Dial-it – Telepage, Malta: Flexible working practices
Telepage Limited was launched in April 1995 as the national paging service provider. The company is a subsidiary of Maltacom plc, the national telecommunications operator in the Maltese Islands. In 2000, Telepage entered the call centre industry. Today, the company’s 300-seat call centre located in Sliema on the northeast coast of Malta operates as a 24-hour communication hub under the brand name ‘Dial-it’. Functioning on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week, Dial-it is today a totally private enterprise providing services for the private and public business sectors, which are dedicated to the development and management of business and customer relations.
Dial-it employs 371 customer care agents, of whom 251 are women. The company also employs 18 members of managerial staff. Out of all the customer care agents, 54 (about 15%) are over 45 years of age, and the percentage of older workers is expected to increase.
Although the rate of staff turnover is considerably high, the company is trying to reverse this trend. There does not appear to be a labour shortage, as many people have applied for jobs. The company’s personnel policies are not geared towards a preferred employee age profile: older workers are valued and esteemed due to their level of knowledge, but also because they tend to be more loyal to the company than younger employees in general.
Formal social dialogue is ongoing with the trade union representatives in relation to the different aspects covered by the company’s collective agreement, and the atmosphere is one of cooperation. Furthermore, relationships between management and employees, when drafting company policies and developmental strategies, are constantly overseen by focus groups which include employees.
Good practice today
Diat-it has developed a comprehensive policy approach, which includes recruitment, flexible work and training initiatives, directed at all of its employees. In particular, older workers benefit from these policies as they are regularly recruited along with their younger counterparts.
The flexible work initiative allows employees to choose both their weekly number and allocation of working hours. Workers can either choose a full-time (40 hours a week) or a part-time schedule on a variable basis (minimum of 20 hours a week), expressing their choices week by week. The company does its utmost to meet all workers’ requests.
This initiative is carried out in connection with the company’s policy of recruitment of older workers, who are attracted by the possibility of working on a part-time basis. In 2006, 22 people over the age of 45 years were recruited. Older people are indeed a target group of the company’s recruitment policy, which is reflected by the fact that it has launched a recruitment campaign publicised by the photo of an older male and female worker aged about 50 years, accompanied by the caption ‘Choose your working hours… take the rest of the day off!’ The publicity leaflet also specifies that the company is seeking to recruit customer service professionals of all ages.
A further ongoing initiative concerns training. After the provision of an initial month-long basic theory and practice course, continuous training takes place due to the increasing diversification among the services provided.
The main reason for the implementation of the initiatives was to increase employee loyalty, motivation and commitment, and to foster a congenial atmosphere in this stressful work environment. The underlying objective is to reduce staff turnover.
Decisions about the implementation process are made by the company management in collaboration with the employees, who are regularly consulted on the issue. Training is sometimes provided by external instructors. In this case, according to project type, training costs may be covered either by the clients themselves or by the company.
Although the initiatives are not geared towards any particular gender, women are generally more attracted by the work. This is largely due to the fact that the flexibility schemes enable the women – more so than in other jobs elsewhere – to reconcile work and family life. This comprehensive approach to management policies offers a ‘life course’ perspective, having proved to be particularly suitable for a positive work–life balance, owing mainly to the flexible work initiative.
All of these initiatives have a positive impact on the workforce. Their sense of belonging and loyalty to the company has increased on account of the company’s efforts and determination in meeting workers’ requirements. Staff turnover is still high but is mainly due to the presence of a number of young students who alternate between periods of study and periods of work. Employee representatives have given extremely favourable feedback on the company’s human resources (HR) policies, which are deemed a success. Nevertheless, Dial-it intends to further develop its personnel policies. One effort in this regard will affect candidates who – although having the right characteristics for the job they have applied for – are not employed because their level of education and basic computer skills are insufficient. The company plans to address these issues through suitable training courses.
In this regard, results are extremely positive for both the employer and employees. Older employees – especially women – appear to be particularly satisfied, mostly due to the fact that they have a job at all – something which is considered very favourable in Malta at present. In fact, the Maltese general female employment rate remains relatively low. Furthermore, as a result of the work flexibility scheme, women have the ability to choose their own work timetable; for example, a part-time schedule allows them more time to better reconcile work and family life. In addition, some old-age pensioners have successfully applied for a job at Dial-it. The company has also shown its willingness to meet the requests of those employees who wish to postpone their retirement, which is a good approach that contrasts with the national tendency. Dial-it is therefore satisfied with the increase in its older staff members, who are considered more loyal to the company and less likely to give up their jobs than younger workers. This reputation held by older workers paves the way for greater opportunities for career advancement. The three latest promotions announced by the HR department involved employees aged 42, 44 and 57 years. The latter case is particularly significant as the woman in question was recruited as an operator at the age of 55 years and was promoted just two years later.
One negative effect worth mentioning concerns the flexible work scheme for young students. Their agreement with the company stipulates that they will be available for ‘last minute’ shifts in the case of absence of regular staff. If the students do not adhere to the agreement, the initiative proves to be a failure.
The sense of well-being among staff members and the pleasure of socialising has become so widespread that the workers have promoted initiatives such as the ‘Funky fun Friday’. Every first Friday of the month, activities are held on Dial-it premises, each with an individual theme. Competitions in aid of charitable organisations as well as relaxation and fitness sessions are available to all employees.
Dial-it has a positive future ahead as the company is expanding, acquiring new clients and planning to increase its workforce. Due to the positive results of the initiatives so far, the company suggests that other enterprises wishing to implement an integrated approach to measures of good practice should rely very much on the contribution of older workers. The rationale supporting this policy is that companies can increase the well-being and motivation of their employees by explicitly acknowledging their value.
For the future, the company plans to carry out further studies on retention strategies. One of the policies to be undertaken soon is that of financial incentives. Two initiatives will be introduced: the first concerns a productivity-related bonus, which will depend on a series of indicators including the pay matrix; the second relates to a one-off bonus for those employees who succeed in getting ‘a friend’ to work for Dial-it for at least six months.
- Charmaine Portelli, Human Resource Manager, email: email@example.com
- Rosemarie Pengally, Employee representative, email: firstname.lastname@example.org