Job-sharing – what works series: Abbi & Ruth (HR business consultants)

This role is HR consultants Ruth and Abbi’s first foray into job-sharing, and below, they talk about what works for them, and the hugely positive impact it has had on both work and home.

What attracted you to job-sharing?

Ruth: I wanted to reduce my hours and my stress – I found myself at 46 with two children (aged 7 and 3) that I hardly saw, and all of a sudden had a situation with my father (who was 83) and needing to find support and somewhere for him to live.

Abbi: I was struggling doing 4 days as I had a young baby (as well as a 7 year old) and went back to work when she was 5 months old – probably too soon in retrospect – but conscious the Company needed more of me, not less of me, so it made sense to share rather than lose a job in which I am very happy.

How did you meet your job share partner?

A: We were in an NCT group with our first babies and remained very good friends.

R: Abbi and I both had careers in media, and both our husbands were ‘artists’ – one an actor, one a musician – which means she was one of the few people that understood the pressures of a totally irregular home life both in terms of timescales and scheduling logistics, and also income.

How did you begin your relationship? What did you do to start to build trust and communication?

A: I think the trust and communication were already there because we were friends first and I knew about the big, stressful job Ruth had delivered successfully for years, so I had no worries about about her capabilities or work ethic etc.

R: I was totally fortunate. Because Abbi knew the job I had previously had, which was a big job with lots of pressure, organisation and commitment, she was convinced that I would be able to job-share with her and also do the job which was TOTALLY different from what I had been doing before.

She spent some time with me and was always available on the phone/email in the early days to help me with constant queries whilst I acclimatised. As we knew each other personally quite well, I think we both trusted that the other person wouldn’t leave all the work to be done when they were off shift, or wouldn’t pull their weight – we knew that we were both fair and hard working people.

How did you manage your differences?

A: We didn’t have any differences really and as I was already doing the job, Ruth was happy for me to just show her how it all worked and continue the methods I use. Over time we have honed these to suit our working relationship but at first, she just took it all on board and learned from me.

R: So far we haven’t had any – we’re very different people but luckily we’re managing it well. We make the effort to try and meet up and work a half day together every Wednesday – swapping houses each week – to have a proper hand over, and we give this travel time/petrol expenses ‘free’ in order to make it work, which so far it does seem to have done so.

What was challenging about job-sharing? How did you address these challenges? How did your employer help you to address these challenges?

A: At first I felt it was disjointed – before I’d been all over everything and suddenly there were gaps in my knowledge and things happening that I couldn’t trace back. But we really quickly sorted this by sharing an email address so that we could always find everything we needed.

Also, we began working together on a Wednesday in order for me to train and hand over things to Ruth but actually we have found this absolutely key to the success of this set up so we have continued to travel to each others houses to work together because it really helps keep us both on the same page. On the odd occasion we can’t do that, we have a few Skype/FaceTimes that day instead.

What were the benefits of job sharing to you… and to your employer?

A: I t means we can have an interesting job but only work half the week, leaving time for our families and the millions of domestic jobs we get landed with!

Our employer gets much more of ‘us’ than if it was just me. She also gets two heads rather than one. You’d have to ask her but I think, now we’ve settled in to it, she really likes it!

R: The flexibility: I adjust my hours to suit our unorthodox home life – I have more sanity!!

Do you think there are particular qualities that people need to job share?

A: I think you have to be really on the same page in terms of your work ethic and methods of working. You have to work as a team without point scoring etc.

I see this as one job and if Ruth were to mess up, it’s on both our heads and vice verse so it’s up to me to make sure that Ruth has everything she needs to do a good job and I know she feels the same by the length of her Friday night handover notes!

R: As above – great organisation; being conscientious; and just being a decent person – it would fall apart if there were power playing or office politics going on.

Do you have tips for those who are new to job-sharing?

A: Really get to know your job sharer and try and find the common ground on how you both like to work and how you’d like the share to work as soon as possible and set the ground rules. I now know I was really fortunate to share with somebody I knew well and liked but I didn’t know that at the time, it could have gone the other way if we didn’t have the same work ethic, see the job the same way and want the same out of it.

R: Be very clear about expectations, don’t let things fester, pull your weight and have clear channels of communication.

What does work-life balance mean to you? How do you manage your own work-life balance?

A: Work-life balance, to me, means being able to have it all. A job I both enjoy and brings money in, but still with plenty of family time and the ability to make the school play or get to see my Mum who had a serious stroke three years ago, without compromising the working life.

R: Having now got children it means everything. When it was just me and my husband it was all very simple, and we could sort our schedules out accordingly to suit ourselves. Once we had children, and especially as they get a bit older, (which is something that people don’t tend to say – everyone thinks it’s the baby stage which it really isn’t, they are fine with a childminder when they are tiny!) it was clear that if we both worked we would literally hardly ever see them. I got home in time for bed and that was about it. So they needed full time after school care by someone else – and that was making me totally miserable.

Add in other life complications such as ageing parents, health etc, and if both you and your partner have ‘big’ jobs then something has to give. It’s still hectic, but being able to have flexible hours has meant I’ve seen more of my children in the last year than the previous six!

What one thing (you can have two or three) would make job-sharing easier?

A: For me, I don’t think there is anything more we could do to make it easier, particularly but these are things I think have helped make our situation work really well, pretty quickly:

Being friends beforehand and knowing instinctively knowing we shared the same work ethic and style. Being able to see, one-to-one, each other once a week for a few hours (work together). Sharing an email address so that we are seen as one person, in the main, rather than two (although we still sign off with our own names and signatures). Having an employer who is very open minded and flexible and who trusts us to make it work.

R: I think ours works pretty well. I feel very lucky.

Sara Allen