Towards the Improvement in Working Conditions for Older Workers: Empirical Evidence from Maltese Companies

3. The Research: Objectives and Method

3.1 Objectives

The study carried out in Malta is part of a European research project undertaken in 2005, promoted by the European Foundation for the Improvement in Living and Working Conditions (Dublin), with the aim of documenting company initiatives in favour of older workers (including those directed at all workers, including the older) through the realization of a database (freely available for consultation) of the examples gathered4. All this facilitates the transferability of the schemes to other companies wishing to be at the forefront in the age management issue. The characteristics of the schemes were analyzed in order to formulate proposals at a central level, and promote best practices in age management within companies (Naegele and Walker 2006). Undertaken initially in 11 countries5, and subsequently extended to a further seven new member states6 (for a total of 138 corporate case-studies from 18 countries), the project was integrated between 2006 and 2007, so as to include remaining Member States in the research7, with the objective of having a complete picture of companies’ good practices in age management throughout the Member States of the European Union.

3.2 Method

In Malta, the research was carried out by the Department of Gerontology Research of INRCA (Ancona, Italy), the organization that had performed the study also in Italy in 2005 (Principi, Gianelli and Lamura 2007). The project methodology, partly modifying the strategy originally adopted in 2005 in the first 11 Countries8, aimed at identifying five case-studies in companies that had introduced positive initiatives for older and ageing employees, in order to analyse content relevant to the reasons behind the initial scheme, implementation processes, results observed and prospects for the future. Thus, five small (less than 99 employees) or medium (100-499 employees) companies were selected in various business sectors, for a total of about 1,000 employees (Table 2): a hotel (Park Hotel); a privatized Department of Agriculture agency operating in the field of landscaping and general maintenance of parks and gardens in Malta (ELC); a company operating in steel fabrication (Motherwell Bridge); a call centre (Dial It) managed by Telepage Limited (which is a branch of the national telecommunications operator Maltacom Plc); a public company involved in the promotion, management and maintenance of Maltese cultural heritage such as museums, churches etc (Heritage Malta).

Table 2: Sample composition


Source: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions

The task of identifying the companies which had started schemes was carried out with the advice and cooperation of Maltese employment market experts (i.e. Employment and Training Corporation managers and, above all, the manager of Outlook Coop9), with knowledge of the sector and used to dealing with Maltese companies on issues such as the improvement of employee working conditions. The studies were carried out through face-to-face qualitative interviews, conducted by an INRCA researcher, who visited each of the five Maltese companies in January 2007. Various representatives from each company were interviewed: the Human Resources managers, those responsible for activated initiatives and, separately, workers’ representatives. Each interview lasted about 90 minutes and was based on a semi-structured questionnaire, split into two main sections: general company information and description of the initiative. Following a procedure similar to that of previous years of the European project, the initiatives identified were classified on the basis of ten different methodologically pre-established dimensions: changing mentality; comprehensive approach; ergonomics and job design; exit policy; flexible working practices; health and well-being; recruitment; re-deployment; training, development and career; wage policy (Principi, Gianelli and Lamura 2007:128).

Data collection and analysis were undertaken with double quality monitoring, the first by the organization co-ordinating the project’s implementation, the second by the funding organization10. On the basis of this methodology, the first report version for each company case was submitted for a first review, then revised and improved on the basis of suggestions made by the coordinators. In various cases this led to the integration of the information gathered by INRCA researchers through telephone follow-up with the abovementioned Maltese employment market experts and some of the representatives who had been interviewed previously. Later the second version, reports were submitted for further approval by the European Foundation for the Improvement in Living and Working Conditions, and any further suggestions and proposals forthcoming were incorporated into a final version which was then published in the Foundation website’s online database. The results below refer to this final version.

4. Results

Most of the initiatives identified in Maltese companies supporting the ageing workforce, fit into the recruitment and training categories. Progress is being made, albeit limited, also in the direction of a more comprehensive approach, which indicates a certain tendency towards a change in mentality in the companies with respect to the question of age management, a tendency evident mainly through the introduction of more flexible working practices. There is still much to be done in areas such as ergonomics and job design, exit policies and health-safety, areas in which Maltese companies seem to have been less active (Table 3).

Table 3: Typologies of the initiatives


Source: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions

5. The Research: Objectives And Method

5.1 Recruitment

The most structured and convincing company schemes as far as tangible results are concerned, are those in the field of the recruitment of older workers. Above all, this is due to the activity of the abovementioned ETC government organization, which over the years has activated a series of projects dedicated specifically to job placement for unemployed over-40s. The programme that had the greatest impact in the Maltese corporate sphere was the TEES (Training and Employment Exposure Scheme), subscribed to by two out of the five companies in our sample:
•    ELC (Environmental Landscape Consortium): in 2005-2006 through the TEES, the ELC recruited 12 workers aged over 40: a woman (for administrative duties in the nursery) and 11 men (a car electrician, one to install irrigation systems, a general maintenance man and eight gardeners). These people were selected using a process which involved 60 trainees in three different periods, each lasting 8 weeks. Subsequently the trainees were hosted by the ELC for a further training period specific to work to be done, at the end of which time the company made their selection;
•    Park Hotel: in 2005, the Park Hotel recruited an unemployed 53-year-old male through the TEES. The on-the-job training period in this case lasted 4 months, after which the worker was offered a permanent contract as person in charge of the ‘food and beverages’ section.

