“Top-sharing”: a solution to work-life balance for Executives
20 January 2021
By Sarina Loo, Co-Chief Executive Officer at Victorian Environmental Water Holder.
Click here for WorkSafe Victoria's WorkWell VEWH case study video on job-sharing.
As a young, female CEO, I am often asked about how to have a successful career and a satisfying family life. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy, but “top-sharing” (i.e. job-sharing an executive role) is the best solution that I have found. It enables me to work part-time, three days a week, and spend my other four days taking care of my children and recharging. It is the best working arrangement I have ever had.
With an increase in flexible work arrangements, job-sharing is starting to become more common. But it is often performed for project work, and not generally done at managerial or executive levels. But there can be real benefits to both individuals and the organisations they work for to adopt top-sharing and embrace a dual leadership mindset.
For companies who are serious about increasing employee flexibility, setting the tone from the top by role modelling executive job-sharing can be very valuable. It demonstrates commitment to a mentally healthy workplace and contributes to collaborative, constructive cultures.
I find that by having four days off a week, I am able to properly recuperate and switch off, knowing there is someone else holding down the fort and trusting them in that. That means I am more energetic and productive on the days I am working. I give it my all the three days I do work. There is no ‘Wednesday hump’ day and no ‘Friday fades’.
While the arrangement benefits individuals, there are many organisational benefits too. It’s well known that collective problem solving and decision-making is stronger than by an individual. By having dual leadership, the top-share arrangement means that the high level, strategic approaches have the benefit of two minds working on them. My top-share partner and I deliberately and regularly set aside time together to work through strategic matters, hence the rigour of decision-making is improved as we both contribute perspectives based on our individual skills and experience. We are bouncing ideas off each other all the time and importantly, learning from each other.
A top-share can also result in a collaborative executive team culture. I have found that by talking through ideas with my partner in front of the senior managers, it leads to open debate and discussion rather than a ‘captain’s call’ culture. The executive team becomes less hierarchical and more of a collective group.
A top-share can also lead to productivity increases. Each Executive is very focused and energised during their limited time and conscious of not leaving things undone for their counterpart. They hold each other to account, help to drive each other’s performance and are conscious of representing each other. Additionally, when one person in the executive partnership is on annual leave or on a training course, the other is still providing continuity and guidance to the team.
Job-sharing is not just for women returning from maternity leave. A lot of people want to work flexibly to fit in with modern life. Carer responsibilities are just one reason to want to job-share. There are many motivations to want to work part-time, for example study, volunteer work, or pursuing hobbies and investments. The well-being benefits are clear.
For those Executives who are passionate about the collaborative delivery of outcomes and who want better work-life balance, a top-share is perfect.
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