POPULATION ageing is one of the top-three socio-economic issues faced by many countries.
Singapore has one of the fastest ageing populations in Asia, which is compounded by an all-time low fertility rate of 1.22. As such, labour shortage is fast becoming a critical issue.
So, what can employers do in the face of a shrinking pool of employees? They should start recognising older employees as a competitive advantage in their human capital strategy and consider expanding their search for employees beyond the age of 50 years.
Many older employees are valued for their maturity, experience and commitment. They also act as “social glue”, providing better team bonding in the diverse workforce.
A recent study conducted by Employer Alliance (EA), showed that although many of the older employees surveyed would like to continue working beyond the statutory retirement age of 62, a significant number have expressed a shift in their values and priorities. They would like to put a greater emphasis on family, social activities and personal interests, including health-related issues.
Flexible work arrangements (FWAs) can be implemented as a business strategy to attract and retain this group. FWAs enable older employees to remain active in the workforce while giving them more time for their personal or family needs. The study by EA uncovered various FWAs that are made available to older employees, and these include:
This is an arrangement where jobs can be performed outside the workplace using infocommunication tools. One company finds that older employees doing consultancy work benefit from telecommuting as it reduces the need to travel to work. At the same time, the company is able to retain the consultants’ skill-sets, industry knowledge and experience that are highly valued in this field.
Older employees with specific skills can choose to work in projects that suit their availability, health conditions or other needs. During off-peak seasons or after a project is completed, the older employees are then able to take a break from work to attend to personal or family needs such as visiting their children overseas or going on holiday.
Work that allows them to have the flexibility of when they work appeals to older employees. One example in the study is a director of finance who does advisory work and goes to the office with start and end times that suit his work and personal commitments. This ensures that there is no “brain drain” in the company. The adviser’s highly valued skills and knowledge can also be passed down to potential successors in the organisation.
Reduced hours or work-load
In this arrangement, older employees work reduced hours or have a reduced workload so they have time to attend to personal needs like physiotherapy, hobby or community service.
Organisations with business operations that require large pools of part-time employees will find that this arrangement creates a win-win situation as there are sufficient resources to handle peak workloads, for example, lunch-time crowds or seasonal work such as year-end accounting.
Compressed work week
This is an arrangement where an older employee works his full-time hours in fewer than the normal number of days per work week. For example, the employee may work one more hour per day for four days to have a Wednesday afternoon off to be with his grandchildren.
One example featured in the research study is a butcher working in Seo Eng Joo (SEJ) Frozen Food. Mr Lim Tow Soon, 77, has the flexibility of going on a four-day week for his personal commitments.
This is where two or more older employees may share the responsibilities of one full-time position. The work may be divided by function, geography, time or workload. In SingPost, older employees were recruited as mail sorters to share the load of the postmen who used to have to do both mail sorting and deliveries. Now, the postmen can concentrate on mail delivery and enhance their productivity while the older employees remain in employment.
The study has confirmed that many companies have been able to benefit from the engagement of older employees. At the same time, FWAs enable older employees to continue contributing to the workplace while meeting personal and family needs, thereby enjoying better work-life integration.
Saturday: Part 3 of Growing Older, Working Strong discusses the reality of flexible work arrangements
Article by Yeo Miu Ean, the director of Employer Alliance, a network of corporations committed to the creation of a work environment that enhances work-life integration. She is a regular speaker on work-life strategy and conducts workshops and individual coaching sessions in the area of personal work-life effectiveness.