Working carers often seek part time work to better enable them to balance work and care, but part-time jobs are hard to come by.

This article investigates the option of job sharing, where a full time position is held by two people. It is based on the experience of working carer Anne-Maree Newbold, who shares her story with us.

I feel I have been lucky to job share. I am employed as a chief social worker for a mental health service and have been successfully job sharing this full-time position for nearly four years.

A colleague and I applied for the position together and asked to share the job. We were interviewed separately and then together and after being offered the position as a job share the panel said if we’d applied separately it would have been difficult to choose between us.   We thought this comment was a good sign as it meant that we would be seen as equals – joint partners.

Getting the position was fortuitous for both of us. My job share partner is completing her PhD and so wanted to work part time.  I have two children, one of whom has severe and multiple disabilities and so I am realistically only able to work part time. Most organisations don’t give senior positions to job sharers, but this one was willing to take a risk with us. It has paid  off for them: I reckon we’re both putting in more than 0.5 of a position. We have differing areas of expertise so we complement each other. It would be unusual to find one person with our combined expertise and experience.  The organisation therefore benefits from employing us both as a package. It is also great for us to work together like this.

We have put strategies in place so our colleagues and clients don’t have to repeat information to us. These strategies include:

  • We do a handover to each other by email each week.  We do this in our own time so the organisation is not disadvantaged by our job share arrangement.
  • When the issues are complex we do a handover by telephone.
  • We are thoughtful in how we divide the workload. We are responsible for the supervision and professional leadership of the 14 social workers on our team. We each supervise seven staff.
  • We run a meeting every six weeks for all the social work staff. For the first two years we both attended, which meant one of us had to come in on a day we were not working. But it was important to us to let everyone know we were a joint package.  This year we have changed the format and we now alternate the meeting days and take turns to run it. We no longer both feel the need to be there as we are more established.  This change has worked well for the whole team as we have some part-time staff who are now able to attend because we hold the meeting on different days. .
  • We both carry a small caseload of clients and fill in for each other if there is an emergency with each other’s clients, but over the years you explain to clients the days you work and the best times to call.  For staff recruitment we share and alternate duties.
  •  We have divided up portfolios and committee responsibilities so we don’t duplicate.  Where possible we both try to attend the bimonthly executive meeting.
We established the whole job share arrangement carefully and early on met with our Area Manager to check everything was okay and they were happy with the situation. We don’t need to do that now – we are established as a job sharing team. In fact in the three and a half years we have been here the senior staff responsible for appointing us have moved on so we are the old hands now.

Now and then things do slip under the radar. Job sharing is not foolproof, but we sort it out. It is essential to know your job share partner well and to have good, clear communication.  In our case we were friends first and knew each other well.   This meant we knew how to best back each other up. For example, when dealing with each other’s clients, most of the time we can second guess each others’ responses to a crisis situation. I feel that if you don’t have that level of knowledge of each other, things could get difficult.

Working part time in this way means I can arrange the routine care and medical appointments for my son Lewis, into the days I don’t work.
Occasionally there are emergencies, for example if Lewis becomes sick at school it can occasionally be life threatening. The school calls an ambulance and I have to meet it at the hospital. My workplace is understanding but I really try and minimise the amount of time I have to take off.

We don’t have family support to fall back on and at times I've paid a carer out of my own pocket when my son is sick rather than take time off work.

But if he is in hospital, we need to be there. He can't talk, so my husband or I have to be there to advocate for him. This adds to our stress. I've tried having one of our carers at the hospital, but she couldn’t answer the questions the doctors asked so it didn’t really work.

We’ve just had the best 12 months as Lewis has had no hospital admissions. Health wise it’s been the best year in his life and we have celebrated this milestone – it has been fantastic for us. During the first two years in this job I used up all my sick leave (and had to take leave without pay on a few occasions) when Lewis was unwell.  This year Lewis’ health has been much better and I've actually accrued sick leave.

It is very difficult for carers to get back into the workforce and when they do it’s very difficult to juggle work and care. This has been my experience for many years. Job sharing has made it possible for me to combine work and care.  It has also been great to work in a senior position despite working part time.  Job sharing has enabled me to do this as most senior positions are full time.

I think we have made it work for our employer and ourselves.

Anne- Maree Newbold, working carer