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Can job sharing work for accountants?

27 January 2020: splitting a single role between two employees can have many benefits for employers, including a broader skills base and the ability to use flexible talent - but how can staff be sure job shares work for them?

Flexible working is now a fact of life in the professional services sector, from the high street to the Big Four (as with PwC’s much-publicised Flexible Talent Network).

Arguably, the simplest arrangement for employees seeking to reduce hours is a job share – and for employers, a supportive attitude to job sharing can help retain talent within the firm that would otherwise be lost.

John Forword is Area Manager for Reed Finance, which specialises in recruiting qualified accountants and senior finance professionals. He says: “It may not be an option that’s at the forefront of an employer’s mind. But if you have a valued member of staff who needs flexible working for whatever reason, it should be considered.

“Employers shouldn’t underestimate the cost of finding someone new and developing them into the business culture. That will often outweigh the cost of making a job share work.”

A successful job share relies not only on a good relationship between employees and employer, but between the two (or more) sharers themselves. Forword says: “Everything needs to be agreed and documented. You need to have a clear plan in place about each person’s responsibilities, and how they’re accountable to each other for the standard of what they achieve together.”

Expecting employees to be reachable during their days off – and the whole idea of the "always on" culture – is controversial. However, Forword suggests that fielding the occasional call may be the price job sharers will pay for flexibility. “The person who’s not doing the job on a particular day may need to make themselves available, because both employees are to an extent reliant on each other."

Some roles bring extra challenges when it comes to implementing a job share, such as any client-facing position that involves close external relationships. What’s more, senior members of the firm may find it difficult to surrender control to someone nominally at the same level as themselves.

“Certainly, as you go up the pyramid towards leadership finance positions, it gets more challenging,” says Forword. “If you’re a CFO, you may well want to have full control of the ship. That’s not to say it can never work, but it needs to be carefully planned to ensure a consistent level of service is maintained.”

He suggests a few golden rules for employees seeking a job share. “Have a look at your situation and make sure you have a clear idea of what you can commit to: ideally, what would your work pattern look like? Do you want to work part-time by doing two full days each week, or five half-days?”

And even though employers may be happy to consider job shares, they may not go out of their way to advertise the fact. “Using a good recruiter can help you land these opportunities,” says Forword, “but it’s also worth using your own personal network, asking around and keeping your eyes open.”