June 2021 marks 3 years since a new HR team was introduced at CSB Group. This is not to say that no HR function existed previously – similarly to a number of small to medium enterprises, HR was previously handled by CSB Group's Finance team, primarily ensuring that all legal aspects around onboarding, offboarding and payroll were duly carried out. However, the managing directors shared a vision to invest further and strengthen the organisation by having an HR function that is strategically positioned to see the company through its next phase of growth.

In April of 2018, Dr Elaine Dutton joined as the Head of HR for CSB Group, bringing with her close to 10 years of HR experience across various industries. Elaine's strengths in building efficient organisational structures and cultivating a trusting, high-performance culture, dovetailed with CSB's plan to grow its employee base without losing out on agility and effective customer relations. In June of that same year, Claudia Marletta was welcomed on-board as an HR executive, adding a deep understanding of HR systems, employee benefits and the rigour of how any back-end HR process should be organised and managed.

As a team, over the following 3 years, they established an HR function that is genuinely supportive and compassionate, but equally demanding in its expectation for individual accountability and team performance. CSB group enjoys a strong reputation that it has built over the span of 30 years and that it strives hard to maintain. It was therefore important for the HR team to be cognisant of the needs of individual team members and the demands of the industry while being equally invested in guarding the reputation and long-term interest of the organisation.

Over these 3 years, the Corporate arm of CSB Group has seen a headcount growth of 26% - new departments were established and new functions were recruited to support an expanding operation. Departments were streamlined and progression structures established in larger teams to ensure employees have opportunities to grow and specialise in their field. A performance management process was launched and tweaked yearly to ensure objectives are clear, performance is monitored but most importantly, that feedback is being given regularly. Alongside these processes, the Company adopted a supportive induction process whereby new employees would be aware of who would be welcoming and training them through the first weeks, followed by frequent chats with HR and line managers. It is a mantra of CSB Group's HR team that no employee should arrive at the end of probation or at a performance appraisal and be surprised – if feedback is being given regularly, any employee would already know deep down what the Company thinks of his/her contribution. Being able to address issues at the onset also ensures that new employees are provided with any needed assistance before it is too late.

This emphasis on communication is a works in progress and any Company that wants to do it seriously can never say that it has aced it completely. But employees increasingly mention how CSB Group offers an environment which is 'psychologically safe' – one can contribute an idea without any fear of ridicule or judgement, people are appreciated for being themselves and a grievance or a suggestion can be escalated to a member of management at any time. There is also a deep sense of accountability towards each other as colleagues which pulls people towards collaboration as well as a very rewarding bonus structure with both individual and team targets that help people remain driven to perform at their best.

However, what is perhaps one of the strongest values for CSB Group and which was strengthened in the last 3 years, is the genuine regard for employee's work-life balance. For a number of years, CSB Group was already well-known for its decision to work a short Friday with employees effectively able to start their weekend at 14.00 all year through. In addition to this, employees can expect a give-and-take culture with ample flexibility that is endorsed by the managing directors themselves and cascaded down through all leaders in the organisation.

Whilst this flexibility always needs careful balancing with the needs of clients, CSB Group's management is also conscious of the needs of its workforce. With an average age of 34 years, the majority of the Group's employees are at a stage in their life where they are embarking on further study, searching for their first home and/or building a family. CSB Group has therefore established schemes for those still studying to help them juggle their commitments at work while being able to focus on their professional development. The HR team also undertakes to proactively discuss pregnant employees' plans on return to employment so that the Company can make advance arrangements for any requested changes to work schedules or reduced hours. In 2019 CSB Group adopted the EU directive giving all male employees 10 days of paternity leave even if this is not yet legislation. This is based on the belief that men deserve this time to focus on their role as fathers and support their partner at home. The Company also recently included miscarriage to its reasons for bereavement leave following the progressive example set by New Zealand inviting all employees to ask for support in such difficult circumstances. The HR team is aiming to reduce the taboo that exists in Maltese society whereby individuals are discouraged from discussing pregnancy or related matters with an employer – on the contrary, CSB Group sees this time as a pivotal period when individuals need the most support and an understanding employer could make a big difference to men and women going through such difficulties.

In the last year, like any other Organisation, CSB Group had to contend with the impact of COVID-19. The Company decided early on to regard its clients and employee's wellbeing as paramount and shifted its entire operation remotely almost overnight. Employees praised this move, since it gave them peace of mind to feel trusted without the pressure of being expected to be physically at the office. This also enabled those with school-aged children to be present at home while the HR team kept in close contact with all teams recognising that everyone was coping with a different reality brought on by this pandemic. The CEO's mantra to maintain "a human touch" resonated beyond the need to give stellar customer service but to remember that we are all human beings coping with an unprecedented situation.

Of course, this was only possible thanks to an infrastructure that could handle such a fast shift and the fact that the vast majority of employees already had the possibility of working remotely even before the onset of the pandemic. With productivity at an all-time high and an employee base that already enjoyed a high degree of trust from line managers and business leaders, the HR team continued to work on the growth of key departments and embarked on an in-house online training programme aimed particularly at team leaders and first-time managers. CSB group invests continuously in training and development, particularly for industry related professional development qualifications that keep the team sharp and up to date in their knowledge. However, this in-house training was aimed to upskill managers in their people management and emotional intelligence skills. Parts of this programme were also tailored for the wider employee base such that all employees across the company could further develop their potential. Whilst the global epidemic severely limited the team building and social activities that the HR team is known for organising, in truth, the work did not change much during the novel situation: the focus was still one of recruiting and retaining the best talent, ensuring people feel recognised and have room to grow, and generally being there to ensure people's mental and emotional well-being.

So, what's next for this team? Having set up a strong HR function, the team has now split its focus with Claudia focusing more on leading the internal HR operation of CSB Group while Elaine's growth has seen her contributing more to the Group's business development and leading the Company's employment advisory & HR consultancy arm.

If you would like to know more about life at CSB Group visit our Facebook page or visit our Employment Advisory page for more information on HR Consultancy Services.

This article was originally published in the Times of Malta on 6th June 2021.

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