A growing number of companies in Malta are giving their employees the opportunity to work more flexible hours than the standard nine-to-five, spurred on by factors including the current labour skills shortage, and the increasing amount of competition for employees.
“Flexible working hours are definitely trending strongly in the market, mainly driven by a skills shortage and a new mindset which sometimes values flexibility over monetary considerations,” said Christian Xuereb, Marketing Manager for recruitment specialists Castille. “International companies are the ones leading the trend, but Maltese companies are increasingly following suit in order to remain competitive in the local market for talent.”
“It is definitely the case that more employees are working on flexible hours than they did previously,” said Joseph Farrugia, Director General of the Malta Employers Association (MEA), adding that the type and extent of flexibility is normally agreed on an individual basis and depends on the type of job and also on the company’s situation.
In early April, the European Parliament gave the green light for parents across Europe to start benefiting from 10 days of paternity leave. This means that both mothers and fathers are now allowed to take up to two months parental leave each, until their child is eight years old. The new law also introduces the right for employees to request flexible working arrangements when needed, such as those wanting to take care of sick relatives.
The new legislation aims to increase women’s employment rate, create incentives for fathers to take family-related leave, and promote gender equality and equal opportunities. But not everyone is convinced this new EU directive is the way to go. “It’s more challenging for micro-enterprises to introduce flexible hours,” said MEA’s Mr Farrugia.
“Also, in general, service companies are more inclined to offer flexible hours due to the nature of the work performed. From Government’s side, any family-friendly measures should be state-funded. Legislation shouldn’t be over-prescribed while the basis for flexible work agreements should remain on a case-by-case basis and subject to an agreement between the employer and the employees involved.”
One such company which recently adapted its working hours policy to better cater to its employees’ needs is food and beverage conglomerate Farsons. After years of requests from staff asking for more flexibility, the company decided to introduce a more formal structure. “We live in an employees’ market,” said Group Human Resources Manager Antoinette Caruana. “Employers have a tough time trying to find good quality employees – that’s why they are more likely to be receptive to the demands for flexible working hours.”
“Of course, adaptable working hours also benefit working mothers and fathers who need to find a balance between their home and work responsibilities. It also may encourage more fathers to take an active role in rearing their children. The benefits extend to those who have responsibilities for caring for elderly parents as well as those who have hobbies and interests which are greatly important to them. The demand for working time flexibility is also a reflection of the society we live in. The younger generation are entering the labour market with different expectations. They are not only interested in an attractive financial package, but also other conditions. The realities of the vastly changed family units from those we have been more traditionally used to is also a factor. This requires a change in the way we think about working time.”
Meanwhile, leading local bank HSBC Malta has been offering its staff flexible working hours since June 2015. Head of Human Resources Caroline Buhagiar said that it had been a success and encourages other businesses to make the change. “This is something to embrace, since being a high-performance company requires attracting, retaining and motivating the best employees. In today’s world, flexibility and agility are essential in business, and with the advent of new technologies, it is also much easier than was the case in the past to operate flexible working practices.”
The full version of this article originally appeared in The Malta Business Observer