Flexible working and job sharing: ‘The flexibility worked well for both my employer and me’
Helen Reed, Senior Trusts Manager at ActionAid, talks about her experiences with flexible working and how it has helped her career to progress.
Flexible working has been hugely important in making it possible for me to balance my career and caring responsibilities.
Over the past four years the British Red Cross and Action Aid have offered me flexible working in ways which meant I could maintain and progress my career. For the British Red Cross, flexible working meant retaining me for an extra three years and for Action Aid it made it possible to recruit me.
Both organisations have explicit commitments to flexible working that positively shape their cultures and working environments. Action Aid makes this commitment an active part of their recruitment which made them stand out when I was looking for a new role.
As part of my search for flexible working I have explored the option for job sharing. It is challenging to form job share partnerships and the opportunities for job sharing are sparse. Yet my research shows there is a lot of potential for organisations and individuals if we can make this form of working more readily available.
When I returned to work after the birth of my first daughter, like many parents before me, I made my flexible working request. I requested 21 hours a week and, fortunately, my request was granted. The British Red Cross and my manager were open to flexible working and we soon fitted into the new way of working.
The flexibility worked well for both my employer and me. For me it meant continuing in the job I loved because without it I could never financially or logistically afford to work. For the British Red Cross it meant retaining my knowledge and skills.
Motherhood and part-time working had not dampened my interest in my job, I just couldn’t invest 37 hours a week at this point in my life. I continued to learn and grow and after a few years it became time to take the next step in my career. That was when I realised how rare part-time roles are and how difficult it was going to be to progress.
I realised I needed another option.
At the same time another fundraiser I knew was making a great success of job sharing. She and her partner had not only made one role work but had also successfully applied for a new role together. My friend talked passionately about the advantages of job sharing for both organisations and individuals. I knew that this was a model I wanted to try. But how to do it?
So, I decided to take a two-pronged approach. I would seek out a partner to make applications with and, at the same time, I would contact hiring managers and ask to be considered on a job share basis. Neither approach proved successful or even viable.
I reached out through my networks, seeking individuals whose skills, ambitions and requirements fitted with mine. But networks are limited and finding a partner this way requires a lot of luck. However, on the way I started having conversations with existing job sharers, which were inspiring and informative. I felt each conversation reiterated the same points; job sharing could be hugely beneficial – it helped with continuity, it brought more diverse skillsets and it enabled part time workers to fulfil demanding roles.
I signed up to job-sharing websites but I often found myself matched with people working in marketing or sales instead of fundraisers. There just wasn’t the critical mass of potential matches.
I also started having the conversation with potential employers. When I found roles that interested me and fitted my skill-set I would phone the hiring manager to discuss flexible working options including job sharing. Sometimes, I was met with polite refusal and sometimes I couldn’t get a response. On one occasion I was told that ‘it’s not convenient’ to consider my application (the job went through to a second round of recruitment). On another, I was invited to apply but I was not short listed due to a ‘high volume of great candidates’. It was very dispiriting.
This was until I saw a job advert from ActionAid. From the start it was a very different experience. At the top of the job advert it indicated that flexible working and job sharing were positive options. Within the application form there was a section to indicate an interest in job sharing. No worrying about how to broach the subject. It was the first time that I felt I was on an even footing and it was exciting.
I was invited to interview. The recruitment process was blind. My requirement to work 21 hours a week didn’t need to be a factor. However, it was something I addressed in the interview and I was immediately met with a positive and welcoming response. To my delight I was offered the role at 21 hours a week and have accepted. We have decided to wait until I am settled into the team to decide how to resource the other 40% of the role.
ActionAid’s approach means that I am excited to be taking up a new role that will challenge me while making the most of my experience. It makes a huge, important statement about their commitment to being a great employer and feels like it is indicative of a strong organisational culture.
Hopefully, for ActionAid it means having a broader selection of candidates and being able to fill the role quickly and effectively with the right person.
And of course, it means I didn’t hesitate to accept the role.
Helen Reed is Senior Trusts Manager at ActionAid
This article originally appeared in the Change Collective Recruitment Guides series. Read them here.