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What makes the perfect job share?

2 August 2017

The three little words she had been dying to hear: “let’s job share”.

Five months into her maternity leave, Hannah was beginning to think about returning to work. In an ideal world, she wanted to return three days a week and didn’t think that would be compatible with being comms director in a fast-paced, ambitious and growing charity.

Claire had been covering Hannah’s role on four days a week and with two young children and a range of other commitments outside of work, she didn’t see it as sustainable. Job sharing was the obvious solution but no one had ever done it at Teach First before, let alone at senior level. Never shy of a challenge, she took the plunge and asked Hannah if she would like to be her partner and was delighted when she said yes.

Over two years later and we’re still going strong. Directors of comms (DoC, as we are known) is so well embedded in the organisation and sector no-one even notices anymore. There are huge benefits to individuals – men and women, parents and non-parents – and organisations from job sharing so here’s our view on what makes it work and what those benefits are.

What brought us together

We first met while working for different organisations where we worked on a year-long policy project focused around parent/teacher relationships. We got on well and stayed in touch. Hannah was delighted when Claire applied to cover her maternity leave and was even more delighted when her boss chose Claire to take on the role.

We had a strong feeling we could make the job share work – we shared strong values, were aligned around our strategic direction and, crucially, had a deep respect for each other’s skills and experience giving us a strong foundation for a true partnership. The more challenging part was figuring out how it would work in practice. Critically, the organisation wanted to retain key talent, two individuals who had both been successful in role and was therefore open to the idea.

Pure share

We reached out to senior job sharers in other organisations for advice on how best to work as a partnership. On deciding how to operate, we considered the nature of our responsibilities and the 24 hour a day world of communications. We therefore decided on a “pure” share with shared objectives and accountabilities.

We both work a three day week crossing over on a Wednesday to agree strategic, money and people issues. However, all other decisions are taken by one partner and fully supported by the other. Any disagreements, which are extremely rare, are resolved between us in private. Technology has been a huge part of our arrangement and we have a shared email, phone number and skype address.

The benefits

Both of us are engaged trustees, active in the local community and involved parents and the share has enabled us to fulfil all our commitments without having to compromise our careers. What was less expected was the benefits to the organisation – of which there have been many.

After six months, we went through a 360 review and found even the original sceptics had been converted. With Hannah coming in fresh mid-week, we are able to collectively have more energy and momentum across the week than a single person. Although we need some time to discuss the big strategic issues, we often make the most of our crossover day by being in different meetings or locations. Our network has expanded and we have found external stakeholders have adapted just as well as our internal colleagues. When one partner is on holiday, the other is around which means that there is always cover.

While we both have common skills, our breadth and experience is collectively deeper and wider which means there is rarely a situation which we haven’t faced or don’t know how to address. Being a director can be lonely, so the coaching, support and challenge we give each other has made us both more effective leaders.

Sharing the love

We are huge advocates for job sharing and have shared our experience and top tips with people internally and externally to both help them make the case for job sharing and to be successful once the partnership is established. We were lucky to have found each other by accident but many other job sharers have successfully found their partner through a recruitment process.

Either way, the match is critical. You have to trust your partner and really feel there is equity in the relationship. Agreeing ground rules up front, including how you would go about initiating divorce proceedings, is really important so that you both know where you stand.

Job sharing has truly transformed our professional lives, we highly recommend it to individuals and to organisations and are happy to share more of what we have learned in order to help others reap the same benefits that we, and Teach First, have.

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Claire Walker and Hannah Essex

directors of comms, Teach First

Hannah and Claire are directors of comms at Teach First, a charity working to improve the lives of children in the least advantaged communities. Hannah joined Teach First in September 2010 having been head of communications and business development at Teacher Support Network. In 2014, Claire covered Hannah’s maternity leave and they have been sharing the role since March 2015. Claire was previously director of policy and communications at Family Lives. Hannah is also a trustee of The Girls’ Network which is working to broaden the horizons of girls in low income communities while Claire sits on the board of 1st Place, the largest provider of early years education to vulnerable children in Southwark.