The golden years: staying relevant in changing times

Summary:

  • Is Singapore ready to cope with the looming “silver tsunami”?
  • What are some of the main re-employment initiatives currently in place?
  • How can generational workplace disputes be settled?

My father recently turned 60 and during his birthday party we talked about his plans for his upcoming retirement.

 

Instead of telling me about all the time he was planning to take to go travelling, fishing, and relaxing with my mother, he said he didn’t want to retire and wanted to continue working!

 

His answer surprised me because I thought he’d be looking forward to enjoying the fruits of his career as a well-liked and respected manager of 40 people in a major international company!

 

But he said he still felt useful at his workplace and that the insights he could instill to up-and-coming executives were valued by his employers.

 

That’s when I realised that I, too, highly value the presence and opinion of my older managers; particularly the ones who gave me a chance when I first arrived as a fresh-faced intern, who showed me the tricks of the trade, and gave me the responsibilities that shaped the professional I am today!

 

This got me thinking: when the moment comes, will I choose to retire or will I prefer to keep on working? Will my younger colleagues get irritated by my presence or will they value and appreciate my experience? In more practical terms, will my skills remain relevant to my job? Will my employer accommodate my schedules and workloads?

 

Obviously I can’t know any of this for sure, which is why I think the best thing to do is plan ahead and discuss things openly with my employer.

 

Surfing the “silver tsunami”

 

Many of these questions will become common place in a few years. By all accounts, the next 10 to 15 years will be crucial for Singapore to brace itself for the “silver tsunami”, the strong – and potentially devastating – wave of people aged over 65.

 

From healthcare to education, immigration and even tourism, all sectors of society and the economy will be affected by so many people leaving the workforce and entering a new phase in their elongated lives.

 

Some of these effects will be positive, while others will need to be mitigated as quickly as possible to avoid getting submerged in unfavourable macroeconomic conditions.

 

Recent policies such as the Retirement and Re-employment Act were designed to prevent extreme case scenarios from taking shape; the Act requires employers to offer re-employment possibilities to eligible employees aged between 62 and 65, as long as they are Singapore Citizens or Permanent Residents and are physically fit to continue working.

 

The problem is that employers remain biased against older workers. Rising health and insurance costs, limited physical abilities, and unwillingness to change are some of the challenges employers face with mature and older employees.

 

Coordinating government, private sector, and personal efforts to address these obstacles will be key to making mature and senior employment an economic viability.

 

A youthful gerontocracy?

 

Some of the methods used by employers to prevent generational divides in the workplace include providing training to upgrade the skills of older employees, offering flexible work arrangements, and hiring retirees as consultants or temporary employees.

 

Basically, this means giving mature workers the same flexible working conditions that younger employees are increasingly expecting.

 

But in some cases reaching a clear-cut agreement won’t be so easy. After all, a company’s bottom line demands reactiveness, adaptability, and endurance, three characteristics that don’t necessarily apply to a category of people who may feel they don’t need to prove themselves anymore.

 

Another issue that’s likely to arise is the matter of salary: should the mature employee’s pay be kept the same, or should it be adjusted to the new responsibilities/schedules?

 

The only way to avoid re-employment disputes will be to discuss these delicate issues as early as possible. Employees who are nearing retirement age could, for instance, make their job preferences known in advance, and employers should include a negotiation period when crafting their offers to employees.

 

Remember, the idea is to get what’s best for everyone!

Overall, I think getting my father’s point of view on his situation led me to assess my own attitude towards older workers. I hope this helps some of you to start thinking about what type of mature worker you’d like to be!

About the author

Benjamin Chiang

Benjamin Chiang is an enthusiast of good advertising, deep thinking, labour issues and chocolate. He writes also at www.rangosteen.com and occasionally on Yahoo!

The views expressed are his own.

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