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How job sharing offers a game-changing flexibility

8 January 2021

As communications professionals, particularly in a sector we’re all so passionate about, it can be hard to switch off. Taking calls from the media any time of day or night, dealing with potential crises on bank holidays – it’s all too familiar and regular an occurrence for us all. But we’ve found a solution that has worked for us and one we think could be a gamechanger for others too – job sharing.

Thinking about how we would continue to thrive and progress in this industry was a real concern when we started our families. We both wanted a fulfilling and challenging career, but knew that our new responsibilities at home meant things couldn’t go on as before. Part-time working at a senior level in comms can be riddled with challenges – media crises can’t wait until you’re back in the office later in the week and line reports need consistent guidance and support.

So thank goodness for job-sharing – and for organisations like Mencap who are investing in this way of working. The benefits aren’t only for the job sharers, who achieve that holy grail of a work/life balance (yes, really!), but also for the organisation more widely, who gain two sets of experience and expertise for the price of one.

Having taken the leap we are HUGE advocates of this way of working – it has provided us with so many opportunities and benefits, some expected and others less so. Here are just a few:

Flexibility

Increased flexibility is a common motivator for working in a jobshare. But more than that it is about the security of not having to think or worry about work, not checking our emails or answering calls, when you are off. Whatever it is you might be doing with that non-working time, you can do it mindfully, because you can trust that the cogs are continuing to turn at work and will be ready for you to pick back up again when the time comes.

Professional development

The endless opportunities to learn from one another is such a fantastic bonus of working in this way. Our experience, while aligned, is quite different and we’ve found where one of us has an area that’s less developed, in most cases the other has oodles of expertise. So we can play to our strengths while sharing our knowledge, insight and contacts with each other. It’s almost like having a highly relevant mentor and mentoring them at the same time.

Appreciating a different approach

Having different backgrounds means we don’t approach everything in exactly the same way (anyone in a job share who says they do is lying!). It’s strange at first to see someone doing your job right before your eyes, but it’s also extremely refreshing.

A sounding board

A lot of comms work is grounded in judgement and perception – it’s simply not an exact science. Even the most confident or experienced a communicator needs someone to bounce ideas off, to helpfully challenge their views or develop a train of thought. It’s genuinely a joy to have this at your fingertips in a jobshare partner and has most definitely kept us sane.

Energy levels

Passing the baton between us halfway through the week avoids a potential midweek slump. While one of us might be starting to dip in energy, the other comes in with a fresh head and perspective. There’s a real sense of energy and motivation that carries us through which is beneficial to the team and our colleagues.

And here are our top tips for getting the most out of a job share partnership:

  • Ask for help. We’ve received invaluable advice and support from other jobshare pairs in our sector who shared their best practice when we began.
  • Think about your personal and professional values. What motivates you? How do you want to be viewed within the organisation? What’s your management style? What are your goals this month, year, decade? Be open to discussing these and finding out how you align. You don’t have to have the same approach but sharing some core values will definitely help.
  • Be open-minded – if you hate the idea of something being done differently to how you’d do it, job sharing might be difficult. Embrace that the half of the week someone else is in charge of your job and might make a different decision to you, and that’s OK.
  • Implement strong processes with colleagues and team members so that, where possible, they get a consistent experience no matter which of you they are dealing with.
  • Develop a style of handover and be open to adapting this. We started sharing the nitty gritty of everything (which would take hours to write up!) but once we were more familiar with the job, we moved to something more concise which clearly outlines priorities, progress and actions.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask! Sometimes, something may come up which would take you 2 hours to figure out yourself, or a 5 minute call to your job share partner on their day off to ask where something is saved / what happened in a meeting.

Our job-share came about after we had both done consultancy work for Mencap at different times. When the Head of Media job came up, the director responsible for the role put us in touch with each other, because she knew we were both keen to go part-time.  What could have been an awkward initial phone call turned into a 2-hour conversation where we realised we were on the same page about all the important things, including our vision for the department, our work ethic, and how we’d like to approach things. It was still a huge leap of faith to dive into a job share together without knowing each other at all – but we did it.  We managed to do this during the national lockdown and still haven’t actually met face-to-face since starting this job! If we can do that then you can too.

Lucy and Sally currently job share the Head of Media role at the UK’s leading learning disability charity, Mencap.

Lucy is due to head off on maternity leave this spring. If you are interested in applying for the role, see https://www.charitycomms.org.uk/my-career/sector-jobs

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Image: Anna Urlapova on Pexels

Lucy McGill

Head of media (jobshare), Mencap

Lucy McGill has worked in comms roles across the sports, entertainment and charity sectors. She spent over a decade at Comic Relief, latterly leading the national media campaigns for Red Nose Day and Sport Relief before taking a break to start her family.

Sally Holden

Head of media (jobshare), Mencap

Sally Holden started her communications career while living in Spain eleven years ago. Since then she has worked at a number of UK health and disability charities – Diabetes UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, Breast Cancer Now - leading regional and national media teams.