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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

The best career decision I’ve ever made – a male perspective on jobsharing

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Diversity and inclusion, Good management

Ten years ago, before my first daughter was born, I’d never contemplated part-time working or even thought it was possible for a man in the Ministry of Defence. I was a Grade 7, in a fairly male environment, where part-time working was pretty unusual.

I was determined to be a hands-on dad, but was unsure what it would mean for my career, and there was virtually no advice or support back then.

My wife wanted to return to her NHS job part-time, so I approached my line manager about working 3 days a week. With some rejigging of responsibilities, he agreed.

That’s when my life really changed! Caring for a toddler was occasionally frustrating, but hugely rewarding. As well as the daily routine, there was the immense satisfaction of being there for a succession of firsts first steps, first words, first days at nursery, school… the list goes on.

Helping my daughter achieve something, however small, gave me a sense of pride unlike anything I’d felt at work. I felt very privileged to have that opportunity.

This new level of involvement not only strengthened my relationship with my daughter but with my wife. We could talk about parenting with a truly shared understanding.

Working part-time meant I had to think much harder about how I could support the team. I made sure I provided input before I finished for the week, so they could progress work before I returned to the office. I also tried to be more strategic, delegating some additional tasks and meetings; and I had to prioritise better, rather than assuming I (and the team) could do everything. I needed to strike the right balance of challenge and support. The team thrived on this new level of empowerment and it changed the way I worked for the better.

During my wife’s maternity leave with our second daughter, being at home two days a week made it immeasurably easier.

After a year or so I was looking for a new challenge. I successfully applied to lead the MOD’s sustainable development team with a colleague (Kathryn Alford), who was returning from maternity leave. We both worked three days a week, overlapping on Wednesdays, which we justified to the line manager as a similar cost to employing someone at the top of the pay scale, but offering 2 brains, 6 days’ resource and better business resilience.

Getting a jobshare is trickier than securing a full-time post. You have to find a job you both like and have the experience for, and then both pass the sift and interview. If you don’t already have a jobshare partner, I would suggest buddying up with a few people to increase your chances. The jobshare network and events are a real help in finding partners; and the Civil-Service-wide jobshare database is a valuable resource.

We discussed with the team how to make the jobshare work best, and decided to share some tasks, allocating the rest between us. Team members reported formally to whoever they did more work for, and we had regular group discussions to ensure we weren’t pulling in different directions.

Kathryn and I bounced ideas off each other and produced more rounded work than if we had been working alone. I learned a huge amount from working with someone with a different management style. We developed a (sometimes brutally) honest working relationship, challenging and supporting each other in a way I’d not experienced. We were also a much stronger agent for change as a jobshare than individually. Because we wanted colleagues to feel they could challenge us, we set out to create a closely knit team and were sure to involve them in discussions before major decisions – they joked about us arguing in front of the kids when we had a good debate!

When an opportunity arose, we successfully applied for promotion together and, a few years later we moved to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, leading on consumer and stakeholder engagement in the ‘smart’ electricity/gas meters programme. Flexible working was fairly common in DECC, and by encouraging staff to work flexibly when it suited them, we got a high level of commitment from the team.

I can now get the household jobs done and do the shopping when the shops are quiet, while the kids are at school, leaving plenty of time for quality family activities at the weekends. During the week, I even have some time to myself. I studied for a postgraduate qualification in sustainable business - something I doubt I could have done working full-time. I also volunteer in the kids’ school, helping with reading and the girls’ football team. Without two full-time salaries, we’ve had to economise, though when the kids were young, childcare would have swallowed a good proportion of our pay.

In the 3 jobs Kathryn and I shared over nearly 8 years, we constantly reviewed our working arrangements, in response to business needs, changing priorities and staff changes, and to keep things fresh and encourage new thinking. Most of all, we kept talking to our team about how we could help them to deliver. Working together was a constant source of energy, spurring us on.

Kathryn has temporarily left the Civil Service. Having become not only great work buddies but close friends, I worried I would never find such a compatible jobshare partner again. But using departmental part-time networks I found a fantastic new partner, Sarah Houghton, for a role leading Armed Forces and civilian diversity in the MOD.

Tom Powell and his jobshare partner Sarah Houghton.
Tom Powell and his jobshare partner Sarah Houghton.

Many women I know see jobsharing as a way of having a career, while bringing up children. For me, jobsharing has allowed me to help bring up my children, while having a career. It has given me and my family an immeasurably better quality of life and improved my performance at work.

But jobsharing and flexible working also benefit the organisation, helping it to retain staff who might otherwise leave and to recruit from a wider talent pool. Having staff from a wide range of backgrounds helps the Civil Service understand the society it serves. Put simply, diverse organisations perform better.

Working part-time feels like a privilege, but it should be the norm. The new shared parental leave arrangements will help achieve this. While jobsharing is much more common than it was, including at senior grades, it will only become truly accepted across the Civil Service when lots of men are doing it.

So, to the men (and women) reading this, whatever your reasons, have you considered working part-time? It was not only the best career decision I’ve ever made, it changed my (and my family’s) life for the better.

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  1. Comment by Hayley Adamson posted on

    I really enjoyed reading your story, Tom and I hope since this has been written that there has been much progress in formalising the shared working arrangements. I also hope that this is more prevalent now as only through setting good examples and people being supported to take these practical steps.

  2. Comment by Steve posted on

    Good to hear a man's story about working part time. As a new dad I found a lot of umm-ing and ah-ing when I asked just to compress my usual working hours. Reasons were found to delay. It wasn't until I moved jobs when I had the opportunity to be clear at the interview about the working pattern I wanted that I managed to get a more consistent arrangement. I get the feeling this kind of thing is more commonly experienced by new dads than new mums (not that it doesn't happen at all though).

