Flexible working arrangements are sought after by many parents as they juggle the balance between work and home life. Slowly but surely, we are starting to see flexible employment arrangements embraced by different industries. In particular, job share appointments are proving to be highly successful and therefore more accepted and visible in today’s workforce. Especially within female dominant industries such as teaching and nursing.

Today I had the pleasure of speaking to Renee Barbour. A highly skilled Nurse Unit Manager who is in a job share arrangement.

Renee would have to be one of the most organised people I know. So much so, that she even puts her tea bag in the mug, the night before, ready to go for the morning. This afternoon, her organisation skills continue to shine through. Heidi (her 18-month-old) is sleeping soundly in her cot. Liam is set up on the couch with a new movie, snacks, a drink and all of his favourite toys are ready to go.

Whilst attending to Duplo towers and the occasional request to play trains we sit at Renee’s dining room table and talk about her job share arrangement and her two experiences returning to work after maternity leave. Despite being financially ready on both occasions, Renee didn’t feel emotionally ready and found that it was harder again the second time around.

It has now been about 6 months since Renee returned to work and she has certainly found her “groove.” She is once again loving the additional stimulation that the work environment provides and the overall fulfillment it brings to her week.

Here is Renee’s story..

Tell me about your family
My husband, Ashley and I have been together for fifteen years and married for five years. We have two children, Liam who is four and Heidi who is eighteen months.

Your lifestyle and career before becoming a mum looked like….
I was a full-time nurse. I was an Associate Nurse Unit Manager at Austin Health within the operating suite. I had a very busy social life. I was out and about every weekend catching up with friends. I was actively involved and a committed surf lifesaver for the Bass District. My husband and I met at the Inverloch Surf Life Saving Club all those years ago.

Tell me about your job and what you do
I am Nurse Unit Manager at the Austin Hospital. I’m in a job share arrangement. My colleague and I manage the Recovery Unit which consists of 47 staff and two high dependency beds. We perform multiple surgeries every day and see approximately 80 patients. It’s a very busy and fast paced environment.

Predominantly, I’m responsible for looking after all of the human resource management elements for our team, including their professional development. I manage our budget, the portfolio standards and ensure that we maintain the highest standard of occupational health safety at all times.

How many years did you have away from the workforce before you returned to work?
After my first child, I had 12 months off and I then returned in a part-time capacity. After my second child, I had 14 months off and also returned on a part-time basis.

How did you know you were ready to return to work?
We were financially ready but on both occasions, I wasn’t emotionally ready. It took a bit of adjusting. I found that it was harder the second time around. Liam was younger so he was less aware. He was more resilient than Heidi. Liam then became used to having me at home again. Initially, it was difficult starting a new routine but the adjustment was certainly worth it. I’m really enjoying having a different form of stimulation.

Have you returned to the same workplace? If yes, have you returned to the same position or a new role?
I’ve been employed by the Austin for 13 years. I have been fortunate to progress in my career and perform various roles across the hospital. After my first maternity leave, I returned to the position of Associate Nurse Unit Manager. I was in charge of managing all of the nurses for that particular shift. I was able to do my role and go home again.

This time, I returned to a new position; Nurse Unit Manager for the Recovery Suite. The role is a lot more involved from a staff management perspective. My responsibilities, don’t just start and stop at the beginning of each shift.

Prior to going on maternity leave I had been in the role for about 18 months. Before I was officially appointed, the hospital prepared me for the new position. I completed professional development and additional studies to ensure that I had the level of education that I needed, to support me in this role. It was certainly a very busy time as Liam was still a baby/toddler.

Was your employer accommodating and understanding to your new situation?
Yes, very much so. Nursing is very accommodating to mothers. It provides great flexibility. I job share with a mum and my manager is a mum which I think makes a massive difference when it comes to their level of understanding around everything from unexpected challenges, logistics and flexibility.

I was able to specify what my requirements were. I just needed to ensure that I met the Australian Nursing Standards and complete 19 hours per week. My boss gave me the flexibility to do these hours however best suited my needs. I work two, ten-hour days (Wednesday and Thursday).

Thinking about returning to work, do get in touch. Click here to organise your free 30 min phone conversation with me. I would love to talk to you about where you are now, where you are headed and what help you might need to achieve your career goals.

How long have you been in a job share arrangement?
Just over two years.

Was the idea presented to you or did you and your colleague put forward the suggestion?
We put forward the idea of a job share arrangement to our management team. At the time, I was working part-time as her Associate Nurse Unit Manager (the position below our current role). The lady whom I job share with, was working full-time in our current position. She had been in this role for five years. She was struggling to keep on top of her work load and care for her family. My colleague (then manager), went to our Director and informed her of the challenges she was facing. She suggested that we trial a job share arrangement, given that I already knew the role and had covered her position on my occasions.