5.2 Comprehensive Approach

The stimulus to recruit mature workers in Malta does not come just from the TEES. The company Dial It-Telepage, for example, has started various schemes as part of its policy to offer a more comprehensive approach towards all ages of workers. The various schemes are, in part, interconnected, and older workers in particular have benefited from them:
•    throughout 2006 the company recruited 22 workers aged over 45. In fact, the company launched a recruiting campaign specifically aimed at older workers, printing a leaflet with a photo of two aproximately 50-year-olds (a man and a woman), resting comfortably in a meadow with the slogan: “choose your working hours… take the rest of the day off!” The leaflet specifies that the company is looking for people of all ages, a detail which underlines that older candidates are not discriminated against because of their age;
•    the recruiting scheme described above is linked to another initiative of flexible working hours. The company, in fact, allows employees to choose how many hours they work on a weekly basis, and even their own working hours. The employees can choose to work full time (40 hours a week) or part-time (minimum 20 hours a week), expressing their preferences for working hours (generally met by the company) every week. The older applicants (especially women), who often not only do housework but also care for elderly family members and/or grandchildren, are clearly attracted by the possibility of being able to reconcile the time spent on these activities with that dedicated to paid work;
•    this company’s mentality in managing older employees brings them career benefits: the last three promotions, in January 2007, were of employees aged 44, 42 and 57. The last is particularly significant because she was a woman recruited only two years before, at the age of 55.

5.3 Training

Following a trend already observed in Italy (Principi and Lamura 2007b:1), the training schemes identified in Malta are aimed mainly at all employees, so that older workers gain the same advantages as their colleagues. In the Maltese context, however, as emerged during the course of the research, some companies excelled in the training offered, sometimes thanks to the decisive contribution and involvement of older workers:
•    Motherwell Bridge employees recognize the company’s capability to provide high quality training, mainly thanks to the transfer of know-how on-the-job, by the most skilled workers to younger colleagues. ‘Most skilled’ does not necessarily mean ‘old’, but this is often tacitly understood, since expertise is generally acquired during a long career. Essentially, the transfer of skills is organized and monitored by a manager, who implements an annual programme decided by management, sometimes with input from workers’ representatives;
•    in 2003 (a year in which more than 200 employees were transferred to the new public agency from the old ‘Museum Department’), Heritage Malta organized a training scheme for all employees, following a lack of motivation at work. When they were part of the Museum Department, that employees (about 50% of whom were over 45) never had any type of training during their professional lives, therefore new Heritage Malta was faced with a difficult situation, not only due to the lack of motivation that characterized the employees (accompanied in the public sector by a high absence rate, as was reported by more than one of the company representatives interviewed) but also because of lack of qualifications;
•    consequently, Heritage Malta management decided to intervene and activate a series of training schemes at all levels, with the main aim of motivating workers and providing them new skills.These operations were? proposed, together with a change in mentality in the approach to work, both towards users of cultural services and the job itself. In addition to these internal training programmes, an additional company initiative to encourage all its employees to participate in external study courses outside working hours, also appears to be valuable (for example to obtain a diploma, a degree, a Masters degree or develop their linguistic skills), financing them up to 70%.

6. What Are the Reasons for Adopting these Schemes?

A more in-depth aspect of the study concerns the reasons that led the various companies to activate positive initiatives for older employees, and from the analysis undertaken, a number of different reasons emerged.
For TEES recruiting schemes, the companies were undoubtedly attracted by the particularly favourable conditions the programme offered them and, above all, the possibility of having staff on ‘trial’ for several weeks, without any obligation to offer them a contract at the end of the period. This happened with the ELC, for example, who at the time of the TEES launch was considering precisely the possibility of recruiting further staff. Moreover, ETC company representatives also declared that they considered it a ‘social duty’ to help the government to achieve its aim of increasing the employment rate for older workers. In other cases, the favourable economic aspect of the TEES was no less important, as Park Hotel management underscored, for instance, with particular appreciation of the fact that through the ETC, the Government was for six months covering part of the salary (about 140 euros a week) of the people recruited.
The main reason why Motherwell Bridge decided to activate training schemes however, derives from the great difficulty the company had in recruiting specialized staff. This difficulty is particularly evident in the case of some specific jobs (for instance welders), where the transfer of knowledge and experience from more skilled workers to younger, less experienced colleagues, becomes a crucial strategy for preserving professional standards, vital for the company’s future.
The case of Heritage Malta was different; the activation of the training programmes was aimed chiefly, as we mentioned above, at promoting a cultural change in the staff, characterized till then by lack of motivation and an absence of a culture of cooperation amongst colleagues.
Dial It-Telepage has finally implemented the multiple schemes described, mainly to raise its own personnel’s levels of loyalty, motivation and commitment, aiming to reduce turnover (particularly high in the past), even though the company has never had to face genuine problems of shortages, thanks to a wide selection of candidates usually applying for jobs. Given the particularly stressful nature of call centre work, improvement in working conditions and the creation of a more pleasant atmosphere have proved to be essential to the company.

4 The database can be consulted on the website: [access: 7th January 2008].
5 Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Holland, Spain, Sweden and United Kingdom.
6 Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia e Slovenia.
7 Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal.
8 Here it was intended that only long-term company initiatives would be documented, i.e. those that had existed for at least five years (Principi, Gianelli and Lamura 2007: 127). This methodological note was not present in this new phase of research.
9 Maltese organization which operates, among other areas, in the management of human resources and collaborates with private companies and government organizations, including the ETC.
10 These are, respectively, the Institute of Gerontology at the University of Dortmund (Germany) and the European Foundation for Improvement of Living and Working Conditions of Dublin (Ireland).

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