Two professional women are smiling and working together on a shared laptop in a corporate setting.
From left: Jean O'Brien and Majella Cronin. Image: MSD Brinny

The ingredients to a successful and ‘incredibly rewarding’ job-share

13 Jan 2020

Majella Cronin and Jean O’Brien have held a job-share at MSD Brinny for 17 years, bringing them ‘the best of both worlds’.

As companies continue to focus more on flexible employment offerings and people-centric initiatives, new ways of working are continuously coming to the fore.

Majella Cronin and Jean O’Brien are well-versed in that. They’ve been sharing a position for 17 years and, together, take care of the director of finance role at MSD’s Brinny site in Co Cork.

The pair talked to us about their job-share journey, during which there have been “no personal agendas” but a “great work-life balance”.

‘From day one we have received mentorship, which is the single biggest factor I attribute to our success’

What does your job at MSD involve?

Cronin: We share the director of finance role at MSD Brinny and are responsible for the company’s finances. We combine operational and strategic roles, managing the finance function including financial controls and business partnering with all of the site functions.

O’Brien: Each day is quite different as we ensure finances in all areas and levels are being properly managed. We enable the site to do this through training, monthly governance and strategic financial planning. A large part of our role is as a participant on the site’s leadership team, where we bring our cost focus, ensuring optimal, balanced decisions are reached.

How did the job-share come about?

Cronin: I joined MSD in 1989 and worked in a number of different financial roles. During this time, I hired Jean as a management accountant. I then took up an opportunity to move to supply chain and Jean was promoted into my role as finance manager. With a busy family life, I was looking for more flexibility, as was Jean, and we put our heads together to develop a plan for job-sharing. We engaged with management on our proposal and, although it was novel, MSD’s robust flexibility policy allowed us to job-share at managerial level initially and as finance director three years later.

Were you nervous about the concept? 

O’Brien: I was not actually nervous about the concept as I knew Majella and I could make it work. We are very similar in our approach, ethic and sense of ownership – coupled with the openness and trust we received from the company when our approach was approved, we were confident this partnership would work. 

Cronin: I knew Jean well and had 100pc trust in her and her abilities. When you job-share there are no personal agendas. With the strong backing from senior management within the organisation, we believed we could and would make this work.

Was it difficult to settle into this new way of working?

Cronin: We use different mechanisms to make this new way of working a success. We start each Wednesday and work for five days with a scheduled handover window each Wednesday morning to ensure seamless continuity. In addition, technology allows us to stay up to date when we’re not on site, and we also talk on the phone most days.

O’Brien: It was definitely a different way of working as you have to ‘share’ your career development and are a working model of two people and one role. Over time, this has become easier and the model for us has always felt right and incredibly rewarding.

Was there anyone – or anything – that helped make it a success?

Cronin: Throughout our career at MSD, there has always been great diversity, with a high percentage of females in senior leadership positions. We have met great mentors who have always invested in us and encouraged us. Indeed, from day one we have received mentorship, which is the single biggest factor I attribute to our success. In addition, without Jean’s capability, selflessness and support, the job-share would simply not have worked.

O’Brien: There is not just one particular person who has supported us but a number of people who have met us with openness and acceptance throughout our careers. We are lucky that we have been encouraged and senior leaders within the business have always positively engaged with us once they learn how our role operates. However, I will say, Majella is the one person who has made this a success for me. She is a very rewarding and selfless person to work with and I regard her as a mentor on many levels.

What have been the biggest challenges throughout your time sharing a job?

Cronin: We’ve job-shared for 17 years and, personally, I do not see the challenges any more. Change is constant in our role but that’s what makes the job interesting and keeps us on our toes.

O’Brien: The job-share works for us as we both really want to make it work. The most challenging element of the role is to stay abreast of what is happening on my ‘off week’. Job-sharing is not easy and still requires regular communication to ensure the operation of the role is seamless. However, this has become easier over the years and we’re now very in tune with how to hand over and communicate.

What have been the biggest benefits? 

Cronin: Our job-share has given us flexibility, which has led to talent retention. The company also benefits as they have the skills and expertise of two experienced professionals. From a personal perspective, we have the best of both worlds and the extra time with our families is priceless.

O’Brien: The biggest benefit for me is the combination of a rewarding career and a great work-life balance. I also believe that the workplace of today can be very pressurised, and to share the load is of immense benefit on a personal level. Additionally, the value of the job-share for the company is clear as we both work to our strengths and the business benefits from the best in both of us.

Would you recommend it for others, and do you have any advice for someone considering a similar situation?

Cronin: Don’t be afraid to take the risk. Mindset is important and the availability of good mentors is invaluable. It’s important to promote work-life flexibility as it is important in your career to mind yourself. You need to mind yourself first to enable you to mind your family as well as enjoy success within your career.

O’Brien: The most important element of job-sharing is to find the right partner – someone you can trust and work alongside, sharing the workload equally. If you want to succeed, work as a team and develop a proposal together. Understand the value of what you are proposing and work hard to make it work. And if you are successful, ensure to deliver on this new way of working so you can pave the way for others to do the same.

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