Keeping older workers on the job

Bosses' doubts based on outdated views, says employment guide

Keeping older workers on the job

Keeping older workers on the job. -- ST ILLUSTRATION: LUIS MISTADES

A MAN I know is about to turn 62 and he is dreading every bit of it.

When he hits 62, he must either retire or carry on in the job but on a contract basis, with little benefits and no bonus.

In his case, there is no choice: He needs the work as he is still supporting a family.

His situation is not unique, especially as more couples are having children at an older age and so are likely to find themselves having to work past the retirement age.

That could be well and good if you are healthy and still willing to stay at the coalface. But some companies are reluctant to hire older workers and others may not offer a reasonable package.

There is also the perception that young people make a better long-term investment while older workers are just hanging around to retire.

These perceptions need to change, said Ms Dianah Worman, an adviser on diversity and inclusion at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Europe's largest professional human resource body.

Ms Worman, who spoke at last week's conference on fair employment practices at Resorts World Sentosa, told The Straits Times that the appetite for working longer is there and more people also cannot afford to not work.

In Asia, there is more respect for older people and some feel they should not be working. 'But has anybody asked them if they want to work? If you don't, you are almost marginalising them,' she said.

'They may get bored at home. Some people say they will want to go on holidays when they retire, but you can't afford to go holidaying all the time.'

Instead of quitting immediately, older people often want to ease themselves gradually into retirement as they take up new interests.

Yet, many prevailing attitudes about older workers are based on yesterday's experiences of yesterday's older workers in yesterday's jobs, said a CIPD guide for employers on managing a healthy ageing workforce.

Ms Worman said a lot of the findings in the guide, which came out earlier this month, can be applied to Singapore.

Many employers have overlooked older workers, thinking that they are likely to be less productive and more difficult to manage than younger ones.

But bosses with experience of managing older workers commonly report that these workers have made their mistakes, had their successes and know how things work, the guide said.

In Britain, where there is no compulsory retirement age, many older workers would like to gradually reduce their working hours before stopping completely. This allows employers to retain critical skills at reduced cost, the guide said.

Older workers have a great deal of precious organisation-specific knowledge and are less likely to change jobs than their younger colleagues, it noted.

The guide noted many misconceptions about older workers, such as that work is bad for older people's health. The fact is that most work is good for people.

Studies show that those who continue to work are healthier and often happier than those who retire early.

Also, a worker in his 50s is likely to stay longer with an employer than one in his 20s.

Mr Ho Nai Chuen, managing director of On Cheong Jewellery, said older workers are experienced and can impart knowledge to younger staff. The firm has three counter staff in their 70s, with the oldest at 78.

The trick, Mr Ho told the audience at the conference, is to treat them as part of the team and not as 70-year-olds.

He told The Straits Times that he has no qualms about employing staff past the retirement age as long as they are fit and willing. He stops increasing their pay after 62 but continues to give out benefits and bonuses based on their performance.

If employers exclude these workers, they are simply ignoring the talent pool out there, said Ms Worman.

'We have to be far more imaginative, far more radical in order to move forward, and not depend on yesterday's views. We have to keep on refreshing, rethinking.'

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