One of the rare times when I came into the office early on a Monday morning, I finally had a chance to meet the cleaning auntie who does such a fantastic job of keeping the office, well, looking anything like a functioning work place.
She mentioned in passing that she used to be contracted to the cleaning company full time, but after her daughter had given birth, decided to work on a part-time basis so she could help with the caretaking.
I asked her why she didn’t opt to quit and enjoy her new grandmother status, to which she lamented, “I did that for a few months but it was even more tiring taking care of a baby! Besides I feel a greater sense of achievement earning my keep, so I came back to work.”
Luckily for her, she said that her employer was more than happy to have her back and did not discriminate her based on her age.
Under the Retirement and Re-employment Act (RRA), the minimum retirement age is 62, but employers are required to offer re-employment to eligible employees who turn 62, up to the age of 65. As of 2012, only 4.1% of Singapore’s resident workforce is 65 or older.
Instead of being a bane, this pool of older workers is actually an invaluable resource to any organisation!
And I’m not just talking about small or menial jobs! Many older workers are extremely proficient in professions that require responsibility, meticulousness, expertise, and experience!
For a country like Singapore where the local pool of workers is increasingly shrinking, it certainly doesn’t hurt to encourage the older workers who are willing and able to rejoin the workforce. The government has long recognised this and has been implementing a range of initiatives to encourage businesses to hire more mature-aged workers. This includes the Special Employment Credit where employers can enjoy up to an 8% rebate off the salary of an older worker.
But it’s not until recently that the government has taken this huge step themselves.
Recruitment agency BGC Group, which helps government agencies fill positions, tripled the placements it made: from 122 workers in 2011 to 334 in 2012! According to Joyce Goh, division director of the BGC Group, many public agencies are opening up to hiring retirees.
Local restaurant group ThaiExpress Concepts, which owns popular restaurant chains like ThaiExpress, New York New York, and Xin Wang Hong Kong Café, is one organisation that has reaped the benefits of hiring older workers. Besides a lower turnover rate among the 25% of its 1,100 employees who are aged 50 or above, Mr Dellen Soh also noted that they have “dedication and take pride in their duties”.
Similarly at Subway, older workers are also encouraged to apply for a position:
Embracing older workers is certainly not a trend unique to Singapore. Vita Needle, a needle manufacturer in the US, is one of rare companies to have embraced older workers since the 1980s.
According to a report by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the median age of its 47-strong staff is 74 years old! These workers are greatly valued by company director Frederick Hartman II, who commented that they are “loyal” and their “attention to detail is also better”, despite their “slower speed”.
Businesses in Singapore can also take a leaf from the likes of BMW, who have mitigated the issue of an ageing European workforce (the average age of the plant’s workers is expected to rise from 39 to 47 by 2017). According to the Harvard Business Review, BMW worked together with its employees to develop changes such as enhancing workers’ skills and the workplace (like larger typeface on computers) and instituting part-time policies.
With an almost negligible investment of €20,000, the car manufacturing giant increased productivity by 7% in one single year!
At the end of the day, it is important for us, employers and employees alike, to change the perception of retirement.
“You can see this (retirement) in a negative way: ‘I have to work and slug away for the rest of your (my) life.’ Or you can say ‘I’m still productive and can continue to contribute.’ The solution is to quit making retirement seem like a brass ring worth grasping at: ‘Not working is not a merit in itself.’”
If every worker continues to excel in their role even in their golden years, perhaps in 20 years, there will be no such thing as retirement!