It is an undisputed fact that many economies are facing a rapidly ageing workforce.

According to data complied by the United Nations’ Population Division, the number of people aged 60 and above in the world is expected to triple by 2050 — and Asia already makes up half of the world’s older population.

Longer life expectancies and falling birthrates mean countries are grappling with declining populations and talent shortages.

And to cope with the scarcity of talent, companies must look to the mature workforce to plug talent gaps.

The increased workforce participation of older workers and skill gaps must also be bridged for organisations to prosper.

Myths versus facts

Many employers recognise the strengths of older workers, but prevailing stereotypes and negative perceptions often prevent them from enjoying the benefits a mature workforce brings to their organisation.

Here are some common misconceptions about the silver workforce:

Myth 1: Older employees are absent from work a lot because of their poor health

Fact: The latest medical and pharmaceutical developments have facilitated longer life expectancies and promoted better health.

Furthermore, studies have shown that older workers have fewer sick days compared to their younger colleagues.

There is a more concrete correlative relationship between absenteeism and job satisfaction — age has little to do with absenteeism.  

Myth 2: Older workers are less productive

Fact: Older employees are actually more productive as they are more dependent, loyal and often have better judgment due to their experience.

And when offered work options such as part-time work, temporary assignments or flexible work arrangements, older workers can be highly engaged and contribute to the organisation’s bottom line.

Furthermore, many older staff desire to remain in employment not just for economic reasons, but also to maintain their physical health and mental agility.

Myth 3: Older workers resist change and are slow to learn new skills

Fact: Resistance to change does not only affect older workers. Younger employees can be as steadfast against change as well.

While it is true that older employees face steeper learning curves, they are not unwilling to learn. For example, the fastest growing group of Internet users is aged 50 and above!

The most effective ways to learn may be different for them than their younger colleagues, so suitable methodologies, tools and a conducive environment can greatly assist older workers in picking up new skills. 

Myth 4: It is expensive to hire and retain older staff

Fact: Compared to their younger colleagues in their 20s and 30s, mature employees are less likely to job hop, thus lowering continuing recruitment and training costs.

Increased retention rates translate into greater return on investments on training and recruitment.

Instead of penalising older staff, it is far wiser for companies to capitalise on the depth and expanse of knowledge they possess, gained from their lifetime of work experience.

Attracting, retraining and retaining mature-aged staff

In Singapore, employers will be required to offer re-employment to their workers when they reach the age of 62 when the new employment law kicks in on Jan 1, 2012.

They can then continue to work until they are 65, and this will eventually be raised to 67.

As such, employers have taken steps to boost the workforce participation of older workers by re-engineering or re-designing jobs to facilitate the latter’s needs, and offering flexible working arrangements as well as flexible benefits.

Companies can increase their pool of mature employees by including them in mentorship programmes to pass on their knowledge to their younger counterparts.

Leverage the expertise and extensive experience of retired professionals by offering them consultancy or advisory roles.

Companies can hire qualified mature employees on a contract or part-time basis as well. Not only will companies meet knowledge transfer needs, older workers will appreciate the work-life balance the job offers too. 

To enhance employability and engagement, companies should have a career development programme for their mature staff — being older does not mean there is no room for professional growth.

Training their older employees and upgrading their skills ensures they are kept relevant in today’s workforce.