Ruth Hannant and Polly Payne are the first DG-level Civil Service job share
The perception of job-sharing has shifted hugely in recent years from part-time jobs held by junior employees to gradually opening up many more high-powered roles for senior civil servants. We asked four civil servants to share their experiences.
DCMS - Ruth Hannant and Polly Payne
We have been job-sharing together for 12 years and were incredibly proud to be the first Director General-level job-share in the Civil Service. We believe, and hope we have shown, that nearly any role can be done as a job-share.
We didn’t really know one another before we started job-sharing. Polly had been job-sharing with someone who went to work in the private sector; she wanted to stay in the Civil Service so we advertised for a job-share partner and got over 40 applicants. Polly met them all - a bit like speed dating - and decided Ruth would be the best fit. This was based on shared values and similar ways of working. Our skills, expertise and experiences were very different - which we think is an advantage.
Since starting working together in January 2010, we have worked in five different roles in five different departments. And we managed to secure promotion together, twice. We have done roles involving fast-paced spending negotiations (as Deputy Directors in HM Treasury and then as strategy directors in the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)), legislation and system reform (as directors for higher education in BIS and then the Department for Education), overseen major projects and operational delivery (as Directors General for rail in Department for Transport) and now manage a wide policy and stakeholder portfolio (as Directors General for culture, sport and civil society in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport).
Successful job-sharing is built on teamwork, excellent communication and a shared set of values. We make sure we are aligned on our strategy and priorities, share detailed readouts of all meetings with each other and debate our views on policy and management questions to ensure we present a shared position to teams. We work hard together to ensure we’re as seamless as possible for those working with us, whilst recognising that we are different people with different characters and so will bring different perspectives.”
Five Top Tips to make a Great Job-Share
Communicate, communicate, communicate - It’s important that you both know what has been going on, so others don’t need to fill the gaps. A shared virtual notebook as well as shared email and diary helps with this. But this is more than just a transactional download; focus on the mood music, what might have been unsaid in a discussion, dynamics etc. Talk regularly and make yourselves available for each other.
Focus on the big picture - make sure you talk regularly about your strategy on key issues, your ideal outcomes and how you would hope to get there.
Let go - on the days you aren’t working, trust your partner to deliver and be doing the right thing. If you are communicating and have a shared sense of direction and view, you can be confident that they will be. And if they make a slightly different call, back them.
Be honest with each other - if something isn’t working, let each other know.
Keep an eye on people trying to ‘divide’ you and address at the first opportunity - whether that is people looking to meet just one of you, or trying to suggest you disagree on something.
“Job-sharing brings massive benefits for the organisation and for each of us. It enables you to do very challenging and interesting roles whilst spending time with family. It’s excellent for resilience, both providing time to decompress and step back, but also - importantly - providing two heads on any challenge and inbuilt moral support on difficult issues. This has been invaluable for us in many of our roles, and also brings real benefits for the organisation as it protects against burn out. The organisation also benefits from the more rounded skill set which two people with complementary attributes can bring to a role.
One of the amazing things about working in the Civil Service, and which makes us really proud, is the support and encouragement given to job-sharing. There is broad recognition that it works for individuals and departments, so we see successful job-shares across the Civil Service and at all levels.
If you are considering a job-share, take the plunge and do it. We have never looked back!
GCHQ - Emily and Vicky
The Deputy Directors for Counter Terrorism at GCHQ recently topped a list of the most successful people working part-time compiled by flexible-working specialists Timewise.
We applied for the full-time post as a job-share on promotion in May 2020. We were cautious at first because of COVID-19 and Vicky’s maternity leave (Vicky wrote her CV at 3am after a night feed, and Emily held her newborn for the interview) but eagerly grasped the opportunity to lead one of GCHQ’s most important intelligence teams.
Managing terrorism attacks
We always wanted to role-model in a way that supported GCHQ’s values and commitment to flexible working. Our role is responsible for managing terrorism attacks, and strategically planning future models that can respond to a complex and diversifying threat. We are a true partnership; we hold each other to account; we learn from each other and can more generously support our teams with this approach. We remain strong advocates; our job-share is our superpower - it diversifies and doubles our output, efficiency and opportunities, and ultimately makes the UK a safer place by optimising Counter Terrorism outcomes.