With burnout rampant, sharing roles is a way to keep up stamina.

With burnout rampant, sharing roles is a way to keep up stamina.

Catherine Cullen and Gayle Willis have been Co-Exec Directors of Communications for 4 years at Guy's & St Thomas' Foundation, an independent place-based health foundation and hospital charity. The focus of their role is primarily on the work of the foundation including launching a bold new programmatic strategy and brand refresh. They have a very demanding job, but rolesharing is a conduit to manageable balance in their lives. With burnout rampant following Covid, and people working longer hours remotely, sharing stands as a real proposition for companies to maximize  employee output without suffering the negative consquences of burnout – from lost productivity to employee churn. 

Cullen and Willis describe their partnership in two simple words - trust and growth. Research has shown having allies unlocks the power of diversity, which, according to Deloitte and McKinsey, in turn contributes to greater innovation. So Cullen and Willis'
is the ultimate allyship - a roleshare. "We already know rolesharing drives increased performance and wellbeing, so one can easily make the connection that the team-spiritedness of a roleshare boosts empathy, diversity, and hence, innovation." say Sophie Smallwood, Co-founder and Co-Ceo of Roleshare - a talent marketplace matching professionals to co-apply for jobs. "Cullen and Willis' experience stands as a solid of example of how to make rolesharing work" says Smallwood.

On a very practical level, we have a very demanding job with broad responsibilities, so having someone to pass the baton to midweek helps with stamina. 

What has sharing a role helped enabled in your personal life and at work?

Cullen – Tipping the work life balance in the "life" direction has been increasingly important to me in recent years and sharing a role helps facilitate the time I need for family, creative pursuits and downtime. I’m incredibly appreciative for what the roleshare brings to our work: complementary skills, trusted counsel, healthy challenge and someone to learn from. Gayle is one of the most important (and favourite) things about my job.

Willis – Personally, our roleshare has enabled me to continue developing my career in a job I love whilst also enabling me to spend time at home with my three young children. I worked in senior part time roles for six years before starting my roleshare and the motivation for doing it was in my personal life. However, it has probably given me even more professionally. I’ve learnt a lot from Catherine and enjoyed the challenge and support you get from sharing a role with someone – something you often miss as your career progresses.

What has it brought to your greater team, manager, organization, stakeholders?

We’ve worked really hard at making the job share work for us and the organisation. We’re lucky in that the job share pre-dates significant growth in our team and wider organisation which means how we work is baked in to how we do things as a team. We know that people recognise and value this as an example of the organisation’s commitment to flexible working and at a senior level. The benefits are similar to us as a duo - the combination of skills and experience and having two perspectives. On a very practical level, we have a very demanding job with broad responsibilities, so having someone to pass the baton to midweek helps with stamina. We’ve also had great support both from Kieron Boyle our CEO and our direct line reports

I’m incredibly appreciative for what the roleshare brings to our work: complementary skills, trusted counsel, healthy challenge and someone to learn from.

What has it done for your performance at work and how does it compare to previous roles you’ve had?

Neither of us worked as a job share previously so it took time to get used to not being 100% accountable as an individual but as a unit. Having shared the role for four years now, we’re used to being across everything between us and spotting for when neither of us have something gripped.

We joke about this being the relationship we put the most effort into in terms of making it work, communicating and planning but our performance depends on each other, so we work at it. In each other we have someone who completely understands and shares the role. This is invaluable as we can sense check ideas, develop plans, lead the team and work through problems with our combined brain power. We’re very trusting and don’t duplicate where we can avoid it, but we take time to work together on the big things. While we won’t pretend to have perfected the baton pass to Olympic sprint standards, we get very positive feedback from our teams, colleagues and stakeholder about the seamlessness of how we operate.

How did you secure and set up your job share? 

Willis – I was in the role in a part time capacity when Catherine joined to cover my maternity leave. At that time, we were transitioning to a new organisational strategy and growing the communications function so on my return there was a clear business case for full time capacity. We introduced the job share with us working three days each as a 1.2 FTE.

What do you do to make your roleshare successful? 

We focused on this up front, supported by Kieron and with the support of a job share coach who helped us explore our values and the approaches we could take. Fortunately, we’re very similar on a lot of ways, including our values and psychometric profiles. This makes things a lot easier as our starting point is often the same. It makes the switch between us mid-week easier for the team who don’t have to manage different personal dynamics.

We chose a shared model, splitting the week by the days we work and sharing all aspects of the role, including line management and reporting into Kieron. Our role has considerably expanded since we took on the roleshare so we’re really intentional about what we attend together - the default being more of a divide and conquer approach.

We believe that success comes down to three key things – an organisation (and a boss) that supports us, a high level of trust between us and a good system. Trust is absolutely critical, and we work at it. It helps that neither of us is overly competitive, which means no jostling for more attention or responsibility. We’ve developed our own system which depends on good admin support for dual diary balancing, dedicated handover time (mid-week in-person and written end of the week note) plus shared notes and to do lists. We’ve learned that taking annual leave at the same time works best as it avoids one person trying to do all the work in half the time. Not all days off but definitely for longer breaks.

How do you handle your personal growth?

We think and approach learning and development in two ways, for us as individuals and combined as a job share. This is reflected in our personal and role specific objectives and development plans. It’s important to accommodate our different areas of strength, development and personal interest but we tend to prioritise how we can we be better in our role. A very positive reflection on our roleshare is that when we talk about future opportunities, what we could do next is a viable option.

Why should job share be part of the future of work?

If you put talent first and are genuinely open to what that looks like in practice, then job shares can absolutely be part of any organisation. It feels like things are shifting to be more open minded and we have definitely gone for candidates with the most to offer rather than the candidates who can offer the most days. We would encourage thinking to go beyond what can you get from a job share to consider what you can give a job share to succeed as they can only thrive in an organisation that embraces them.

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