Planning Authority Promotes Measures For Better Work-Life Balance

May, 09, 2019

The Planning Authority has introduced a number of work related measures with the aim of fostering a better work-life balance for its employees, alongside numerous other benefits relating to the well-being of employees, their professional and personal development

Miriam Bartolo Abela, HR Manager at the Planning Authority (PA), said that the organisation has been strategically working on building its employer brand. Our aim has been to strengthen our reputation as an employer.  We not only want to ensure we retain the quality talent we currently have but also want to attract the best talent available in the marketplace.  We are aware that the upcoming generation of job seekers have different demands and expectations to what we were accustomed until a few years ago. Over past years we have introduced a number of advantageous measures that contribute towards a better work-life balance. Among these are flexible working hours,  tele-working and hot-desking

“Having flexible hours means that, unlike companies that have fixed working hours, PA employees can clock in and out within a three hour timeframe. This measure gives employees the benefit of greater flexibility in order to accommodate personal responsibilities, whether related to family, to pursue a hobby, a sport, an errand, or even to continue with personal studies, especially when one considers that the working hours start from 06:00 and employees can clock out at 15:00. This goes hand-in-hand with the ability to save vacation leave hours  – although we work 8.5 hours in winter and 6.5 hours in summer, employees may opt to apply for  full days of vacation leave which amount to less than 8.5 or 6.5 hours and then work the difference (shortage of hours) during  specified periods. Employees may also apply for leave on a half-hourly basis, which gives them ample flexibility to make the best use of their leave.”

Tying in with the Authority’s move towards a flexible office is a new strategy introduced by management for hot-desking and tele-working, both of which give employees the opportunity to work both from home and from the office. “The aim behind introducing these measures is to create a sustainable work environment for our employees, and to set them up with a portable working station through a laptop equipped with the latest technology and their phones,” Ms Bartolo Abela said. . “This started out as a pilot project, and so far, 37 employees are working with this arrangement. The concept behind it was to make better use of the resources within the PA, including space.”

These measures opened up opportunities for the PA to explore new means through which employees can improve their efficiency and productivity, namely through video conferencing. “Through video conferencing, one can still conduct meetings with colleagues, without the need to be at the office. After this measure is tested internally among staff, the aim is to implement it with clients too,” she added. “We can conduct meetings with architects, for instance, from our respective offices through a video-conference, which saves everyone involved a lot of time spent commuting, and also helps to reduce the number of cars on the road at any given time of the day.”

Besides this new working strategy, the Authority offers tele-working, as a family-friendly measure, which so far has been utilised by 12 per cent of the PA’s employees. Staff can tailor their working hours according to their needs and management exigencies. “Someone might require one hour per day working from home, while someone else might need to tele-work for a whole day – requests for tele-work vary among employees but each request is reviewed and actioned on a case by case basis.”

As part of employees’ development path, the PA provides a number of incentives for employees to develop their skills and competences. “Last year, the PA provided its employees with 7,237 man-hours of training. They can also make use of a training reimbursement,system and  resource and training allowance, to pursue courses, seminars and conferences that contribute towards their personal development whilst also enriching their work related  skills and competences within the Authority.”  The Authority also reimburses its employees with the annual membership fees in a recognised professional body to ensure they keep abreast with the latest developments in their respective area of expertise.

As part of the PA’s Succession Planning measures, in collaboration with the University of Malta, an extensive training programme targeting existing employees starting from basic certification all the way up to a bachelor’s degree was launched. “The course is fully sponsored by the Authority, and they get one day of paid leave per week to allow them to balance work with their studies,” said Mrs Bartolo Abela. “This has offered a platform to employees who, for instance, started out in one role within the Authority but wished to move on to a new role, and it also provides the Authority with the necessary human resources to cater for the future, with staff we already know. Paid study leave is also available to employees pursuing Master’s and Doctoral study programmes which are research based.”

Through various EU funding schemes, such as (ESF) PA+ project, PA employees can undertake specialised formal training, namely in ICT, customer care, operational management, urban design and EU funding. Moreover through the Erasmus+ projects employees can apply to spend two weeks in a host organisation overseas. So far, 36 personnel have benefitted from job shadowing experiences in Germany, Austria, Belgium and the UK. Upon their return, they are encouraged to share their experiences and knowledge acquired with fellow colleagues, as well as the best practices, approaches and processes of overseas organisations.”

On the health and well-being front, Ms Bartolo Abela said that the employees of the Authority also benefit from free private clinic health insurance, which can be upgraded by the employee to include additional benefits applicable to private hospital at favourable rates. Employees can complement this with subscription at a charge to the Preventive Care scheme, which includes preventive screenings and tests, namely for skin, prostate and breast cancer. “We also collaborate with the Government Health Department to host events whereby experts from the Department present information sessions on health, nutrition, besides testing employees for glucose and blood pressure among others, whilst providing individual advice to employees on these matters..”

“A few years back the PA introduced a green travel plan, which offers different measures for employees to adopt depending on what suits them best. In recent years, we have realised that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work, as everyone has different patterns of how and when they get to work,” concluded Ms Bartolo Abela. “Therefore, PA staff can choose to cycle, walk or use a motorbike to travel to work and get an annual allowance; receive a monthly reimbursement of their Tallinja Card, subject to certain minimum usage; get a full reimbursement of a weekly block ticket for using harbour ferries; as well as benefit from a reserved parking within the PA premises for car sharing with a minimum of two persons.”