Is There a Place for Older Workers in Companies?

By Ian Tan Hanhonn

Following this year’s National Day Rally, we now know the Government’s plan to address the concerns of our ageing resident workers.

This includes gradually raising the retirement age and re-employment age over the next 10 years or so, as well as increasing the CPF contribution of older workers so that they can better plan for their retirement.

However, while we know what the Government is doing in terms of legislation, what are human resource professionals’ views on the matter? And how are companies preparing to deal with these changes at the workplace?

Hiring Older Workers

“As a country of limited human capital, ensuring the employment and employability of older workers is a matter of national importance,” according to Mr Mayank Parekh, CEO of Institute for Human Resource Professionals.

Allowing workers to work for longer has also added significance at this point in time, given our country’s recent tightening labour market as well as the Government’s aim to reduce the reliance on foreign manpower. Prospective employers can now also consider hiring from our pool of older and more experienced workers, before considering foreign labour options.

However, Mr Parekh was quick to note that not all industries will be able to be as receptive towards hiring older workers as others.

“While service sectors such as professional services, hospitality and F&B may be more receptive to hiring older workers, the manufacturing and construction sectors will probably require more effort,” said Mr Parekh.

More Age-Friendly Workplaces

Currently, there are several Government schemes and support programmes available, such as the WorkPro Job Redesign Grant that can help retain older workers who have skills that are difficult to replace.

Alongside ever-developing innovations in production technology and mechanisation, it is now more possible than ever, for older workers to continue working effectively for longer.

With that said, many of the current HR practices will need to evolve to take into account the changes in the workforce and workplaces. The Government’s plan to increase the workers’ retirement and re-employment ages is just one of the measures that would give added momentum to remove barriers that prevent older workers from staying in the workforce.

Changing Mindsets About Older Workers

Mr Parekh believes that a multi-generational workforce is one that will bring about both opportunities as well as challenges. Younger workers today have more current skills and are, therefore, more future-ready. To not fall behind in our ever-evolving world, it is hence critical that older workers are encouraged by their supervisors to learn and be open to new experiences.

There is also a perception that older workers are more costly than younger workers. However, there is always a work-around, and companies should not let this deter them from hiring older workers. Issues such as seniority-based compensation systems as well as group medical plans, need to evolve to avoid escalating costs.

Mr Parekh also noted that having an age-diverse workforce could be beneficial for companies and would present other opportunities to the organisation.

“Many studies in the USA have shown that multigenerational workforces are more productive and have lower turnover than those without age diversity,” he shared.

Embracing an Age-Diverse Workforce

Some companies have already taken the lead to incorporate more age-inclusive practices into their work culture. One of these companies includes Mandarin Oriental, Singapore, winner of 2018’s Tripartite Alliance Award for Age Inclusive Practices. As an organisation, they are committed to hiring workers based on merit while focusing on managing and enhancing the employability of workers of diverse ages.

They also have purposefully incorporated training programmes that help train and teach their more mature staff on how to better lead a multi-generational workforce, as well as specialised sessions under a Learning and Development programme to learn about the digital workplace.

What’s more, they have also implemented simple improvements to the workplace ergonomics to make work for their senior staff less tedious and more manageable. This includes the issuing of ergonomic keyboards and larger computer monitors at work to staff aged 50 and above.

When asked about the benefits of hiring a more senior worker, Ms Cindy Teo, Director of Human Resources at Mandarin Oriental, Singapore, believes that older workers are vital in areas of talent renewal, succession planning and knowledge management.

“Their [older workers] diversity in knowledge, skills, experience and business acumen make them suited to a mentor and role model to the younger colleagues,” said Ms Teo. “This has also placed the hotel to be in a better position to serve guests.”

One of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group’s guiding principles is that of valuing each colleague and providing a caring and rewarding environment for all. The adoption and implementation of age inclusive practices have encouraged all staff members to work together in unison. As a result, the organisation attributes the hotel’s higher retention rate and acquisition of prestigious awards like the Forbes five-star win for eight consecutive years due to the adoption of this practice.

Shared Responsibility

Finally, it may be concluded that being able to remain gainfully employed until we reach our golden years is not just the responsibility of the Government or the employers, but also that of our own. As workers, we need to ensure that we move with the times and embrace the technological advances that come with our respective work fields.

“Employability of older workers is a shared responsibility, and workers should upgrade skills and be willing to embrace new technologies,” said Mr Parekh.

“Organisations have a role in implementing more age-friendly practices; be it part-time employment, or allowing for flexible work arrangements. More can be done to win the battle against ‘ageism’ through, amongst other things, conversations to breakdown the ‘silo mentality’ and address outdated mindsets.”

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