Vicki Kennedy, Director of the National Lottery Promotions Unit and formerly in DWP Communications, job shares with Jackie O'Sullivan.
Work to live or live to work? It's a sad indictment of modern living but many people feel the latter best describes their situation.
Not me though. I have a job share partner or as she likes to jest, a work-wife. And much like a marriage, job sharing requires commitment, loyalty and a healthy dose of honesty. It is not for the faint hearted but the rewards can be immense.
It was three weeks after my son was born that I interviewed for the job share role (Grade 7) in DWP communications. In the sleepless haze of those days as a first-time parent, I could scarcely remember my job title and my interview preparation consisted mainly of trying to find a dress I could fit into. But, I made it through and bagged a great strategic communications role three days a week. Back then my job share partner did the other two days.
And like conscientious newlyweds we thought hard about our shared values, our aspirations for the team and how we wanted our relationship to work. Our priest was in fact a leadership coach and she helped us frame from the outset how it was all going to work.
Our team (much like our children) would be nurtured, treated fairly and encouraged to thrive but we wouldn't tolerate being played off against one another. In fact we made a hard and fast rule that if one of us took a decision the other would stick with it and tow the party line.
Our senior management (much like over bearing parents or in-laws) would know that they could contact either of us at any time. Our working pattern ought not to make their lives harder.
We drafted a mission statement and shared it with the team. Perhaps on reflection, these resembled wedding vows, though at the time we weren't aware of their importance.
Over the next two years we learnt the art of proportionate handovers, pre-empting one another's thought processes, challenging one another and co-creating strategy. We enjoyed blissful non-working days with our children in local parks and museums, on school trips, at sports days and at home. In fact I often marvelled at families where both parents work full-time. How do they fit it all in?
Sometimes my non-working days were so full with cranky kids, household admin and housework that I'd look forward to work.
Our team thrived and the responsibilities kept coming our way. We started off leading corporate communications and stakeholder relations, but we were given the PR team and research and evaluation – a sign that we were trusted and high performing. But like the couple who want to move on from their garden flat and buy a home, we got itchy feet.
The dream job presented itself in the form of Director of a small PR unit responsible for raising positive public awareness of National Lottery Good Causes. I put in the call, only to be told they wouldn't consider a job share. Luckily I convinced them that two brains are better than one and we got the interview. We interviewed separately then together, which requires even more preparation than going on your own. You have to be 100 per cent aligned on everything or you undermine yourself from the outset.
Our marriage has not been without its trials. We've produced a prime time Saturday night TV show. Our team of 12 people has had six pregnancies in two years (myself included). We developed a piece of land in the Olympic Park and lived to tell the tale. And we're still not only talking to one another, but working well together and growing day by day.
If you're considering job sharing, a few words of advice:
- Pick someone you're compatible with: you need to have similar leadership styles or you’ll clash or by played off against one another.
- Make ground rules and stick to them: the partnership relies on trust and your team need clarity and consistency.
- Make sure your handovers and email catch-ups don't prevent you from getting any work done, this will undermine your effectiveness. Keep it proportionate. You don't have to know everything, just enough.
- Divide and conquer: key relationships or briefs can be divided so that one of you has a more in depth knowledge of some issues than the other.
- Review the job share: bad habits can creep in; check-in regularly and get it all out in the open.
- Don't work full time, that defeats the purpose.
Our last boss commented that we were the least time intensive direct report he had because all of our ranting and problem solving was done together. We presented our boss with solutions. So if anyone tells you a job share would be too hard to manage, remind them that two brains are better than one!
Jackie, please don't cheat on me! You're the best work wife I could ever hope for.