Following our in-class case discussion on Alexandra Hospital, I am surprised yet heartened by the lengths the hospital has taken to recognize and harness the value of their older employees. Besides introducing various health initiatives and changes to the workplace ergonomics, I am impressed by their nuanced understanding of the importance of assimilating them into the workplace through redesigning job roles and integration with the younger employees.
However, despite the romanticism this case invokes about promoting active aging in the workplace, the discussion inadvertently reminded me of a cartoon shown during a Singapore Studies class, ‘Changing Landscapes of Singapore’ I had taken 2 years ago.
Through the years, several policies have been implemented to encourage employment among the elderly. These include the “Advantage! Scheme” which provides companies with incentives to retain and retrain older employees as well as the “Retirement and Reemployment Act” which extended the mandatory retirement age to 62, with an option to extend another three years. These policies are commendable and aims to foster greater financial independence and mental engagement among the elderly.
However, the question begets if these policies do tackle the root causes of the problem.
Firstly, a survey conducted by the Ministry of Social and Family Development in 2009 indicates that 62% of the elderly above the age of 65 who are working need money to support their current living expenses. This means that these elderly are working not because they want to, but because of their basic need for survival. While draconian, I feel this reflects to some extent failure in the state to provide for this underprivileged group. Hence, while workplace initiatives do alleviate some of their woes, it perhaps does not solve their deeper, underlying financial concerns.
Secondly, despite the various schemes, ageism may still exist in the workplace. For example, under the “Retirement and Reemployment Act”, employers have the discretion to reduce wages of employees above 62 by up to 10%, probably due to perceptions that the elderly are generally physically and mentally less agile. A case in point would be the uproar faced when the Land Transport Authority decided to raise the age limit of taxi drivers to 75. In addition, younger employees are found to be less accommodating and most prone to undervalue older employees’ experience (Hawley, 2009). This makes me wonder if the situation in Alexandra Hospital is actually just a beautiful exception, not a rule.
Thirdly, ageism exists even in the recruitment stages before employment. In a study commissioned by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP), it is found that job seekers above 40 have a lower chance of job success if the interviewers are younger people and almost 80% of those above 55 cited age as their biggest obstacle. In my stint as an employment surveyor for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), I also came across numerous qualified professionals who remain unemployed for long duration due to their age.
In light of these key issues, I would like to propose some recommendations to tackle them, drawing inspiration from concepts learnt during our class discussions.
In Dan Pink’s video, ‘The Puzzle of Motivation’, it is shown that there is a mismatch between how businesses motivate employees and what research actually proves. In a similar vein, I believe there should be greater thought put into tailoring different remuneration packages for each elderly. Certain elderly choose to work to fill time while others do so for financial reasons. Hence, offering initiatives such as flexible-time options or greater protection of their benefits provides a greater fit to each elderly’s preference and hence, motivating them to perform better.
There is also a need to change the attitudes of the younger employees towards elderly and this can be done through developing a symbiotic relationship between government-entities and private sector. In collaboration, courses and talks can be held to change the mindsets among both employers and employees. Knowledge transfer programs can be introduced to empower older workers to act as mentors to guide their younger counterparts and greater focus can be placed in work environments to inculcate greater job integration among all ages.
Using the concepts of nudge theory, we can utilize various nudges to generate greater awareness for active aging in the workplace. This can be done through using channels such as media advertisements and posters to highlight various schemes and initiatives. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Youtube can be leveraged to highlight benefits of hiring elderly and generating greater accessibility to the issue of ageism. The video below is an advertisement done by the MOM.
In conclusion, I believe that to better promote active aging in the workplace, it is imperative for us to understand the real needs of the elderly and to provide for them more effectively. Doing so, we can then truly move a step closer towards becoming a more inclusive society.
Links and References:
Hawley, Casey. 2009. Managing the Older Employee: Communicate, Motivate, Innovate. Avon, Mass: Adam Business.
Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices. 2011. “Hiring the Sliver Generation.” Accessed Feb, 2015. http://www.tafep.sg/assets/files/Publications/TAFEP_Publication_251011_FA_path_lowres.pdf.