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Jobshares are an obvious potential solution when a full-time employee asks to work part-time, yet they’ve never really taken off as a form of flexible working. They can be difficult to set up and sometimes short-lived, so perhaps they’ve always been more popular with employees than with employers.
But quietly, over the last few decades, the civil service has been proving that jobshares can work extremely well. There are currently over 60 very senior level job share partnerships in the civil service and, according to performance indicators, they are every bit as successful as single full-time workers – often more so.
Deborah Brooks and Susie Owen share a top role in the Department for Education – Deputy Director, Early Years Providers and Regulation. Their approach is not to split responsibilities in any way – instead they fully share all aspects of the job, have shared objectives and performance targets, and even a shared mailbox.
The pair say that the trick to a successful jobshare is that the two have to become one person, so that colleagues do not distinguish between them. And in their case it has worked – colleagues refer to them as if they’re one person called ‘Brooks-Owen’!
Brooks-Owen say they have different working styles but the same values. They always support each other’s decisions, picking them up and running with them when it’s their turn in the office.
And Brooks-Owen share something else: a keen determination to make the partnership work, for personal reasons. It matters immensely to both of them, as it’s their shared route to a successful career path whilst achieving work-life balance. They therefore feel they must never let their other half down – and that’s one of the factors contributing to their high performance in the role.
Perhaps most extraordinary is the fact that Brooks-Owen were recruited into their role as a jobshare team (they had previously shared the role of Deputy Director for Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion at the Cabinet Office). They discussed their career aims together, decided which jobs they were both interested in, and applied as a pair.
Unsurprisingly, the interview process was eye-opening – perhaps more so for the interviewers than for Brooks-Owen. They were seen together and also separately, which they agreed was right – after all they work separately for 4 days of the week and are in the office together for only one. But when they were asked to give a presentation separately but on the same topic, they felt they had to contact the interviewers and point out that “You do realise you’ll get the same presentation twice? That’s the way we work.”
The Civil Service is in a good place to lead the way on jobshares – they have a vast workforce, large enough to set-up their own internal jobshare register where employees can find suitable partners. They also have an infrastructure that can support the process – Brooks-Owen, for example, had coaching to help them develop their approach to work; and policies are in place to support managers through the recruitment process for jobshares.
But perhaps, even without these luxuries, other businesses can follow. The only real pre-requisites are that the organisation must believe in jobshares as a way to retain and grow talent; and they must believe in the extra value that a successful jobshare will deliver (higher energy levels through to the end of the week, two brains, continuity through periods of absence etc etc).
Finding potential jobshare partners is much easier than many employers would think. Next time a valued employee asks to work part-time, just try advertising half the role as a part-time job – you’re likely to receive many very high quality applications. It’s a well-kept secret from many employers who only ever advertise full-time jobs: the demand for part-time is immense (27% of the UK workforce works part-time, and they have to compete for only a handful of vacancies).
When interviewing, pay heed to the Brooks-Owen experience: invest extra time in selecting the right candidate. That’s not necessarily the same person as the most skilled candidate – the match with your existing employee needs to be right, exploring shared work values and the ability to adopt a collaborative approach.
Jobshares do require extra effort, but the business rewards can be immense and they are certainly a progressive strategy for developing a skilled workforce. Business interest in jobshares seems to be bubbling up again, so at least remember this: if a jobshare team applies for one of your full-time roles, keep an open mind!