Is it the next big thing?

Reflecting with our candidates over their experience returning to a career in Chemistry through a pioneering Jobshare has uncovered some interesting lessons, which I’d like to share with you in support of helping more women (and men) advance their careers in science through Jobsharing, whatever your specialism.

“Jobsharing has been the ideal solution for us both, it has enabled us to return to the responsibility and potential of our full-time careers without compromising time with our family”.  

Jane and Helen both used a Jobshare solution as a phased return to full-time employment, taking on the responsibility and potential of a full-time career without compromising family time, or needing their employer to scale down a role.

As Associate Medicinal Chemist for a Contract Research Company, their role entailed applying their expertise in Chemistry to develop new compounds.  This involves everything from researching effective routes, running chemical reactions, synthesising new compounds, and everything in between including ensuring the lab is tidy and there isn’t an empty fume hood!.  Working 2.5 days each, with a half day overlap on the Wednesday, they offered a 1FTE partnership to their employer for a 6 month contract.

At the end of their contract, they were kind enough to take time to reflect on their experience and share how they have benefitted and what they have learned.

What was your first day like?

We both went in together for the induction and then Jane came in on the Tuesday and was straight into the lab and I started the next day.”

Jane: “I wanted as much as I could for people to only have to explain once to us and actually that was a good thing as well because I’d learn once from someone and then again by teaching it to Helen and vice versa.

Helen: “For me, I wanted us to hit the ground running and for people to look at us favourably, so wanted to make sure we got it right first time with learning about the protocol and bits of kit.”

Has it been successful?

Yes it has been a success, on various levels. For us, it’s got us back in a gentler way, we wanted to fulfil their (employer’s) criteria and get back into it and both work part-time.”

“As well as the new compounds we have created, we have received positive feedback like “you’ve tried lots of different things in this area”, “you’ve achieved lots”, “you’ve made lots of compounds and answered lots of questions that needed answering”, which makes me feel like it’s been a positive experience all round.”

What were the benefits?

it is the perfect balance of career and family” – After seven years parenting, Helen could still spend time with her children around homework and clubs and Jane could spend time with her pre-schoolers and get used to new childcare arrangements.

Jobsharing makes me more focussed”. I find the pressure is on a Tuesday afternoon when I know Helen is coming in on Wednesday, I want to show her what I’ve done on Monday and Tuesday and show progress.”  Having a mid-week handover means that Jobsharers are inherently accountable to their Jobshare partner for progress they have achieved on their days, which further boosts productivity.

our employer got two brains on each project whilst only paying for one, because you don’t stop thinking about it on your days off”

We made around 25 new compounds in 6 months” – it’s always difficult to pin this as an indicator of productivity due to the unpredictable nature of research and the varying complexity of compounds, but it’s nevertheless a sign that good progress was made by the partnership.

What are the lessons learned?

Communication is key – “if one is doing the washing up all the time, there’s a certain fairness to making sure it’s an equal share (of all elements of the role), also a lot of the presentations have been with Jane and there’s a certain degree of when you start to realise that somethings happening in such a way saying “are you alright with this?, rather than letting something fester.”  Accepting the success of the partnership as a reflection of your own success is crucial and tight communication with each other is key to this.

Don’t duplicate – “we have ended up with two lab books and separate filing systems, which would mean that on our working days we were walking around with 2 lab books. Instead we could simply share a drawer and a lab book, with the rule that one of us writes up progress using even pages and the other always on odd”.

Inform stakeholders how the Jobshare works – “colleagues would treat us like we were part-time and be reluctant to ask us to do certain duties saying “are you okay to do this lab tidy because I know you’re only in 2.5 days?” – when actually one of us is in all week so we have just as much time as an FTE.”  Introducing the Jobshare to stakeholders at the outset is a fundamental step towards optimising the benefits.

Share targets – “Have common targets and see yourself as sharing the role. At the start we were set separate targets which meant that I put a reaction on on a Friday and by the time I got in the following Wednesday it had been going too long and had biodegraded.”  After about a month, it became quite different as they both focussed on the same compounds and so could ask each other to work up a reaction that one had started; it became a true Jobshare and a lot easier to work with.

Thank you to Jane and Helen for sharing their insights with us, we covered a lot more in our discussion too so please let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to know.

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