    It's also important to remember that flexible working isn't just for parents. There's more to life than just work and children!

  3. Comment by Simon Judge DfE posted on

    A very interesting piece. In my experience there is no very common or standard way of recruiting to a job share - one had to sort of make it up, using common sense. I think this is now being addressed across departments.

  4. Comment by Emma-Louise Duff posted on

    I totally agrree with L.Carr comment , I am in the same position where I have been rejected a request to reduce my working hours, it does depend on the department you work for which on a whole is unfair because everyone isnt being treated the same. These success stories do make me very bitter about my employer, promoting flexiable working patterns and work life balance for people with young families etc is all very well but these need to be carryout across the board and practised nationally.

  5. Comment by Nicola G posted on

    I've just moved from part-time to job-sharing, and I am finding it is so much better in terms of the type of job you can do, the level of challenge you can accept and the benefits of having someone with whom you can be very honest and open.

    I do think that we need better formal processes for applying for jobs (including on promotion) as a job-share partnership or as half of a potential job-share - this is very hard if the partners / potential partners are in different Departments as the processes can't cope with it and effectively prevent it.

  6. Comment by Tom Sparkes posted on

    What about the working from home option. No need to loose money either.

  7. Comment by J Keen posted on

    Sorry to be negative, but as a 30 hour a week section team leader, I have for many years struggled to cover a full time role for 20% less salary than colleagues with an equivalent staff charge and responsibilities. At times I have felt as though I was covering 2 full time jobs (my domestic and my job) inadequately, and my health and wellbeing has been adversely affected.

    • Replies to J Keen>

      Comment by Anon posted on

      J. Keen/E-L Duff - how right you are! There is no consistency across the Civil Service. This leads to unfair treatment, and feelings of being undervalued and overwhelmed (on less pay)!
      As for working at home - in my experience this is completely dependent on line managers' integrity (or otherwise).......

  8. Comment by Andy French posted on

    Tom, this is a very positive news story, thanks very much for sharing, and it's really good your example is being publicised and there are probably many other examples of men doing the same, though it would have been good to hear how the original application was made to work part-time. When I applied I did so through the Flexible Working Regulations; whereas Tom's example reads like it was just down to the discretion and open mind of his then manager. It's also good to learn something about what working job-share is like which is something I've not tried myself but my partner has in the charity sector.

    I also always wanted to be a very involved Dad - me and my partner are both primary carers to our twin sons. I've worked part-time since 2009, I was initially off work for about 3-months on paternity and parental leave after our kids were born. I did about 9-months at 4-days a week with two days from home while my partner was on maternity leave, and then I reduced to 3.5 days a week compressed into 3-days with two days off with the kids, and my partner doing the same as well, and our boys went to nursery one day a week. I've since worked the same number of hours but changed how I work them when our kids started school, with me working two days from home and two days in the office.

    I also wouldn't change from being being an 'involved dad' - being a primary carer is incredibly important to me, and by equally sharing, my partner and I have a stronger relationship and we've both been able to keep our careers going to some extent, though at times both our careers have felt like they've stalled. Also, the early years, especially until our kids were three was very difficult. Defra where I currently work has been formally supportive in enabling me to work part-time, but it's not always felt straightforward and I'm still not wholly sure it's fully accepted culturally. On the work side I do feel very strongly that employers do gain an enormous amount from part-time workers in terms of commitment and often work above and beyond their formal hours - so the benefits are definitely both ways.

  9. Comment by Kathryn Prince posted on

    I'm a mother to twins and really enjoy working part-time (4 days) which allows me more time with the family. I enjoyed reading this, especially as it's from a father's perspective.

  10. Comment by L Carr posted on

    I think it depends entirely on the department you work for. I had a desperate situation going on at home and requested to work school hours on a temporary basis but was rejected. We have people working term time who no longer need it and they can't increase their hours either. There needs to be some common sense applied because stories like this, while lovely for some, can leave a very bitter taste for others.

  11. Comment by Karen Partridge posted on

    Tom. Amazing! And well done for sharing! It's nice especailly nice to see comments like this from a man! I've job shared/worked part time for 23 years so appreciate only too well the wonderful work/life balance this enables me to have. However, the fact that my youngest daughters can swim so well is 100% down to my partner, who (at the time with MOD) worked 'condensed hours' so that he could spend one day a week with them before they went to school. And he took them swimming eveery week from 6 months+. When they progressed onto school he did school runs etc.
    Your scenario goes one better, but my message is this - go for it, work part time, drop a day or if £ tight, just a few hours a week, be flexible, and do whatever you can to spend as much time with your young (or elderly) family or hobbies/interests as you can. The rewards are endless. You only get one life and in the end we only regret the chances we didn't take.....

  12. Comment by Sophie Ingram posted on

    Great story, I can relate to most of this having jobshared for a year and gained a joint promotion (MoJ) in that time. I'd definitely employ jobsharers - our output is of higher quality than if just one brain had contributed, and there's always someone to bounce ideas off (especially in a new job when you wonder if your ideas are a bit silly!). Business resiliance is a big sell, we are rarely off the same week so there's always an element of cover. If you're thinking of doing it, go for it!

  13. Comment by Patrick posted on

    Thanks for sharing your story Tom - it's refreshing to hear from a man who works part-time and job shares. I'm about to go part-time so that I can enjoy helping my son as he grows up so it's very reassuring to hear that you reaped benefits both at home and at work. After reading of your experience, I'll also give more thought to job sharing in future.

  14. Comment by Dawn posted on

    I'm very interested to know how the application process works for 2 people to apply for 1 post in a job share arrangement? I work for MOD and I've never heard of this.