Job-sharing partnership continuing across different organisations

 

Key themes from the case study

  • There needs to be honesty and trust between a job-sharing partnership for it to work successfully.
  • Feedback between job-sharers is an important element of keeping on track with organisational and personal objectives. Continuous coaching also allows the job-sharers to grow and develop individually as well as together.
  • Planning is vital, particularly when trying to perfect the handover and when thinking about the impact of the job-share on the rest of the team.
  • There is a variety of benefits that the organisation can gain by introducing job sharing. 

Overall lessons learned

Key principles to remember:

  • Trust.
  • Honesty.
  • Shared vision.
  • Shared values.
  • Perfecting the handover. 

Don’t focus on why flexible working might not work and remember the benefits that could be gained: ‘Too often, people focus on the reasons why a job-share (or talent partnership) won’t work. But the benefits to the individual and the organisation can be enormous if done well. By retaining us both, the organisation keeps hold of our knowledge and experience, and benefits from our collaborative way of working, without any drop in performance. And we have been able to balance our high-level careers with our other responsibilities.’

Job-sharing context

Hannah Essex and Claire Walker have been job-sharing since 2015. The information for this case study was drawn from the referenced articles, along with email exchanges with Hannah and Claire. They currently job-share as Co-Executive Director at the British Chambers of Commerce. They began working in this job-share role in September 2018 and work a six-day week between them: Claire works Monday to Wednesday and Hannah Wednesday to Friday, so they have a crossover day on Wednesday.

Prior to their current role, Hannah and Claire worked together as job-share Co Directors of Communications at Teach First for nearly four years (see Teach First. Two heads are better than one: how co-leadership makes you a more effective leader). Hannah was working at Teach First as Director of Communications: when she went on maternity leave in 2014, Claire successfully applied to cover her maternity. The two already knew each other, having collaborated on a project previously in 2009, but it was during Hannah’s maternity leave that the job-share idea emerged. ‘I didn’t know how I was going to return to work; I knew I didn’t want to return full-time and that my job would be incredibly hard to do part-time. About three months into my maternity leave, Claire phoned and asked, “what do you think about job-sharing?” It was the best thing and felt absolutely right.’

On a typical Wednesday, the pair begin the day by giving each other a detailed handover, with a focus on any strategic issues that need discussing. After that, they usually go off to different meetings or locations, to maximise their reach and their value to the organisation. External contacts and internal teams seem to have got used to the job-sharing arrangement very quickly. They ask their colleagues to consider them as one person.

Facilitators to implementing flexible working 

  • Learning from other experienced job-sharers: After taking the decision to work as a job-share, Hannah and Claire met with a number of other successful sharers, in a range of sectors, to gain understanding about working flexibly in this way. They also researched different types of job shares; a report by Capability Jane proposes three different models of a job-share: 
    • Job split – divided responsibility. 
    • Hybrid job-share – sharing a role with some shared responsibility and some divided responsibility.
    • Pure job-share – one job that happens to be done by two (or more) interchangeable jobholders. Claire and Hannah chose to operate a ‘pure share’ arrangement with shared objectives and accountabilities.
  • Having common career aspirations and ambitions:For an effective job-share partnership, it is important that their ambitions and career aspirations are closely aligned. ‘We’re very different people but we shared the same values and work ethic – and everything else could just be worked out.’  
  • Perfecting the handover process: The pair use a mixture of verbal and written communication to create a seamless handover process. As well as their face-to-face handover on Wednesday, Hannah writes a briefing note every Friday and Claire does the same at the end of Tuesday:

    ‘Our handover process is the engine that makes our partnership work. We read our briefing notes before we come back in to ensure we stay up to speed. We also share an email account and make sure we read anything flagged up by the other before we start our first working day.'
  • The importance of trust and shared values: Claire and Hannah note that their experience has shown that trust, respect and collaboration are key ingredients for a successful job-share. ‘The critical thing is that we completely trust each other. We have a very open relationship where we give honest feedback without it ever becoming an issue. In effect, we coach each other through tricky things we do. We share values in the way that we approach things: team management, the culture we want to create, and our vision for what we want to achieve. It is highly effective – for us, our teams and our organisations. Leadership is often isolating and challenging, but we draw on our partnership and collective experience to drive impact.’
  • Working as an equal partnership: ‘Finding the right person and feeling like equal partners is really important. If you  get to a point where you feel like one is carrying the other, that’s where we’ve seen it create challenges. That’s where you really need some coaching and some honesty with each other to try and work it out.’
  • Regularly reviewing organisational objectives: Once every four months, the pair take a Wednesday away from the office together, to consider whether they are meeting their objectives and to plan their next steps. They believe that leaders often fail because they are isolated or have a set mindset. Their job-share allows them to bring different perspectives and experiences into play as they tackle tough issues.
  • Technology: Technology is a key facilitator of job-sharing. Hannah and Claire’s shared OneNote, phone number, Skype, calendar and email address have been critical to making their partnership work. They often type notes in meetings so that they can each pick up where the other left off, and keep a rolling ‘to do’ list that they both update daily, and review when they hand over.

