Majority of employers adopt work–life balance measures
In 2009, the Employment and Training Corporation published a study on work–life reconciliation measures in the private sector, examining which measures were being requested by and offered to Maltese employees. The study also sought to identify the major obstacles and concerns of employers in implementing such measures, while offering suggestions on how these could be increased through policy changes and incentives to employers.
Study details and methodology
In 2009, the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC), Malta’s public employment service organisation, commissioned a transnational study on work–life reconciliation measures. The research was co-funded by the European Commission, with the countries Cyprus, Iceland, Slovenia and Sweden also acting as partners in the project.
The primary quantitative research was conducted through 417 completed telephone interviews. The qualitative part of the research consisted of a focus group and 36 in-depth personal interviews with top company officials and key social partner representatives.
High take-up of work–life reconciliation measures
The research found that as many as 92% of private sector employers in Malta agreed in principle with the concept of work–life reconciliation measures and only 6% did not. When probed about whether they were actually implementing such measures, 77% of employers indicated that they were already implementing forms of work–life reconciliation measures within their company. This result was similar to the findings of a study by the Malta Employers’ Association (MEA) which showed that requests for work–life reconciliation measures were met by the majority of employers.
Work–life reconciliation measures were mostly adopted by companies with more than 51 employees and operating in the services sector. On the other hand, companies operating in the manufacturing, construction and real estate sectors seemed less likely to implement these measures for a number of reasons. Some employers explained that such measures were impossible to adopt in their line of business, while others claimed that there was never a need to introduce such measures because their workforce was either predominantly male, unmarried or made up of mainly new graduates who, as yet, did not have family or other commitments.
Some 75.7% of respondents indicated that the most requested work–life reconciliation measure by private sector employees was to work on a part-time basis. This was followed by requests to reduce working hours and to work on a flexi-time basis. These findings were also similar to the MEA results, which found that the majority of requests related to reduced working hours were followed by requests for flexitime work.
Gender, age and occupational level
When asked about the type of employees normally requesting these measures, interestingly the ETC commissioned research found that almost 40% of such requests were made by both women and men. This proportion increases to 55.6% in organisations employing more than 51 employees. In contrast, the MEA research found that only 5% of such requests were made by men.
The majority of requests (51%) in this study came from employees aged between 31 and 40 years, with those aged between 20 and 30 years making up to 40.5% of the requests. These ages coincide with the prime child-bearing and child-rearing years. Some 44.5% of the respondents pointed out that employees making requests for work–life reconciliation measures were generally married or have a partner. Persons working at supervisory and/or management or senior management levels were less likely to make such requests.
Reasons for granting work–life reconciliation measures
As part of the study, the employers were asked to outline in which circumstances they would grant or refuse requests for work–life reconciliation measures. As many as 96.7% of respondents were positively inclined to grant such requests when they were related to family matters. A further 77.9% of the respondents also had positive inclinations in cases related to further education, and up to 71% said they would grant such measures in cases where workers were doing voluntary or philanthropic work. However, employers were less likely to adopt a positive perspective regarding requests for work–life reconciliation measures related to sports, among other things.
Need for government support
Generally, the respondents confirmed the need for more information and awareness raising regarding work–life reconciliation issues. They also underlined the need for government support in terms of incentives and benefits for private sector employers, to encourage them to implement more of these measures. When asked which measures would help them, the vast majority of employers mentioned tax credits, financial benefits and the setting up of childcare centres with government subsidisation. Some 66% of the respondents agreed that the government should extend school opening hours, while 54% of them welcomed the possibility of flexible working arrangements for female employees returning to work after maternity leave.
Like the MEA research, this latest study confirms that employers generally have a positive attitude towards work–life reconciliation measures. In fact, nearly over three quarters of employers are already implementing some of these measures. The research showed that the government and Malta’s Employment Services Organisation can help employers to increase the availability of such measures.
Fsadni, M., Creating innovative working arrangements through the support of public employment services for a better work–life reconciliation – Transnational report, Malta, Employment and Training Corporation, 2009.
Malta Employers’ Association (MEA),‘Results of questionnaire on family-friendly measures’, Business breakfast presentation by MEA Director General, Joseph Farrugia, Floriana, 3 December 2008.
Anna Borg, Centre for Labour Studies