Is job-sharing the future of work?

Vector image of a work desk with three people

When a professional opportunity presented itself to Leah Eaton and Melissa Symmons, they combined forces to come up with an innovative way to pursue it.

We spoke to Leah and Melissa, joint Member Communications Managers at UniSuper, and their manager, Executive Manager of Marketing and Product Tim Anderson about sharing this important role at UniSuper.

Why did job-sharing appeal to you initially?

Melissa: I think it was a case of it being the right time. Leah and I are very well matched at similar life stages. I was returning from parental leave, and Leah was looking for more meaningful work and thinking a lot about what her career might look like. So I think it was just a case of right time, right life stage.

Leah: For me, it was an opportunity to take that next step in my career and still get that balance right on the home front.

And how is job-sharing different to job-splitting?

Melissa: Job sharing is where two people do the one role, whereas I understand job splitting is more about two people halving the responsibilities of the one job and in some cases, splitting reporting lines and managing certain people.

Right. Was this opportunity something that came out of the blue or had it been bubbling for some time?

Melissa: No, definitely not bubbling. It was just fortuitous that this opportunity presented itself in the team—to cover a parental leave position, ironically—and we, being two likeminded people, almost sort of looked at each other and said, "What if we did it together?" recognising that Leah didn't have the capacity to do it in a full-time capacity on her own, and I was returning from maternity leave myself, so I was prepared to entertain all sorts of different options.

Leah: Yeah, and it wasn't necessarily something that I had considered doing. I’d always thought if I wanted to take that next step in my career, I’d have to choose to work at least four days, maybe five. So it was a great opportunity when it came up.

And Tim, why did that proposition appeal to you?

Tim: It was really about opportunity. I had two talented people wanting to expand their roles and/or looking for change in the workforce. A leadership role managing people really needs to be present at least four days a week to be successful. Unfortunately that doesn’t always suit people who are trying to juggle career and family aspirations. So when Melissa and Leah presented the proposal to me, I just couldn’t say no! It was the perfect answer to filling a really important role at UniSuper and providing meaningful career growth for some talented employees.

How does it work on a practical level from a day-to-day perspective?

Melissa: I think our daily handovers are important. It wouldn't work without it. I find I communicate with Leah often outside of work, so I think for its success, honest communication needs to be key.

Leah: We split our week in half and have one overlap day, so a day when we’re both in, for the important things like team meetings and having a presence together. It means we can reconnect with each other, and the team. It's important that we ourselves get to spend some face to face time together.

Melissa: We very much came into this from the outset with set expectations of what we will accept of each other and what we won't, because you're essentially representing each other—not just ourselves anymore.

Leah: And communication is the absolute paramount piece. We have extremely thorough handovers every single night. We speak often, we text often, but it's our handover emails that form the baseline. It's also the way we approach the job. Our aim is to be as seamless as possible. Our aim is for no stakeholder, whether they're someone we manage, or a peer, or anyone within the organisation—to have to have the same conversation twice. Communication is our responsibility, not other people's.

Have you noticed any benefits to the business?

Tim: They’ve been significant because it’s as if we’re getting two smart people looking at the same problem—two different perspectives tackling the same challenge. No two people are exactly the same. So while they're both there doing the one job, they've obviously got leanings towards particular areas of interest, complementary skills, knowledge that they might have that the other might not have.

So I think you're getting more than one person's job or, you know, combined brain capacity to solve problems and do the work that's required.

How do you think your colleagues have adapted to working with it?

Melissa: It’s only my opinion but I think they genuinely believe we're interchangeable. I know our manager, Tim, has tried to catch us out sometimes—to check if we’re actually practicing what we’re preaching.

Leah: It’s been great, for example, one of our stakeholders said that they find we’re often fresh— because we do have that time away from the office as opposed to someone who’s in five days a week. I guess that’s a bonus for us!

Melissa: As for our team, we try to make it as seamless as possible -  having the team meeting on the day we're both in, trying not to dominate, trying to split conversations so we’re equally as visible. so one's not doing all the talking at team meetings or in the performance reviews. Sharing the same email inbox and a work in progress list also helps the team too. 

Do you see this as a potential long-term option?

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. I'd love to see more job-sharing opportunities continue in some way, shape or form. The key, though, is about getting the right people. You can't just put two complete strangers together in a job share —there's got to be some rapport, some relationship, trust.

Top tips for job sharing

  1. Choose your partner wisely, you’ve both got to feel that you equally contribute
  2. Be prepared to discuss each other’s performance and how the arrangement is working. Perhaps review each year to ensure it’s still working for both of you personally and professionally.
  3. Be loyal to each other first and foremost to ensure the integrity of the role.