Job sharing at a senior level - working well for us.

An Introduction

Susannah and Philippa share the role of Head of Academic Quality at Nottingham Trent University, managing a team of 12. Both had many years' experience in the Higher Education sector before forming a job-share partnership, and Susannah previously held the role on a full-time basis before recruiting Philippa to work with her. The benefits afforded by the arrangement are wide-ranging. Some were anticipated, others were less so. From the organisation’s perspective, it has retained an experienced member of staff, and gained another. Our combined experiences and talents mean that projects can be tackled more effectively and more confidently. From our own perspective, we have felt a significant reduction in work pressure, feel more supported and have learned about different ways to tackle things.

Recruitment

Susannah explains: 'Colleagues in HR advised that given senior part-time roles are so rare in HE, the University should anticipate securing some really excellent candidates by advertising externally, rather than just internally. Recruitment therefore needed to determine both the suitability of the applicant for the job and the suitability of the applicant for the jobshare. Stage 1 of the interview process concentrated on discussion about expertise and experience as stated in the job specification; stage 2 focussed on those qualities that we had determined were crucial to the success of the partnership. For this latter stage, we designed a collaborative task in which I participated with all shortlisted candidates. This task asked us to plan a staff development event and was set up such that I was able to gain some insight about how it might be working together with each individual. Interview
questions that followed also were framed around the candidates' perceptions of working within a collaborative job-share: perceived challenges and my reflections on this exercise fed into the final decision.

Philippa adds: Half-way through my second interview, the questions made me realise how little I had really thought about how a job-share would work in practice. The killer question that I couldn't answer was 'How would you resolve differences of opinion if they cropped up? Other things well worth considering before an interview are:

  • How would managing other staff work?
  • How do you envisage you would split work tasks - an equal share of everything -
    some degree of specialisation - or carving up the responsibilities wholesale?
  • How would you keep sufficiently informed to be able to brief the senior layer of the
    university on anything in our remit?

Working arrangements

Philippa: We split the week so that we both work three days, with an overlap day on Wednesdays. As well as handover, we also need to use this day to do those things that would benefit from us both being there - catch-ups with our team, for example, meetings with our line-manager and crucial 'big ticket' events where we both need to be seen to be engaging.

Job-shares create an element of uncertainty for the job-sharer, their manager, and those that report to them. More widely, others in the company or institution will want to know who to contact about what. So early on we had an away day with our key team members to look at how responsibilities might divide. In the early days our previous experience influenced who we decided would take the lead on existing projects. This was useful in narrowing down the very wide range of things at NTU with which I had to get to grips in order to become productive.

Susannah: One aspect of our working arrangements that has been really important is our use of technology in order to keep us both updated. Prior to Philippa arriving, I made arrangements for a shared inbox and calendar. We also make extensive use of OneNote where we are able to keep all our handover notes: using tags to indicate what needs discussion, or action, and who needs to act. Colour coding has proved invaluable!

Challenges

Philippa: I had long been used to being the expert in my area with a deep knowledge of how things worked both in the institution and in my teams and I rather enjoyed calling all the shots. Coming into a job-share as the new partner can feel like being the junior partner. This feeling can take a long time to dissipate (does it ever fully leave?). However, not knowing the detailed workings of a place can also be liberating and appropriate at a certain point in one's career: it wasn't and isn't essential to get bogged down in that detail. And the massive plus point of the arrangement was that Susannah had fantastic institutional knowledge and could offer shortcuts on a huge range of things - no researching old committee papers to find out why we do X.

Susannah: In the first few months, I had to work hard at not allowing my previous investment of decisions get in the way of Philippa's ideas about changes and improvements. Letting go of things that you have fought hard to achieve is always going to be a challenge, and I had to bite my tongue occasionally when I felt like saying 'but we tried that'... Once I learned the art of this, I was able to see the fantastic unanticipated benefits of the collaboration. I have someone to share ideas with, and who helps solve the gnarliest of problems. Granted, I'm biased, I have stumbled across the best job-share partner, but even if she was second or third best, there would still be someone to help move difficult things forward.

Philippa: Specific challenges that continue to occupy us but which are less concerning now we have confidence in the success of the partnership include:

  • Keeping up to date: ensuring we do not waste other people's time by not being on
    top of what has happened in our absence
  • Keeping on top of work and not letting each other down
  • Letting go. We have now established that individually we can't know everything or
    do everything anymore
  • Being ‘played off by others’, which happens now and again, and is somewhat
    inevitable

How does managing staff work, and how is managing managers?

Philippa: We line manage three members of staff and they have been amazing in adapting. We asked early on how they would like appraisals to be run, and they were easy about it being one of us or both of us. In terms of regular catch-ups, we take it in turns so we don’t miss out on that relationship, but make sure we write up notes so threads can be picked up next time.

Susannah: In terms of our own line management, the challenge is making sure we communicate regularly and then between ourselves. We make time for regular catch-ups as well as more formal meetings. You have to accept that a certain amount of casual flow of conversation needs to be captured for the sake of your job-share partner and your manager: otherwise wires could get crossed.

What are the benefits of a job-share?

Susannah: Personal benefits became more and more evident as the weeks have progressed. Top on the list are:

a. I don't have to go to work on Thursdays and Fridays. Yes, I may have a phone call on Friday, or decide to check handover notes on Sunday afternoon, but really this is just not a problem. I put the phone down knowing that things are in completely safe hands, and close my inbox on Sunday so grateful those things that had been lurking in the depths had gone, dealt with. And not by me.

b. Coming from outside the institution means that Philippa doesn't know the history of some of the work we are involved with. Granted, this can be challenging for her, but it means she can approach issues, and colleagues, with a blank sheet. That’s the way to address deep-seated challenges that have been hanging around too long.

c. We can play to our strengths: she enjoys the strategic stuff and I bring teaching experience to the role. Also she can reach the top of the white board!

Philippa: For me, top of the list is some free time to balance work with life. Second is that work is more fun with two! Problems get smaller, achievements are bigger and bolder. And someone is equally interested in my work; I don’t have to bore my husband with it quite so much.

In closing, what's essential?

Philippa and Susannah: Getting on. If there is one single thing that will make a job-share work above all other, it is getting on really well with your job-share partner. Shared interests help (we both love gardening, and hate single-use plastic) but also generosity, trust, and loyalty are vital.

*Find out more about how to manage flexible working opportunities in your organisation with the CIPD Flexible Working Toolkit for HR professionals.

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Anonymous
  • Thanks for this - I'm currently trying to look at part time roles & finding few. A job share woud be ideal & it's to see that it can work & at a very senior level if people want it to. I'm encouraged to go out & attempt to find something similar if possible. On a wider scale, I really feel that this could be a great solution to a lot of hiring managers' headache roles if they only could be a little more pragmatic & step away from the single occupant, full time model.

  • We have suggested Job Share as a possible option for a return to work strategy for a senior member of the team who has been through a significant life change recently. This blog provides an excellent example of things we might need to consider to enable this solution to work. Thank you!

  • Thanks for this excellent article on Job sharing. Its great to hear such stories and get a feel for how job sharing can work in complex environments. At Duome.co we are building a platform that will make it easier for others to follow in the footsteps of Philippa and Susannah including building tools to support the design of the job share relationship, a clear hand over procedure and guidelines for the manager on how to manage job sharers. More examples like this can only help to stimulate interest and raise the profile and opportunity that is job sharing. Thanks CIPD for sharing this article, makes membership worthwhile just knowing there are others out there who believe in job sharing!! #duome #ifyoubuildittheywillcome