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My experience of Job Sharing and has Flexible Working taken over?

Frances Wheat

As a town planner working in local government, you’d think that working flexibly would be readily accepted; but it hasn’t always been the case.

I wanted to work part time following the birth of my first child, but in 1983 the negotiations were tortuous and took a full year! Questions were raised such as: How could I do the job in less than 5 days per week? How could I manage my 2 staff if I was in less than 5 days per week? Should I retain the same level of responsibility (aka salary) if not in the office full time? A job share would be better, but how likely was it that a suitable match could be found? The senior management team was entirely split on the matter so my supportive team manager had to choose his moments for progressing it. Happily it was eventually agreed in principle and Maggie was appointed to work as my job sharer.

Our job share lasted 17 years covering 5 different jobs with 3 different employers. We both had separate contracts and worked more than 16 hrs per week to ensure National Insurance cover. We led on our own pieces of work but readily covered each other’s so that all could be progressed seamlessly. If there was a more detailed query, it only ever had to wait till the following day, since we worked more or less alternate days (Mon/Wed/Thurs and Tues/Wed/Fri so that each had a long weekend). Colleagues and customers gradually learnt that they could approach either of us on anything; indeed, we were commonly referred to as ‘MagFran’! We had a day book (pre-individual computers) for notes to each other, regularly supplemented by a phone call for more sensitive personnel matters; and we overlapped on Wednesday mornings for team meetings etc, covering Wednesday afternoons only when required. We also co-ordinated our annual leave so that one of us was usually in. In all these respects job sharing was very different from two separate part time jobs.

We were able to steadily increase experience and level of responsibility whilst spending time with our young families. One week we worked a combined 120 hrs as witnesses at simultaneous Local Plan and Development Management public inquiries. At other times we progressed reports on alternate days. We even combined child care for one another on occasion, and Christmas parties brought on alternate word speeches! We were both fully committed to the whole responsibility.

When Maggie eventually took a full time job, I continued to job share for a further 7 years with Deirdre before I moved on to full time work and Deirdre then job shared with a different partner.

There were many advantages to job sharing. We were able to meet our responsibilities throughout the working week and holiday periods without the need for regular delegation. Our employers got two heads for the price of one, each with different experiences and personality, and a complementary set of skills. The arrangement demonstrably provided flexibility at the cost of only 1 additional NI contribution. For us, the arrangement gave us time for our caring responsibilities, whilst maintaining continuous employment and pension contributions. Job sharing avoided the handicap of the alternative career break and enabled us to progress our careers towards subsequent promotions.

On reflection, you don’t have to be good friends to job share successfully, but it certainly helps. You do need to share a professional approach eg proactive/facilitating, or passive/regulatory, to ensure consistent responses come naturally. Good communications, co-ordination and loyalty are also essential as is a united front with no contradictions. This gives confidence to managers, colleagues and customers alike.

How things have changed! Firstly, mobile working facilitates flexibility including working away from the office. Organisations tend now to focus on output rather than hours spent in the office. Family economics have also changed and a reduction of 40-50% salary may simply not be an option. Employment and Equalities legislation have made it much easier, at least in some sectors, to secure part time or flexible work to address different work life balances, without the potential difficulties of finding the right job share partner.

So is there still a role for job sharing? I think the advantages remain, though there are other options now.

  • From an organisation’s point of view the whole job responsibility is shared by two individuals who are committed to providing continuity and consistency in a joined up manner. This is pertinent where there is day to day decision making and a strong customer focus.

  • From the individual’s point of view, there are other benefits. For example, handing over responsibility to a trusted job share partner on a regular basis can make an overly full time job manageable and there isn’t a heaving in-tray when you’re next at work. The ability to discuss issues with someone with the same vested interests is also valuable, and the knowledge that this will not be exploited as a weakness.

  • There remains a question from both viewpoints about how the job should be covered. A job share suggests 2 x 50% salary; is that attractive to the individuals when 60%, 80%, or condensed hours arrangements may also now be available? For the employer, how important is the full time cover, consistency and continuity in the job?

What are others’ thoughts and experiences (and btw, not just for women!)?

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