Benefits of implementing flexible working (including any data/evidence collected)

  • Better work-life balance: The job-share allows Hannah and Claire to be at the school gates to collect their children twice a week. Outside of work, Hannah is also vice-chair of a charity and Claire has held trustee positions and worked on community projects on her non working days. In addition, Claire has a long-term disability, which means that a full-time role at this level and pace would be very difficult.
  • Personal and professional growth: While they both have individual strengths and weaknesses, Hannah and Claire feel they have grown as leaders since working as job-sharers. They give each other constant feedback on how they could improve within their roles and how their co leadership could drive more change. Since working as a partnership, Hannah thinks she has become a braver leader and Claire believes she has become a more rounded leader. The job-share has also enabled both to continue to progress in their career and hold a senior, busy and fast-paced role.
  • Better results and more experience: Because of the time they spend together and the coaching they give each other, the pair believe they get better results. The years of experience and knowledge that two people can bring to a job role can be a huge benefit to an employer. Their combined 40 years of work experience also means that they have a wide external network to use to deliver impact.
  • Sustaining momentum and covering extra ground: As their role is related to media and politics, there is a need for continued momentum and pace, which can be difficult for one individual to manage, especially if they have other commitments outside of work. Claire and Hannah frequently cover each other’s annual leave and ensure that one of them is always contactable. This enables their employer to get much more out of two job-sharers than is possible with one person who is trying to manage everything single-handedly. In a busy media and political environment, the job-share can also provide a fresh injection of energy mid week.

    On their handover day, in particular, they can cover additional workload: ‘Our current job, like our previous one, is very busy and external facing. This means that on our handover day we can be in two places at once. For example, last Wednesday, Claire was at a range of internal meetings, while Hannah gave evidence at a select committee, before meeting the prime minister with other business leaders. Our ability to do this means that we can cover a lot of ground.’

Challenges/barriers to implementing flexible working

  • Keeping the team in mind: As with any flexible working, it is important to bear in mind the impact on the team. Therefore, the pair make it a priority to ensure that their role works as smoothly as possible for their colleagues, both internally and externally.
  • Managing two busy schedules: While the pair are able to do more with a two-person job-share, it is also important not to overlook the complexity of dealing with and managing two different schedules. 
  • Convincing the sceptics: Claire and Hannah comment, ‘We have been lucky to find employers who have embraced the way we work and have recognised the huge benefits it brings to the organisation. But from others we have faced questions such as, “How do you build relationships with teams/stakeholders when there’re two of you? How can you build a team culture when you are two different people?” It can be exhausting trying to win people over, so it’s important to focus on selling the benefits rather than being defensive. Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding.’

    They continue to explain that they have strong, trusting relationships with their stakeholders, sometimes with people that only one of them has met. They find that generally people quickly see them as a unit and are completely comfortable with them being seen as interchangeable. 

Overcoming the barriers and challenges

  • Having a clear plan: ‘From the start, we drew up a clear plan of how we wanted to operate as a partnership. We knew our vision and values were similar, but we also knew we needed to agree what that meant in practice, and discuss how we would tackle any issues. For example:
    • How did we want to be viewed as a partnership?
    • What was the culture we wanted to create?
    • What was the impact we wanted to make?
    • How would we manage disagreements?
    • What would we do if one of us wanted to separate?

We take collective decisions on three things: strategy, people and money. For everything else, the director who is working on a particular day takes the decisions, with the other’s full support.’

  • Learning from others and evaluating performance: As mentioned above, they spent time learning from senior job-sharers in other organisations, focusing on the set-up of their systems and processes to become a unified partnership and perfecting their job-share model. After their first six months as a job-share, they underwent a full 360 review to ensure that they had successfully implemented and managed their role.
  • Honest feedback and championing one another: ‘A key strength of our partnership is our willingness to give each other honest, constructive feedback. We discuss what is going well and what we need to work on, and jointly celebrate our successes and learn from our mistakes. As well as accelerating our professional development, this has helped us acquire a huge amount of strength, resilience and momentum. We respond more quickly to setbacks, our decisions are better and our impact has been amplified.’
  • Pointing out other positive job-share examples: Claire and Hannah also note that being able to have good examples of other job shares who are making their flexible role work well for them helps with convincing the sceptics.

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