Ageism at the workplace: Good for firms to be good to older staff

The discussion panel on ageism at the work place was organised by Tafep and SPH, and featured experts, recruiters and employers.
The discussion panel on ageism at the work place was organised by Tafep and SPH, and featured experts, recruiters and employers. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

SINGAPORE - Both employers and employees must play their part in eradicating ageism in the workplace, a discussion panel on the subject concluded on Wednesday.

Older staff should not limit themselves psychologically when dealing with younger colleagues and new technology, panellists argued.

The onus, however, remains on employers to restructure jobs and overhaul workplace culture to accommodate mature employees.

The panel session, organised by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) and Singapore Press Holdings, was moderated by The Straits Times (ST) deputy editor Ignatius Low and featured experts, recruiters and employers.

Ms Helen Ko, executive director of social enterprise Beyond Age, said perceptions of older workers have improved but a lot remains to be done.

"Older workers themselves internalise some of these perceptions. They feel that because of their age, they can't cope as well as those younger than them."

Mature worker Shariffah Salmah Alsagoff said older staff are often intimidated by shifts in technology, such as when they are confronted by new IT systems.

The 57-year-old compliance manager, who has been with Maybank for nearly 40 years, said: "It is a matter of being given time to get used to the new system, and also have somebody to mentor him or her on how to use it. That makes a difference."

Mindsets of older workers have already changed a lot, with mature job seekers more realistic about the positions and salaries they can command.

Ms Helen Lim, who helms social enterprise Silver Spring, said: "I want to debunk this myth that older corporate professionals, managers and executives are very stubborn and choosy. I've seen people coming down from (monthly salaries of) $30,000 to $3,000 ."

The panellists agreed that employers need to play their part in tackling stereotypes and adjusting to an ageing workforce, in the face of a tightening labour market.

Singapore International Chamber of Commerce chief executive Victor Mills, 56, warned "lazy recruiting" can cause employers to "pre-judge" workers even before an interview.

Citing his previous experience as a mature job seeker for 22 months, he said: "If you are over 40, you are almost always bound to be told you are too old, too expensive, too set in your ways, too overqualified..."

ST senior manpower correspondent Toh Yong Chuan said it falls "squarely" on employers to redesign jobs to accommodate elderly workers.

For instance, sectors such as retail and services require workers to clock long hours, often on their feet.

"No amount of retraining can address these kinds of structural difficulties," he said.

Some questioned the need to reveal age during the hiring process.

LinkedIn Asia Pacific marketing solutions head Olivier Legrand noted the social media platform does not require users to state their age on their profiles.

"We don't think it's necessarily relevant to the conversation," he said. "We should be looking at skills and experience."

Experts stressed the advantages to employers in making these adjustments.

Singapore National Employers Federation vice-president Alexander Melchers said by treating older workers better, companies send a positive signal to younger staff that they will be looked after if they stay on.

"They gain a competitive edge, not just in recruiting more elderly workers, but also in retaining younger people."