Dr Jo Yarker and Dr Rachel Lewis are occupational psychologists, specialising in work, health and wellbeing. Their job share enables them to have dual careers, combining academic work as co-programme directors of the Professional Doctorate in Occupational Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London and as Directors of an award-winning research and consultancy organisation, Affinity Health at Work.
They have been in a job share role for 5 years. Their job share arrangement at the university represents the first appointment of its kind amongst academics at Birkbeck. Other staff members have seen how successfully their job share works within the department and have since followed suit.
How did you decide a job share role was the right choice?
We had worked together on course teams and in similar roles at different universities for several years before starting our consultancy practice together. Our years of working together helped forge a strong friendship. We trust each other and have many shared goals related to our work and how we want to shape our work-life balance. When we both started to have families, we covered each other’s maternity leaves and started juggling work and family commitments in sync. We found that we would still talk about work to each other, sharing ideas and building our strategic direction.
We realised that job sharing could be really valuable for us. We had always worked part-time in academia (combining this with commercial practice), and so the job share was not to enable us to work on reduced hours but rather to have a more fulfilling, complete and supportive academic career.
Job sharing has enabled us to follow our passions, and forge successful careers; we focus on shared goals while also knowing that someone is there for advice and support. We are also sure that we deliver more together than working in two unconnected part-time roles.
How does it work in practice?
There are many different job share arrangements. We do the ‘whole’ job between us and flex our lead responsibilities depending on project and life demands.
One of us will typically take the lead on a research project, making it easier for clients/ funding bodies, but we are both involved throughout. If one of us is more involved on a research project, the other will take up more of the student and administration focused responsibilities that week, but all outputs are co-authored.
Generally, as we have such a solid foundation as a pair, we don’t tend to check each other’s work or decisions, but rather, we trust that each other will make sensible decisions in our shared interest.
We can often be interchangeable, but we do work differently. As a result, students we are supervising tend to gravitate to one or other of us at different points of their journey and for different types of support. Members of our team tend to check-in with one of us, depending on the query’s nature, or help needed. Our job-share arrangement allows us to work to our strengths. That said, we are acutely aware that we each need to continually develop and work outside of our comfort zone, so we take time throughout the year to make sure that we are both pushing ourselves to learn and try new ways of doing things.
What are the benefits of job sharing?
Our work’s academic side can be both isolating and challenging, and like many working part-time, we found that our research was compromised in a part-time university post. As a job share, we are treated like one full-time employee, which means our workload is distributed in the same way as full-time staff. We can share the load for meetings, committee membership, student engagement and protect our research time.
We believe successful job share opportunities, particularly in academia, could help towards resolving the gender pay gap, the underrepresentation of women in Professorial and Senior roles in Higher Education, whilst also addressing the stressful nature of academic roles and working environment (particularly acute in more junior academic positions and for women).
We are also passionate about working with organisations to promote and protect employee wellbeing, and our job share allows us to have a dual career. Our work at Affinity Health at Work is diverse. Projects range from working with senior stakeholders to develop their health and wellbeing strategy, design and evaluate employee development programmes, facilitate team discussions around healthy working practices, or assist line managers in supporting a returning employee.
Having the emotional and instrumental support of each other has been vital as we navigate our roles’ demands whilst also balancing our family commitments. Nevermore so than during lockdown!
What are your top tips and strategies for a successful job share?
Communication is key!!!
If something is a struggle, say so, the other person might have just the answer. Communicating our differing needs and voice helps us build on our strengths as a team. We can recognise when either of us feels overly stressed or struggling with the load and discussing how we can balance it out really helps.
Airing niggling frustrations and issues that could fester into conflict if unaddressed and nipping them in the bud from the get-go helps build and maintain that level of trust, and it validates our opinions and feelings.
We also speak regularly, in person, on the phone and via email to just touch base. That ‘re-grouping’ helps us appreciate each other as friends and colleagues. It does help that we genuinely really like each other!
Be patient. It takes time for great job-shares to fit neatly into place. Getting to know each other’s quirks, qualities, and behaviours comes with time and practice. Before you know it, you will be able to anticipate each other’s every move.
Work together for a shared common goal. We trust each other’s judgement and scope to get things done to the best of our ability. We take shared responsibility for our successes and for our failures.
We try not to let our egos take the lead and remember that we are working on a shared agenda. We regularly revisit our shared goals to see if anything has changed for either one of us.
Accept and understand that there will be times when one of you is not feeling quite so ‘on the ball’. Acknowledging that we have different pressures, priorities and circumstances cropping up in our lives helps us gauge where stepping in to share the load is really needed.