I can’t imagine that job sharing is a common occurrence in the nursing field. Did you face any challenges / difficulties in seeking approval for the position?
Before us, there had only ever been one job share arrangement at our hospital. Unfortunately, it wasn’t successful. Before our role was officially approved, we had to trial the arrangement for 18 months. The CEO and the Director of Nursing kept a watchful eye over us to ensure that the partnership was going to work.

Are you responsible for different elements of the position?
Yes. We have divided the roles requirements and have different accountabilities.

Is this something that you worked out together or where your specific responsibilities given to you?
We have an informal division of the role’s tasks which we worked out together based on our strengths. My colleague had been in the role for a number of years prior to our job share arrangement. She knew the business elements very well. Each component came easily to her without any new learnings. I had held various positions within the department. I therefore had a greater understanding of the practical elements of each function within the unit. I enjoy working with people so I was very happy to take on the HR components of the position.

What do you think makes a successful job share arrangement?
Constant communication and honesty. We have a communications book. Everything gets written in the book; the minutes from meetings, staff requests, new tasks, status updates etc… We also cc’ each other into all emails. We have a combined meeting with our manager once a month and an individual meeting fortnightly. Once a fortnight we have a cross over day together in the office. We use this day for planning (strategically and tactically), to conduct any job interviews and for any other joint activities that we need to partake in. We share a hard drive where we store all of the documents for the department.

The right partnership is also very important. You have to have the same beliefs, goals and vision for the job share partnership to be successful.

Also, remaining neutral to office politics and always ensuring that you support one another by having each other’s back.

What do you find challenging about job sharing?
Making a decision without checking with my partner first. We don’t have to, but I think that it is best to do so to keep abreast of what is happening and to make sure that we are both on the same page.

How do you and your colleague ensure that your job share arrangement works for the both of you?
Constant communication. We talk or email nearly every day, even when we are not at work.

Do you find that you and your colleague have a equal respect of authority from your team members?
Because my colleague was in the role for five years before we started to job share, staff can still approach her first however it’s certainly getting a lot better. At the end of the day I think it comes down to the individual relationships you have with your team members. It’s very important that you are both equally respected.

Without talking about specifics, can I ask how individual salaries are determined in a job share arrangement?
As per any position, our salaries are determined based on the industry standard for our level (pro-rata). We have the same annual leave and sick leave entitlements too. We work out our annual leave together based on our personal commitments. We have Associate Nurse Unit Managers that are there to step up if we need them to. We therefore don’t always have to cover for one another.

Do you think that job sharing will start to become more common in the nursing field?
Yes, I think so. Nursing is still a female dominated workforce. Therefore, flexible work arrangements need to be taken into consideration. We were the guinea pigs at our hospital. Our success story has now resulted in other job share arrangements within the hospital. I think that successful job share arrangements are very beneficial for the employer and the employees.

Your biggest concerns and worries about going back to work were…..
My children. I was worried that they might not settle well into child care and our new routine. That they would miss and start to resent me and then consequently, not be happy when they did see me.
My overall levels of tiredness. I was worried about how I was going to cope with sleepless nights. How would I then be able to articulate what I needed to get across to my staff/management team when my brain wasn’t functioning clearly.
I was also worried that my little girl would start to refuse or withdraw from breastfeeding as I wasn’t going to be around as often.

Did you go back to work when you were still breastfeeding?
I was still doing three breastfeeds. I did drop it back so I wasn’t feeding overnight anymore to make it a little easier on myself. I still feed Heidi first thing in the morning and before she goes to bed. I really enjoy this time.

How do you juggle work and motherhood?
By being very organised! On the weekends, I try to cook one or two meals for the freezer. I get the kids clothes out and their bags packed for the whole week. I make lunches the night before and have breakfast prepared and ready to go. I try to do all of my housework on Monday’s and Tuesday’s. I do the majority of my washing at night and over the summer months I’ll often hang it out on the line at 10pm at night.

What childcare arrangements do you have in place?
Liam and Heidi go to family day care, two days per week. We always really liked the idea of family day care. We had Liam down on the waiting list before he was born. Family day care is a lot smaller than childcare. It offers a more nurturing and relaxed environment. The children get to enjoy community-based activities such as going to the park and the library. Less children means less illnesses to contend with too! On the rare occasion that Ash or I are running late the carer will give the children a bath and dinner.

Liam is at Kinder on Tuesday and Friday mornings which are my non-work days. I love that I am able to do Kinder pick up and drop off and to be the helper mummy at Kinder, when I can.

