WANTING IT ALL: The benefit of a job-share is that you can stay on track. You don't need to get shunted off to the sidings - you can still do a mainstream job

WANTING IT ALL: The benefit of a job-share is that you can stay on track. You don't need to get shunted off to the sidings - you can still do a mainstream job - Following not one but two failures at part-time work, my solution to finding some balance in m

by DEBBIE SANDFORD, formerly worked at McKinsey and Random House
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Following not one but two failures at part-time work, my solution to finding some balance in my life was to throw in my job altogether. Simple and dramatic - yes. Constructive in terms of keeping the embers of my ruined career alight - hmm, could do better.

Staying at home has many attractions. But at 36 I still feel a gnawing urge to do something more with my life than attempt to raise well-adjusted children and run a stable, happy household while maintaining some sense of personal space. I would like to play on a bigger stage. The hurdle has been raised; what was sufficient in our mothers' generation just isn't enough any more. And men seem to want something more from life than a comfy office and salary.

The solution is not to stuff people back into their boxes - women in their homes, men in their nine-to-fives - but to find new ways to juggle roles so that we can all hope to gain fulfilment at work, make time for our families and still have something left over. Roll up, flexible working, and stand over there, please. Let's have a look at you.

Freelance is the most obvious suspect. It depends on what you do, but many organisations are now run so leanly that there is a definite market for different kinds of freelancers. For example, Megan, who works in the corporate secretariat of a large US investment bank, reports that the person who came to do her holiday cover in the summer was still there in October; although the bank is desperately short-staffed, the hiring freeze means no new permanent people. Thus, counterintuitively, demand for freelancers may well grow during a recession.

The money can be good too; pounds 1,000-plus a day is not uncommon for consultancy projects. But you don't always get the social stimuli that you find as part of a company; it can be a lonely life.

Freelance means you set your own terms - how much and when you want to work. So, in theory, does starting your own business. However, my direct observation of people in start-ups is that the business is their baby, or at least - in the words of one friend - their bid for immortality. Babies and immortality bids tend to require incredibly long hours.

But not necessarily so. Eden McCallum was started by Liann Eden and Dena McCallum last year to match independent consultants to corporate projects. The business is powering through the downturn and - guess what? - Liann and Dena both work four days a week and take time out when they need to. They acknowledge that the price they pay for shorter hours is slower growth, but as it's their show, they can make that trade-off.

As ever, though, you need the entrepreneurial spirit, a good idea and luck to start a business. If you'd rather stay in the corporate world, how about job-sharing?

Research conducted last year by the Industrial Society and Flexecutive, a company dedicated to extending flexible working, concluded that employers were happier with job-sharers' performance than they were with that of ordinary, full-time employees.

Employers feel that they get more and better-quality output - two heads for the price of one. For example, Rory Shaw, chair of the new National Patients Safety Agency, says of his job-sharing CEOs that he gets high energy levels all the time.

Meanwhile, Sue Monk, one of the job-sharing chief executives of the charity Parents at Work, points out that having two people in a post means you can get a broader skill-set than you might do from just one person. As a manager of job-sharers, Monk also reports that job-sharers need less management time than full-time employees, because they support and guide each other.

From the employee's point of view, the benefit of a job-share is that you can stay on track. You don't need to get shunted off to the sidings; you can still do a demanding, mainstream job, but in part-time hours.

I'm ashamed to say that job-sharing didn't cross my mind when I left work, but, looking back, I think that either of my jobs - management consultant or MD of a publishing company - could have been job shared if I'd found a suitable job-share partner.

And perhaps that big if is the point. According to the experts, you need somebody who not only has the requisite background, who would like to work part-time, but also someone whose work-style is compatible with your own. Such a person may well be hard to find, particularly as the market is underdeveloped; professional recruiters are not commonly involved in job-share positions. The typical job-share is still something that grows organically, from within a company, to suit individual circumstances.

Yet as the pool of talent frustrated by the long working hours culture continues to grow, surely the market will develop and it should become easier to find your Ms or Mr Job-share Right. Perhaps an idea whose time has come.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime