“We operate an open-door policy and fully recognise that constant feedback is a vital component of management” – Charlo Bonnici
Heading human resources is tough in any set-up, but it presents an even harder challenge when an organisation operates in several different sectors, with over 1,700 employees. When Charlo Bonnici was appointed as an HR Manager back in 2008, he dealt with just one company within Vassallo Group: its senior citizen residence arm, CareMalta. Over the past 18 months, however, he has assumed responsibility for the entire portfolio.
“Before my current post was created, one company didn’t really know what the other was doing on a human resources level. That has changed. Today, we talk to each other through formal and informal meetings which present us with an opportunity to discuss issues and come up with solutions,” Charlo explained.
The Group is committed to the development of its staff and has introduced a programme specifically aimed at valuing individual performance, known as VIP, as well as moving towards a system of continuous appraisal.
“We interact with employees of different ages in a variety of roles – from a construction worker to an executive – so we cannot adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. However, we operate an open-door policy across the board and fully recognise that in this day and age, constant feedback is a vital component of management.”
On the chairman’s initiative, the Group has also introduced two employee incentive programmes. The Retirement Bonus Scheme enables staff who reach pensionable age to receive a lump sum calculated on the basis of one week’s salary for every year they have been with the company – and if they remain in employment they also receive an additional week’s pay per annum.
The Group also shares a portion of its profits with employees who have been with the company for three or more years. This amount is also calculated on the basis of tenure and this year alone 600 members of staff were able to benefit.
“It’s important to offer incentives to attract new employees and of course retain the already existing ones. We have also introduced a range of family-friendly measures as the demands and benefits of flexibility become more prominent.”
Charlo admitted that finding Maltese workers is more difficult than in the past, partly due to a booming economy and higher education standards. However, he also pointed to the Group’s reputation as a good employer as a pulling factor, as well as its willingness to recruit foreign nationals.
“Today, one-third of our workforce is made up of foreigners – some of whom have been with us for more than 20 years.
“Since they come from over 50 countries, it can present a challenge to ensure that everyone integrates – but we have fully embraced cultural diversity and devised structures to ensure employees communicate effectively and feel part of the set-up.”
Feeling part of the company is very much what the Group is about, and it applies a caring philosophy not just to guests, but also to staff members in need.
It has an Employee Assistance Programme, which is extended to staff members’ immediate families, and its Arkati Foundation also provides financial assistance where needed. “Having healthy and happy employees is important to us,” Charlo emphasized, “and it also benefits our clients.”