To emphasise how flexible working arrangement can be a tangible reality that works well for businesses as well as employees, we interviewed an employer who is already doing this very successfully. Alf Mizzi and Sons (Marketing) Ltd., established in Malta in 1915, is an equal opportunities employer that actually has a work-life balance policy in place, which defines what flexible working arrangement can be adopted.
“We allow flexible working arrangement like reduced hours, teleworking and flexitime. We also offer a child care subsidy scheme which pays back 50% of child care centre expenses and, as of next year, we will have our own child care centre on the premises.”
Alf Mizzi and Sons (Marketing) Ltd. employs 400 persons, of whom 151 are women, including 98 married women. On average, four women take pregnancy leave in any given year and in one particular year there were eight. While there is an obvious disadvantage when mothers-to-be must stay away from work for a long period due to maternity leave and tend to reduce the number of hours they work, this is compensated by increased loyalty and commitment, explains Geraldine Gilford, Head of Human Resources.
Despite the cost of maternity leave to the company, Geraldine firmly believes in offering equal opportunities to men and women when employing new staff.
“It all depends on the individual we are about to hire. We do not look at gender. We look at hiring the best fit for that particular position independently from the gender. So we do not even calculate such risk. Our aim is to attract and retain top performers.”
In fact, Geraldine believes that a more diverse workforce increases organisational effectiveness, lifts morale, brings greater access to new segments of the marketplace and enhances productivity.
Being a working mother herself, Geraldine understands that being a parent brings added responsibilities, which sometimes might take priority over the job. She also knows that, with the right time management and assistance from family, child carers and so on, a working mother can actively participate in her working life and perform well.
“Being a woman had never held me back in my career, however being a mum is a different story. Before becoming a parent, I was highly ambitious, worked long hours and prioritised nothing above my job. When I learned I was pregnant, I was certain I would return to my job, however I decided to cut down on the hours. On the eve of delivering my baby, the company offered me the position to manage the HR Department. I was pleasantly surprised, considering my situation. I took up the offer immediately, even if this meant that I couldn't work reduced hours since I had to manage a department on my own (at the time).
“Working in HR means that you need to keep contact with your people all the time and be there when needed. I had the duty to maintain continuity, so during both of my pregnancies I continued to work remotely from home during maternity leave. I reported to the office occasionally to pick up some documents and speak to peers, so returning full-time did not feel so bad since I never detached completely.
“Presently, I work flexible hours, which allow me to juggle my working and personal life. Both my children are settled and occupied, so I do not feel guilty that there are days when they are waiting for me to pick them up from my parents’ place or from child care. I firmly believe that, by having me as their mother (a working mother), they ought to feel proud about my achievements and this should set an example to them that work is valuable and in life we are to do what makes us happy. I am happy and proud to be able to manage my career and at the same time bring up my kids.”
Overall, in her capacity as Head of Human Resources, Geraldine's outlook is simple, and perhaps one of the keys to the company's success.
“To me there is no difference between men and women at work. Sometimes working mothers tend to opt for reduced hours, which allows them more time to spend with their children. Actually, it is a pity that this option is often considered by working mothers and not fathers.
“I am wary of focusing on gender difference or trying to ascertain the different qualities and set-backs of men and women in a general way. Rather, I prefer to focus on the individual and the diverse value which one can bring to the workplace.
“It is all very positive that businesses are focusing more attention on women and has increased its awareness of the opportunity that females can bring to the economy. However, to me, we should go a step further and see each individual on his or her own merits and values.”
Alf Mizzi and Sons (Marketing) Ltd. has set the model for modern businesses that know that it is the people who drive them that are crucial to business success, and people must be treated as individuals not mere roles. The company’s personal approach and flexible attitude when dealing with the personal lives of the people who make up its workforce means happier and more motivated staff, who are more committed and productive in their work. It means employees enjoy all-round benefits that encourage them to stay in the company, giving it their full potential when it is time to work. The solidity of the workforce gives continuity and stability to the business, ensuring its success.