JOB SHARING: Partner Power

JUSTIN HUNT

- Draw up clauses in your contract in the event of one of you leaving.

- If one of you does leave, ensure that you identify and agree options in advance. One option might be for one of you to go full time while the company advertises for a replacement job share partner.

- Establish whether or not the job share is going to be sustainable on a long-term basis.

- Arrange for holiday and pay to be organised on a pro-rata basis.

- Ensure that you have clear ideas of your role.

- Be clear about the objectives of the organisation.

- Avoid being competitive with each other.

- Play to each other's strengths.

- Don't make unilateral decisions on major issues without consulting each other.

- Have clear systems in place for handing over work.

- Always attempt to complete your side of the work before your job share partner takes over.

CASE STUDY: MACMILLAN'S TWO BRAINS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE

Journalists who contact Macmillan Cancer Relief are getting used to dealing with two heads of public relations. After working together for five years in the same press office at the NSPCC, Hilary Cross and Lynda Thomas managed to persuade Macmillan to take them both on as a job share partnership.

The fact they knew each other's working methods has helped them to settle into their new way of working. "We have different areas we specialise in,

explains Thomas. "Hilary is up on campaigns and I was much more up on fundraising."

She believes that organisations can gain a lot from giving women the flexibility to share jobs. Both Thomas and Cross have three children each and say it would be impractical to hold the job on a full-time basis.

"We cover each other's holidays,

Thomas points out. "And you get two brains for the price of one which can be a real advantage if you are dealing with an especially difficult situation."

Both of them work three days a week allowing overlap time for there to be a proper handover, and they talk a lot on the phone to keep themselves informed about developments. They both spent a lot of time discussing what they wanted out of a job share before they began applying for full-time positions together. Thomas adds: "We are both quite experienced in PR. The fact that we know each other is really good. We do both think in the same way. I don't think you could have two people doing a job share if they thought differently about the job."

If you are working flat out in a full-time role, the idea of sharing your job probably sounds quite appealing. But how well do job shares work in practice, and how would your boss respond if you suggested it? Justin Hunt takes a look.

The idea of two heads being better than one is hardly revolutionary.

But while the private sector has begun to adopt more flexible working practices such as job sharing, worries about the practical difficulties have tended to keep third-sector organisations from looking beyond the nine-to-five tradition.

Hilary Cross and Lynda Thomas share the role of head of PR at Macmillan Cancer Relief. "The biggest challenge is that everyone assumes that you tell each other everything,

says Cross. But despite the obstacles, she and her job share partner believe their unconventional arrangement is paying dividends for Macmillan.

"I think it's working really well. It's helped by the fact I knew Lynda before. We knew we got on and we understood each other's working practices. There is a reluctance generally to go for job shares because people think there are going to be problems about continuity. Between us we have 20 years of PR experience. We also have a diversity of skills which one person would not have."

Job shares are not new. But what is changing is that directors in the third sector are seeing that they are not just applicable to junior positions.

The private sector is opening up to job shares, with companies such as BP showing a willingness to be flexible. Recruitment agencies are also providing workshops and consultancy to organisations on how they can best manage this new way of working.

"Job sharing is the way of the future,

says Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, who believes flexible working practices are inevitable given current trends such as people working later in life. However, he feels there has to be a change in the mindset of organisations if job sharing is going to become more widely acceptable. "We think that because it has always been one person doing a job from nine to five that it's the law. But it isn't."

He argues that job sharing can require additional resources: for example, double the amount of training. "There's a bit more work to make it work. But I think it's something which has not been explored as much as it could,

says Bubb.

Specialist recruitment agencies for the third sector say they would not dissuade people from applying for full-time positions as a job share partnership but they point out that it can be a difficult proposition to sell to employers.

"To operate as if you are one, you are going to need complementary personalities so there is a continuity of service,

says Stephen Perrett, managing director of recruitment agency Execucare.

"Organisations have to make the opportunities happen for it to become more generally acceptable as a career option for people and, if that is the case, you will see more people coming to agencies like us with that option in mind,

he says.

