At the 2019 National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the retirement age and re-employment ages will be revised to 65 and 70 respectively by 2030.
Most older workers are likely to welcome this change as research has shown that majority of them look forward to continual employment opportunities as they age. They see employment as a means of staying independent and having the ability to practise greater autonomy.
This revision in retirement and re-employment age, in addition to broader social issues like an ageing population, is casting spotlight on companies’ employment practices involving older workers.
In order to make the most of these new regulations, companies need to transform the way they see older workers – not only seeing them as greying individuals but also as a pool of highly experienced and resourceful employees who have much to contribute to businesses and the society at large.
Unfortunately, job opportunities for mature workers are generally hard to come by. One of the biggest impediments is ageism, the negative bias towards older workers.
The assumption that one’s age correlates to lower competencies has been rigorously studied and refuted by research and academia. There is more than enough evidence to support an irrevocable fact: older workers are just as effective at work as their younger counterparts. Employers, in fact, stand to benefit if they have taken steps to employ or re-employ older workers.
Research has also shown that mature workers possess greater emotional control, crisis management and problem-solving capabilities, resulting in fewer customer confrontations.
Older workers in Singapore, at the same time, have expressed their openness to serve as mentors to guide and teach younger and less experienced colleagues. This could potentially help companies save on hefty training, learning and development courses.
From a strategic perspective, employers also stand to benefit, by tapping on the deep industry insights and knowledge of older workers gained over years of accumulated experience, to devise robust and grounded plans and strategies for their businesses.
Fighting ageism is a challenging process as biaseness is generally subconscious in nature and require conscious effort to overcome such converse thinking and behaviour.
To this end, employers should be encouraged to engage qualified facilitators to conduct exercises involving all employees. They should examine and reflect candidly on their subconscious or subtle biases and attitudes towards older workers.
In addition, multi-generational teams could be put in charge of projects, to work together and promote understanding and appreciation across employees from various age groups.
Employers can also take the lead by appointing mature workers to assume the role of a mentor to guide less experienced workers. They should also make attempts to highlight the contributions of older workers at company functions or through in-house publications.
These collective actions will not only encourage older workers and enhance their self-esteem, it will also shape the perception and attitude of the organisation’s employees towards older workers.
At the same time, older workers must ensure that they do not internalise the unsubstantiated negative societal perceptions about age and limit their own career paths.
They should also put aside any entitlement mentality, by virtue of their past performances, seniority or length of service, to continually contribute and extend their careers.
In fact, all parties, employers and employees, must work together to make age inequality a thing of the past.
This article has been adapted from an earlier commentary: "High time Singapore employers ditch ageist attitudes towards older workers" by Dr Helen Ko, Senior Lecturer, Master and PhD of Gerontology Programmes, S R Nathan School of Human Development, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).