The Straits Times
Published on Nov 14, 2012

Lessons on how to treat older workers


READING the letters by Mr Dennis Heath ("Over 50 is not over the hill"; Nov 5) and Mr Peter Chua ("Over-50 and jobless: How he made it back despite discrimination"; last Saturday) reminded me how starkly different our society generally treats older employees compared to the treatment in other countries.

When I joined Lexmark in Singapore, I got to work with many colleagues in the headquarters located in Lexington, Kentucky, in the United States.

What struck me most about the staff at the headquarters was that many of them were over 50. Besides the fact that most of them were in non-management positions, even more startling was that they treated me as an equal, even though I was more inexperienced and relatively much younger than them.

Mutual respect for one another was clearly evident, be it younger bosses talking to the over-50 staff, or these older workers interacting with their younger colleagues.

What was especially enlightening was that these older workers were well-respected and adequately compensated despite their non-managerial roles.

There are several lessons we can learn on how to treat older employees in Singapore.

First, just because an older employee is not in a high post does not mean he is of no value to an organisation. He might not have the aptitude or desire to manage people, but he can still contribute immensely.

Depth of expertise that comes from experience is something that is lacking in many local companies, because many workers are driven by the need to "move on".

Second, an organisation should adequately compensate older employees because their experience and expertise gained over the years, when tapped correctly, bring great benefits.

Just because a person over 50 holds a similar position as a younger employee does not mean that their contributions are the same.

In hiring, should a particular job position be of the same value to a company, no matter who is holding the post? Is a job title promotion the only justification to give an employee a pay rise?

Lastly, mutual respect is key to maximising our labour force.

In Singapore, I get the feeling that old age is not an issue only when one is holding a high position in an organisation.

In Singapore, an employee who is over 50 (or even over 40) and in a non-management position is considered to have reached a standstill in his career, and therefore should not be accredited much respect.

Younger employees should treat their older colleagues with respect no matter what title they hold, and older workers should not look down on the younger ones.

Similarly, the management should treat all employees with respect, no matter their age and positions.

Not only will this make for a more pleasant working environment, it will also motivate employees to stay on and give their best.

Joseph Khoo