In children’s services we tend to think in childhoods. I was nine months pregnant when my Job Share Partner Rachel Williams and I first had the conversation about jointly applying to lead the Child Psychology Service. It coincided with the retirement of our predecessor; and a desire to maintain and develop the creative and supportive culture that we both loved working in. Fast forward the clock over 17 years and my son is learning to drive – the first of many steps on his journey into the adult world. That’s a whole generation since we set out on this endeavour. It feels timely, therefore, for Rachel and I to reflect on our own journey, and what job sharing has meant to us.
First and foremost it made the onerous leap in role from clinician to leader feel possible when we were both at such an early, and busy stage in family life. I was negotiating a return to work following the birth of my first child, and Rachel was balancing her career with three children under the age of five. Ordinarily this is not an easy time to contemplate the added responsibilities that go with the territory of managing a service. However, doing it together made all the difference, both to our confidence in our abilities, and to the day to day practicalities. It meant that we could both work part time, and share out the duties. When I was at home Rachel was in work and vice versa, enabling us to ‘switch on’ and ‘switch off’ – something that can be hard to do in such a broad and responsible position. It also opened up the opportunities for seamless holiday cover, and subsequent maternity leaves for both of us. More recently I took a career break of nearly three years and lived abroad. That was only possible as a result of our trusting partnership, and commitment to support each other at various stages in our lives.
There is no doubt that job sharing has made us braver. The less than optimum timing meant that we were very focused about why we wanted to take on the role, and that has not wavered over the years. We were explicit both about our goal – to promote a more relational, developmental and contextual understanding of children’s distress – and the core values that underpin this endeavour. They have not always been easy to uphold, and an ever changing organisational, financial, and political landscape has posed various threats over the year. However, together we have been able to stand our ground, supporting each other to be resolute when pressures came down to bear. Often we have felt as though we were swimming against the tide, and if one of us has needed to pause and tread water, the other has paddled harder. At the times when our ideas and service models have found more support we have encouraged each other to think bigger and bolder in our developments and innovations.
The tasks involved in managing a large Child Psychology Service are many and varied. Some are exciting, others are mundane and others are highly stressful. By job sharing we have been able to share out these tasks fairly, supporting each other as and when demands have peaked for either one of us. Indeed, when we first applied to job share the concept was relatively new. By way of compensation we put considerable effort into defining the roles, and offering absolute clarity about those we would lead on individually, those that were interchangeable between us, and those we would undertake jointly. Over the years, as job sharing has become more common place, and we have become more confident, we have been able to relax and there has been greater fluidity in our arrangements. So far so good, and in over 17 years no issues regarding role confusion have been raised – with us at least – and we often seek feedback. We have swapped things around from time to time, for example, firstly organising line management by geography before moving to more function based arrangements (e.g. early intervention, social services, CAMHS, Community Psychology etc). Generally our team and our key stakeholders seem clear about who to go to for what, and those situations when either of us will do. Excellent administrative support has been invaluable in ensuring this runs smoothly.
Creativity through Conversation and Difference.
This is, of course, a key concept in therapeutic relationships but it is also the case in management and service development that creative ideas are generated through dialogue. Many times we will start a conversation with a dilemma or tricky scenario and a solution will emerge during the process of talking it through. We can really check out the robustness of a plan in a way that is much harder when you are on your own. Often we may offer very different perspectives, but again discussion and compromise can lead to more rounded solutions. We help each other to notice our blind spots and our personal hobby horses. Indeed, job sharing offers built in peer supervision and support, and we are sure that it helps to prevent burn out. Occasionally we do disagree and that is fine. We model to our team that difference and challenge is okay, and indeed in a profession as broad as psychology it is to be welcomed and celebrated.
Relative Strengths and Weaknesses
Inevitably Rachel and I bring different, and often complimentary strengths to the role. Interestingly, one of our first training courses we attended as managers was about systemic practice applied to leadership. A helpful concept that emerged was about the need for leaders to sit on the periphery – keeping one eye on the internal functioning of the team, and one eye on the external influences, threats and opportunities. When you are new to leadership it is easy to get pulled in one or other direction depending on the issues that are dominating at the time. Job sharing meant that one of us could focus our attention on the team, and one on the more strategic aspects of the role. Of course, there is considerable overlap and again this has become more fluid over the years, but at the time it helped us to hold onto to both perspectives according to our relative strengths.
Fun and Friendship
Last but not least job sharing is definitely more fun! Away Days, lunches and team gatherings are easier when the responsibility you feel as Head of Service at these events is shared. Having moved into the role as clinicians from the same team we were quite taken aback when we were no longer invited to certain social gatherings because we were now ‘management’. That must feel quite isolating and lonely as a single leader. We would make our own fun and go out together anyway! As in all work contexts life intertwines and we have been through many experiences, highs and lows, both individually and as a team. Having someone to share that journey has been invaluable, and an enormous privilege for us both. We are grateful to each other and to our team and the wider organisation for the support we have received over the years.
Dr Liz Gregory and Dr Rachel Williams
Joint Heads – Child and Familiy Psychology and Therapies Service
Aneurin Bevan University Health Board