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Helen Ko

The business of integrating ageing and employment in Singapore

BY HELEN KO

We have all heard of the well-known proverb "old is gold". Similarly, as we gain more experience and understanding of the business, we bring the “gold” to the workplace.

According to statistics from the Manpower Ministry, the employment rate of residents aged 55 to 64 rose from 65 percent in 2013 to 66.3 percent in June 20141.

As more active agers contribute to the economy, businesses need to adapt to an increasingly multi-generational workforce. This can be made much easier by keeping in mind a few tips in cultivating a grey-friendly working environment.

Understanding is key
Mutual understanding between employers and older workers can go a long way in fostering a cohesive working relationship. A research I conducted in 20112 found a need for better communication between employers and employees.

Moreover, the desire for part-time employment and flexible work arrangements was evident in the research. Through communication, employers can better understand that older workers have the desire to continue contributing.

They can then implement flexible work arrangements to help older workers manage work and other pursuits while also reaping the benefits of hiring older workers.

The benefits outweigh the costs
Many people have an inaccurate perception about hiring older workers. Many deem it undesirable, equating it to increased healthcare and insurance costs.

However, it is time that employers recognise the benefits that older workers bring to the team. Besides being a pool of valuable resource, older workers possess a reservoir of experiences.

They are often the ideal choice as mentors for the younger workers and tend to have lower turnover rates and absenteeism costs. These clearly signal how the benefits of employing older workers outweigh the costs in the long run.

Break free of stereotypes
What is your current view of older workers? Is your view substantiated by research?

These are just some of the questions employers should ask themselves to ensure that they do not subscribe to stereotypical myths about older workers. One example is a common complaint that older workers are not receptive or keen to attend training.

However, a 2010 research by the Institute for Adult Learning found that older workers are in fact interested in continuing education and training. This is consistent with my 2011 research cited above.

Another research which I published last year3 revealed that individuals viewed retirement positively, but many also recognised the need to continue working. They believe that they should and will ultimately bear most of the costs in supporting themselves.

What does this mean to employers? Do not write off older workers just because we assume they prefer to stop working.

A little help can go a long way
A company can boost the older workers’ well-being and job performance. For instance, it is inevitable that an employee’s eyesight deteriorates with age; better lighting or task lights can be provided to resolve this.

Such seemingly small and simple actions on the company’s part will go a long way in helping the older workers in the team.

Companies do not have to go out of their way to accommodate older workers, contrary to popular belief.

Based on a study on “Flexible Work Arrangements for Older Employees: Growing Older, Working Strong – How Do We Do It?” conducted by thYnk Consulting Group and commissioned by the Employer Alliance, organisations interviewed did not find that older workers posed unique or additional challenges to implementing flexible work arrangements.

In reality, the challenges were common across all age groups.

The time to eliminate any form of discrimination against older workers is now. There are structures and guidelines in place to guide employers in their quest to integrate older workers into their workforce.

One such guideline is the Tripartite Advisory on Re-employment of Employees from Age 65 to 67 released by the Tripartite Committee on Employability of Older Workers last year. Begin today by first recognising the business value of recruiting and retaining older workers.

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1Source: Infographic: Singapore Workforce, 2014 (http://stats.mom.gov.sg/Pages/Singapore-Workforce-2014-Infographic.aspx)
2Source: Ko, Helen. Extending Working Life: Individuals’ Responses, Attitudes & Practices of Employers in Singapore In Older Workers in a Sustainable Society. Ennals, Richard & Salomon, Robert H (Eds) (2011). Peter Lang Verlag. Frankfurt am Main.
3Source: Ko, Helen & Khan, Hafiz. T. A. (2014). Insights for Singapore’s re-employment legislation: Evidence from the global ageing survey (GLAS). Asian Profile, 42(2), 101-122.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Helen Ko

Helen Ko

Ms Helen Ko is the Executive Director of training and consultancy firm BeyondAge. She conducts the 'Effective Management of Mature Employees' Workshop run by TAFEP, which equips managers and supervisors with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively manage and optimise the strengths of mature employees to maintain competitiveness.

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