Job sharing offers the best of both worlds

Decent PROs are hard to find, and more are seeking flexible working – so perhaps the solution is to share roles, says Maja Pawinska Sims

Springett (left) and Hinton: the women say that  successful job-sharing depends equally on the abilities to co-operate and manage time
Springett (left) and Hinton: the women say that successful job-sharing depends equally on the abilities to co-operate and manage time

Ask people whether they would like to work fewer hours in the week, and the answer is usually a resounding ‘yes’. The TUC did just this last year for its report ‘Challenging Times: Flexibility and Flexible Working in the UK’. It found that 2.3 million workers yearned for a more modern approach to their working hours.

Industry in general has been slow to respond to demands for a better work/life balance, and even slower to respond to the idea and practice of job-sharing. The TUC found bosses rather turned off by job sharing – they generally perceived it to involve unnecessary duplication, and deemed it a cause of inefficiency.

Many in PR would also be excused for assuming that job sharing ‘doesn’t suit this industry’, and is not conducive to the seamless flow of information required by journalists. According to the TUC survey, just 0.6 per cent of UK workers share jobs.

But despite this, demand for flexible working and job sharing was one of the major findings of PRWeek’s recent annual salary survey (27 Jan). The research found that 25 per cent of in-house and private sector PROs have asked for either flexible working or job-share options, a figure even higher (45 per cent) in the public sector. However, of those who asked, less than 60 per cent had their call answered satisfactorily – even though the law now requires reasonable flexible working requests to be accommodated.

Fears about lack of continuity for clients and journalists and the potential for slip-ups, duplication and confusion are understandable. CIPR board member John Brown had six job sharers working for him when he headed the PR and marketing team at Glasgow City Council, and says his experience was largely positive. ‘Employers tend to focus on the negative aspects, but potential job-sharing problems – such as the logistics of swapping over – are not insurmountable,’ he says. ‘You can have just as many problems with full-time employees when they go on holiday without a proper handover. My view is that job sharing can enhance a PR team with additional skills, views and approaches.’

The Government is a firm advocate of flexible working, and organisations including Business Link underline the benefits for employers. These include increased flexibility to meet peaks in demand, greater continuity when one sharer is away, and access to a wider range of skills, experience, views and ideas. Crucially, say some, sharing helps keep PROs in an industry they might otherwise leave – to have children, for example – and could help alleviate the skills shortage.

Culture change
Kavanagh Communications director Jane Fell, who once shared an in-house job at Sainsbury’s, has just advertised a job share at account-director level. ‘There are a lot of excellent, experienced PR people out there who don’t want to work full-time. A job share broadens our access to who’s available, and I know that job sharers feel committed to
the job. Many of our clients offer flexible working to their employees; there’s no reason why we can’t make it work.’

So how can you persuade your boss that job sharing is a worthwhile option? Those who currently job share are in the minority but, according to Phil Flaxton, chief executive of WorkWise – a not-for-profit initiative supported by BT, British Chambers of Commerce and the TUC – PROs wanting to job-share must challenge their employer’s attitude to the practice.

‘Although people are waking up to the idea that there are ways of working other than Monday to Friday, nine to five, it requires a culture shift among businesses. Flexible working, including job sharing, means PROs need managing differently, with a focus on how much they achieve rather than the amount of time they put in.’

PR is a highly results-driven industry and a change in approach could be worthwhile for bosses in the long run. Job sharing is not just about mothers accommodating their family; it is  a solution for those who have interests and commitments outside work that do not fit into evenings or weekends. At technology specialist Banner PR, for example, Monica Costa and Hilda Burke, both former full-time employees at the agency, returned to a split-week job share so they could continue with pursuits outside the PR sector. Burke was at drama school and is now heading towards a career in acting, while Costa is a part-time film-maker. 

‘We were asked to come back after leaving last year – the job share was Banner’s idea after we said we could only work part-time,’ says Costa. She works Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with a one-day overlap with Burke, who fills the post on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Although the pair say that the agency is supportive of them, the arrangement only works through effective communication. Burke says: ‘Communication is crucial to making it work, even to the extent of ensuring we are both copied in to every email to and from our clients so we understand everything that is going on.’

Perhaps the best judges of whether job sharing in PR works are Costa and Burke’s clients, and the journalists with whom they liaise. Eurodata marketing manager Toni Vicars reveals: ‘Working with a team that is job sharing has been a fantastic experience. In fact, I’m getting the best of two people’s skills and, in effect, six days’ work for five days’ pay. Instead of two of us bouncing ideas around there are three people, and that can only work in your favour.’

Freelance IT journalist Nick Booth is also positive about job sharing. ‘I’d forgotten they were job sharing,’ he claims. ‘I’m sure Monica and Hilda are a delicate balancing act, but they obviously pull the trick off.’

The sceptics
But not all journalists are in favour of job-sharing PROs. One has bad memories of dealing with job sharers at a major FMCG brand’s press office: ‘I thought it was disastrous and annoying, but that was partly because of the fact that they never returned my phone calls.’

Yet it is PROs, rather than journalists and clients, who will influence their employers on job sharing. According to Libby Trace, director of PR recruitment company Price Trace Hawes, it is ‘still rare for people to come to us asking to advertise a job share’.

However, there is a skills shortage in PR, and failing to consider flexible working requests could have serious consequences for the industry. Talented PROs may choose to go freelance, or leave PR altogether, if they cannot find an accommodating employer.

Employment practices are evolving, and job sharing is an issue that will continue to develop in the comms industry. As Brown says: ‘Whether employers like it or not, job sharing is part of the employment picture for in-house and consultancy teams alike.’

How to make it work
When Energy Saving Trust head of corporate and public affairs Kate Hinton returned from maternity leave in January, she decided to share the job part-time with another PRO.

Nothing was left to chance though. Hinton put together a formal plan for her employers detailing how the job share would work, which included demonstrating that the organisation was a best-practice employer internally and externally.

Split role
In January she was joined by former August.One Communications director Ellie Springett, who also has children and who wanted a working solution that would suit her new lifestyle and home commitments.

They each work two and a half days a week, handing over at lunchtime on Wednesdays.

‘We are a completely complementary team,’ says Hinton. ‘We’re not clones of each other – that would be pointless – but we learn from each other and our team learns from both of us.’

Springett, who previously held other full-time roles, says: ‘You need to be a particular type of person to make job-sharing work. It is crucial that you manage your time, let go of control, and work very closely with someone else. I don’t think we’ve ever let things slip – it’s all down to honest communication.’

Hinton says that like any other PR role, being out of the office does not mean being out of touch. ‘I expect to be called at weekends and on my days off,’ she adds.

Reuters journalist Jeremy Lovell, a regular contact of Hinton’s, says: ‘The key was a good handover, so the service offered is seamless.’

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