A couple weeks ago, the principal at my son’s school announced that he will be retiring early at the end of the year for family reasons. He’s a dedicated administrator who believes that children learn best when they feel loved and accepted. He’s worked hard to create that learning environment at the school, so his unexpected announcement came as very sad news.
As I processed the news of his premature retirement, I reflected on how often “family” is the reason people give when they resign or retire early from a position. It’s an acceptable, neutral reason to give when you want to provide an explanation without inviting further questions, because family matters are considered private.
But in this case, my son’s principal went a bit further and shared some details of the family responsibilities that he needed to attend to. He’s supporting one of his children through a big transition in their life and taking care of aging parents who have been diagnosed with a chronic illness. As I read his letter, I felt a rage rising up. Not at him and his decision, but at our insistence as a society to keep pitting career against family.
We’re losing someone who is brilliant and dedicated to their work because they cannot see a way forward that allows them to meet the demands of the job and fulfill their personal responsibilities. We’re losing someone because we present them with only two options: you go all in for the job, or you leave. When will we wake up and realize that no one wins when we continue to approach life and work this way?
Since we all have family responsibilities, why do we continue to insist that people must forego them in order to perform certain jobs? By doing this, we say that caregivers are not suited to be politicians; that parents of children with disabilities are not fit to be executives; that people with aging parents are not wanted at tables where important decisions are being made.
The good news is, there is a solution that has been staring us in the face: job-sharing in senior-level positions.
In case you’re not aware, job-sharing is an arrangement where two or more people share the responsibilities of a role. It can take the form of a job-split, where two people split the duties of the role according to their strengths, interests, and experience. It can also take the form of a traditional job share where two people take turns and handle all responsibilities of the role for the days they work. It can also take a hybrid form that combines elements of a job split and a job share.
One of the biggest issues with sustaining your effort in a senior-level position is the long working hours. According to a small scale study by Harvard Business Review, CEOs work an average of 9.7 hours on a typical work day and also put in an average of 4 hours per day on the weekend. Even while on vacation, CEOs put in an average of 2.5 hours a day. Across the board, the CEOs that participated in the study agreed that managing time is one of their greatest challenges. Job-sharing allows us to split those working hours in half, which means a CEO can work 30-35 hours a week (instead of the usual 60-70 hours a week) and take a true break on their days off, knowing that someone else with the same level of expertise and authority is taking care of things.
Additionally, senior leaders are required to make critical decisions all day long. As the rate of change accelerates in every industry, senior leaders have to make increasingly complex decisions in a shorter timeframe and with less information. Considering the nature of conversations and decisions that make up a senior leader’s day, they often finish the day feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted. Job-sharing allows us to share that mental and emotional load with someone else.
Yet, job-sharing has yet to gain momentum in Canada, especially in senior-level positions . The latest statistics available in 2005 show that less than 10% of Canadian workforce is working in a job-share arrangement.
When I talk to people about job-sharing, I often hear similar concerns:
1. “It can never work for my type of position.”
Duome, a UK job-sharing platform, gathered up 10 examples of job-sharing in a variety of industries, from insurance, banking, politics, technology, to education. Positions included range from managing partner, CEO, to political party leader.
So, think of all the reasons why job-sharing wouldn’t work for your position, then for each of those reasons, put on your thinking cap to see how you can solve that problem. After all, you didn’t get to where you are today by accepting statements like, “It can’t be done!”
2. “It would be confusing for my team/clients/stakeholders/boss.”
Like any change, it may take some getting used to. Manage it the same way you manage any change: share clear and consistent messaging, repeat the message more than you think is necessary, seek feedback and adjust as needed.
3. “My employer would never go for it.”
As the Great One said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Do your homework and prepare a strong case for job-sharing. Think about how job-sharing may benefit your organization and those that you serve (refer to this brilliant report on job-sharing at senior level by Capability Jane for inspiration). If you need further help, reach out to resources dedicated to job-sharing like WorkMuse or RoleShare.
While job-sharing isn’t a silver bullet that will magically fix everything, it is a viable solution worth exploring to make leadership more inclusive and diverse. At the end of the day, I don’t believe anyone should have to resign from a job they love because of family responsibilities. Do you?