In the wake of COVID-19, the Singaporean workforce finds itself in a new reality with retrenchments and less job security. Although we are a long way from being able to assess the full impact of the global pandemic on our economy, it is pretty much safe to say that the outlook is bleak. It is predicted that between 45,000 to 65,000 workers will lose their jobs by the end of the year. Among these, one particular group of employees seem to have more to worry about – the older workers. It is a sad fact that job losses are expected to befall middle-aged and older workers to a greater and unjust extent. If that is not enough, when losing a job, mature workers generally find it harder to find a new one.
Age discrimination in the workplace is nothing new. As late as March this year, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) penalised five employers for discriminatory job postings, showing a preference for younger applicants. Even though the number has been steadily falling, MOM received about 50 complaints regarding ageism in 2019.
In addition, the attitude of the general public is not doing much to help the situation either. For example, only 63% of respondents in a poll of 1,052 people in Singapore last December felt that their workplace valued all employees, regardless of age. There seems to be a common notion that older workers are simply less technologically adept and too expensive to hire, while at the same time less productive and take more healthcare-related days off.
With all the negativity surrounding our older workers, we perhaps have to question whether this is really all true. Are they in fact, a burden to employers? Or is it all just but a myth? Because the numbers and experts seem to tell a different story.
According to Dr Helen Ko, a senior lecturer in gerontology at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, rapid health and technology improvements means there are few jobs that the average older worker cannot do. She also mentions that research proves cognitive performance does not markedly decrease until after 70 or even 80.
As for the numbers, they reveal that six out of ten workers in Singapore today are 40 years or older. Despite this supposed “handicap”, Singapore’s productivity has increased by a massive 30% over the past decade. It has not stopped the country’s progress in automation and digitalisation. Rather, they are perhaps the ones who have helped propel the nation’s progress to such heights.
The advantages of employing older workers
Is it then possible that employing older workers to create an intergenerational workforce is exactly what companies require? With that in mind, we highlight how employing mature workers can in fact hand businesses an advantage. By gathering a list of five strong reasons why.
With age comes experience. And with experience comes invaluable know-how. Older workers are often more composed, confident and require less hand-holding. This gives them the “know-how” to solve the problems at hand in a more time-efficient and cost-effective manner. These are not skills one can just pick up. It is something acquired by doing a task over and over again. Additionally, there are particular vocations such as jewellers, where it simply requires time to pick up all the technical skills.
Many people perceive there to be a big difference between the work attitudes of older and younger workers. Older employees are in general seen to display a greater level of professionalism. They are more likely to be punctual and be fully focused on their work, while being less open to distractions such as social media. They are dedicated to getting the job done, honouring commitments, and respect authority.
Older workers are in general more satisfied with their job roles, and this translates to them being more likely to stay longer in one company. In a time where talent retention is getting tougher, this is something that employers should take into further consideration and value more. Younger workers, often at the beginning of their careers, are constantly looking out for better salary and titles, and are perhaps more susceptible to moving on. This is not the case for older workers, who appreciate stability.
Older workers often have a wider network of connections to tap into. By the simple fact of being in the workforce for longer, they have had more time to meet people and strike up relationships. From previous colleagues and clients to the parents of their kids’ friends, you never know who knows who. And in business, a simple personal relationship or connection can make all the difference.
Perhaps the most important role that older workers can fill is that of succession, by being mentors to younger colleagues. And we should leverage their talents, skills and experience. They do not feel intimidated by the success of others, and can instead focus on teaching them what is important, be it at work or even in life. And passing on knowledge from generation to generation is not only important for companies, but crucial for our country’s continuous growth.
All these reasons why are but only the tip of the iceberg. Hiring older workers indeed brings a slew of unique advantages for the employers. Meanwhile, the Singapore government is doing what they can to break down the bias towards mature workers. On the SkillsFuture website, workers of all ages are constantly encouraged and given the opportunities to learn new skills. At the same time, companies are targeted with various incentives, such as salary support to up to 50% when hiring local workers aged 40 and above.
Against the backdrop of an ageing population, older workforce and the impending fallout of COVID-19, the need to address the issue of ageism is of utmost importance. At the end of the day, how we go about handling this issue can very well define us as a society. With that said, Singaporean companies should not be so quick to disregard the contributions of our older workers. Building a multigenerational workforce can and should be what gives companies an unprecedented advantage – and is even more pressing as our population rapidly ages.
 TODAY (April 2020) Covid-19: Economists expect S'pore retrenchments in 2020 to hit 45,600 to 65,000
 Straits Times (March 2020) MOM penalises 5 employers for age discrimination in hiring practices
 Straits Times (July 2020) Crucial for Singapore to tap ageing workforce, Opinion News & Top Stories
 CNA (July 2020) Commentary: Older workers vulnerable to rising tide of retrenchment as ageist mindsets persist
 Gov.sg (August 2020) More support for workers and jobs through the Jobs Support Scheme and COVID-19 Support Grant
 World Economic Forum (February 2020) These counties are most ready to deal with ageing populations