For the time being, Perrett does not think job sharing is especially widespread in the third sector but he sees factors which will accelerate its take-up. "It's currently seen as a niche option. But it could also be a way of helping more women get back to work. Broadband internet technology will make a huge difference as well. Traditionally, one of the problems of a job share is that when you are away you are totally switched off."

Individuals who have experience of job shares feel it is very important to match yourself with the right type of partner. Recruitment agency Flexecutive has set up a job share database which enables people to find potential partners in all sectors. Managing director Carol Savage explains that candidates are asked to fill in an online questionnaire designed to assess your suitability for job sharing.

"You have really got to know whether you want to work part time or do a job share. Skills for a job share are quite different. You have to be clear about the teamwork and communication involved. Together, you make up one full-time role. It's not two individual part-time people coming together. You need to choose the right person to fit in with your working style,

she says.

Through the agency's database, people can arrange to meet up with a potential job share partner to see if they would make a good fit for full-time positions.

Despite her strong support for job sharing, Savage is not sure that all roles would work as a job share. The company offers clients a role-analysis tool which looks at individual jobs and assesses if two people could realistically do it.

Despite traditional reservations, she does see job sharing becoming more widespread. She points out that companies such as Sainsbury's now have store managers employed on a job share basis. "We are definitely seeing more openness to job shares,

she says. "It's just about giving the support for people to find their own best way of working. You need to be able to treat these two people as one."

In her experience, she finds that the output from job sharers can be higher than one person because they are motivated to support their other half. "They are very committed to not letting their partner down,

she explains.

Many job sharers are women but Savage believes the option is open for men, too. "I don't think it should be a gender issue. But women are more ready to accept job sharing than men on the whole."

Those who have reservations about job sharing point out that there could be problems if one member of the job share is not pulling their weight.

But Pauline Donoghue, head of personnel at Macmillan, believes that these issues can be approached just as they would be if the person was in a full-time position. Charities that do pursue job sharing believe that it brings them significant advantages.

"The issue is finding the right people with the right skills for specific posts. If you are open to flexible appointments you've got a good chance of pushing your organisation out ahead,

says Donoghue.

She sees the introduction of job shares as a practical solution and a way of hiring the best individuals for a particular job. It's all part of tailoring positions to meet the requirements of the most suitable individuals.

"My role is to ensure that Macmillan has the right people to fulfil its mission. It's about being pragmatic. These days it's very important to focus on individual needs and trying hard to fulfil those individual needs,

says Donoghue.

CASE STUDY: PARENTS AT WORK'S 'BOSS SHARE'

Having the post of chief executive as a job share would not seem feasible to many organisations but campaigning charity Parents at Work has overcome the traditional obstacles.

Joint chief executives Sarah Jackson and Sue Monk both work four days a week and say that they thrive on the mutual support. They manage the scheme through good communication: "As with all job shares, communication is at a premium. We have to protect time to speak with each other,

Jackson says.

Parents at Work lobbies government and gives advice to parents on their employment rights. Do people get confused when they keep running into different CEOs?

"Most of them wouldn't notice. We're in four days a week and we tend to have our own relationships,

explains Jackson, who says they have to confer carefully before updating the board on campaign issues.

Like most job sharers, she argues that you can gain a lot of welcome support from your job share partner.

"Traditionally, people say it's lonely at the top. I have had a few months in the job on my own and I felt very isolated. Both of us value the fact that there are two of us. You are not totally exposed in your decision-making. There is a certain amount of cover to be gained."

However, being in a job share can act as a drag on decision-making. You cannot unilaterally take significant decisions for the organisation without some sort of discussion with your job share colleague.

"We're both the boss. I think sometimes it can slow you down. You have to convince the other half,

Jackson says.

"But it has enabled us to have a senior job and not work the hours that chief executives tend to in our sector."

MAKING A JOB SHARE WORK

- Know your job share partner.

- It's best if you have worked with your job share partner before.

- Split the line management so not all staff report to one person.

- Ensure sufficient time on a regular basis for handovers.

- Identify specialist work areas which either of you can lead on.

- Organise internal inductions to present your working practice in a coherent way.

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