next step up the rung for her as it encompasses talent acquisition, management and development.

Vicki Mawson was working full time as the Talent Acquisition Director at L’Oréal and was on maternity leave after having her third child when she was headhunted for the Visa job. She had been at L’Oréal for almost 14 years, was ready for a new career adventure but needed more flexibility in order to continue to have a fulfilling career and be the type of mum she wanted to be.

With support from their line manager and from the top of the company, Vicki and Pippa began working a job share, hitting it off straight away and carefully talking through the logistics. They say having two people doing the role means they can bounce ideas off each other and share the challenges, which means they are more self-sufficient. “There is great comfort in someone else having my interests at heart as we are both measured by the same objectives,” says Vicki.

Both agree that two heads are better than one for the employer too. Vicki adds:

“You get a depth of expertise that you would not have with one person when you consider our combined years of experience.”

Workingmums.co.uk can vouch for that. Our marketing managers, Annika Williams and Arline Okin, operate a job share, which means we get double the expertise as they have strengths in different areas as well as cover throughout the year and greater productivity from people coming to work refreshed because they don’t work full-time hours.

Despite the obvious benefits, however, job shares, particularly in senior roles, are still relatively rare. For that reason, in 2018, we awarded our Top Employer Award for Flexible Working to Civil Service Resourcing for its pioneering work on job shares through the Civil Service Job Share Finder service.

Brian Stanislas was tasked with setting up the online job-share database to help civil servants across the service find compatible job share matches. Working collaboratively with the Civil Service Job Share and Alternative Working Network (now the Civil Service Flexible Working Network), the project had senior level support from the offset.

Brian says: “From concerns about the ageing population to returners to career changers to the gender pay gap and dads, there is more and more interest in flexible working and job shares provide a solution to the problem of going to the top without being full time.”

The benefits of that pioneering work are not just limited to the Civil Service. They are spreading best practice and some of those who have had experience of job shares have been leaders in promoting job shares generally.

For instance, Sara Allen, a former senior civil servant, set up job share firm Further&More. The site has an online matching mechanism to achieve the best possible match. It also offers advice on what works in job shares, including checklists about holidays, handovers and so on. Sara is clear about the benefits for both employers and employees, particularly women who are more likely to work part time and see their promotion chances thwarted.

So what is holding employers back? For Capability Jane it is partly an education issue. Their Job Share Project, launched in 2011, aimed to tackle this. This work needs to be continued and organisations such as the Association of British Insurers are taking it forward.

Another issue is financial. Employers see it is seen as more expensive to hire two people for one job. Indeed, in July a group of MPs and others wrote to the Government calling for a change in the way National Insurance works when it comes to job shares.

They said the extra costs involved in employing two people to do one job was putting some employers off using job shares. Another issue is a perceived lack of continuity and communication problems and fears about what happens if one person leaves. Yet there is a lot of best practice around to address some of these concerns and putting all your eggs in one basket, as it were, can also be a risky strategy if, for instance, that one person goes off sick. Plus what about the retention problems associated with high-performing employees leaving because they can’t progress in part-time role”?

Will things change in the wake of Covid? The Association of British Insurers thinks it will. Their new campaign aims to highlight the benefits of senior job shares. Moreover, while much of the focus has been on hybrid or remote working during the pandemic, research shows many people have reassessed their priorities over the last year and a half, having spent more time with their families. The demand is there, as evidenced by the enthusiasm for the four-day week campaign. Employers just need to capitalise.

Mandy Garner is managing editor of workingmums.co.uk and workingwise.co.uk, which promote flexible working and workplace diversity.

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Last updated 10/08/2021