What do you do if your children are sick on one of your work days?
Ash and I negotiate who has the capacity to take the day off or we ask either my parents or my mother-in law, if they are available. Worst case scenario, I can work from home. I can respond to emails and stay on top of daily communications. However, I don’t get a full day’s pay but instead I’m compensated according to my sick leave entitlements.

How do you cope with sleepless nights when you have work the following day?
Liam was predominantly sleeping through when I returned to work for the first time. He would also take a bottle of expressed milk too.
I was greatly concerned approaching my second return as Heidi was waking 4-5 times a night and didn’t take a bottle. I decided that I needed to take immediate action. We were fast tracked into sleep school. I utilised the controlled environment to help break the feeding cycles, assist Heidi to sleep through and to create a structured routine. Sleep school changed our lives! By the end of the five days she was sleeping through and slept at structured times during the day. However, she still doesn’t take a bottle but I now know, that will never change and it’s ok.

How long did it take you to get into the “groove”?
The first time it took me about six to eight weeks. At that time, I was doing shift work. I would get my shifts and then need to plan childcare and my support structures around my roster. I was working a five-day fortnight. Starting at 7:30 or midday and finishing at 5:30 or 10:00pm. Logistically, it was quite challenging.
This time around, it has been a lot easier logistically but harder emotionally. I work two set days per week (day time hours) and I am not working shift work. It probably took me about 3 months to settle into our new routine. The kids did really well. They were better than me!

The biggest challenge of being a working Mum is…..
Definitely, leaving the kids and the guilt you feel from the pressures of society. No matter what you do, you feel guilty either way. Whether you decide to return to work or to be a stay at home mum. Unfortunately, the pressures of society leave you feeling guilty no matter what. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t! You just need to do what is right for your family.

What time management secrets do you have up your sleave?
Starting work as early as I can. I aim for 7:30am or earlier and finish around 5:30pm. This seems to be working really well. At the beginning of the day, I have an hour of uninterrupted, productive work before my team start to arrive. At the end of the day, get home in time for our night time routine.
I’m very, very organised. I plan ahead and make sure that our weeks are structured and follow a routine so everyone knows what’s coming next. Liam especially thrives on routine.

What skills or behaviours has motherhood taught you that you have been able to utilise back in the workforce?
Definitely my ability to prioritise. I find that I have no troubles identifying the priority levels of my tasks and allocating my time accordingly. Generally, anything that concerns/involves my staff is a high priority.

Personally, I now feel stronger and more confident within myself. I am not reluctant to say what I believe in or what I need. Why do you think this? As parent’s we have to be able to stand up for our children. I now feel confident to stand up for myself too. My children have made me more aware of the little things in life rather than always focusing on the big things.
I have always been organised and excellent at managing my time but since motherhood, it’s reached a new level! I instil this new-found level at work, at home and across our very busy week.

My patience levels. I used to get very frustrated with the public health system. I now see the bigger picture. It’s not just about me and my staff. There are many other layers and people that are involved. Being a mum has made me more situationally aware.

If you look back at your working self before you became a mum and compare yourself to the person you are today, do you think you have changed? If so, how and why?
Yes definitely. I am a lot more open and approachable with my team. I have a greater understanding of their life outside of work. I now have the insight of what being a parent involves. It isn’t all fun games! Prior to being a parent, you only see the good things and don’t have an all-round perspective. There are a lot of mums in my team. The ages of our children range from babies and toddlers, to kinder and primary school children, right through to teenagers. We can all relate to one another. We support each other through the ups and downs of parenthood and in particular, being a working parent.
I’m now more focussed when I’m at work. I’m only there for a specified time each week. I need to ensure that I am making the most of every hour.

What do you enjoy most about being a working Mum?
The mental stimulation and the professional development. The adult life and all of the friends that I have made, outside of my personal/motherhood network.

Thinking about returning to work, do get in touch. Click here to organise your free 30 min phone conversation with me. I would love to talk to you about where you are now, where you are headed and what help you might need to achieve your career goals.

The best advice you have been given about motherhood is……..
Trust your instincts. Have confidence in yourself. Embrace it, it goes so fast!

Listen to advice but take what you want from it. Take what suits your own family.

Don’t sweat the small things.

Your children have taught you…….
Everything – unconditional love.

Life as a working mum is…….
Hectic but fulfilling. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishing tasks at work and also at home.

What do you think being a working mum teaches your children?
Strength, resilience, commitment, professionalism and organisation.

What advice would you give to mums who are about to start the return to work journey?
It’s definitely not easy but it’s worth it. Don’t forget to ask for help and to accept help. Don’t feel guilty about childcare, the kids actually really enjoy it. They gain lots of new skills and make lovely friends. You’ll be a different person at work. It will help you to grow.


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