The wisdom of letting seniors keep their jobs: The Nation

An elderly person going up the escalator. Old-timers at work typically have the wisdom to do the job better and more efficiently.
An elderly person going up the escalator. Old-timers at work typically have the wisdom to do the job better and more efficiently.PHOTO: ST FILE

In its editorial on Nov 27, the paper says Singapore sets a valuable example by hiking the retirement age and extolling the benefits of an older workforce.

It's a worrying fact that societies around the world are rapidly ageing and governments must begin allocating vast sums of money to care for elderly citizens.

Singapore, in an admirable move that should be copied here and elsewhere, has set aside the worrying and taken action that addresses both this issue and a related one - the shrinking workforce.

Singapore has been keeping its senior citizens on the job. And for those interested in carrying on in their old careers or trying a new one, it's a chance to keep contributing to society, stay active and "teach the kids" a thing or two.

Twelve per cent of Singaporean workers are now over 60 years old, a figure that's doubled in the last decade.

The island-state, like Thailand and many other countries, has seen a dramatic decline in the birth rate.

In response, its government has sought to encourage marriage and reproductive sex - with some success, though not enough. A more immediate solution had to be found, and a stopgap measure at least came from the segment of the population that's traditionally been seen as completing its usefulness.

The government now prods private firms to hire seniors, and they've proved more than amenable to the notion, even introducing flexible working hours to accommodate older staff members.

In fact, since the younger workforce continues to dwindle in size, the elderly are most welcome.

Fully four years ago the Singapore government called on companies to keep on their payroll people who'd reached the mandatory retirement age of 62.

The new termination age became 65 and next year that rises to 67. Currently the employment rate among citizens 65 to 69 years old is 42 per cent, a 25-per-cent increase from one decade ago.

Across Southeast Asia there are efforts to boost populations.

The urgency in trying to stave off a potentially debilitating fiscal crisis is reflected in the United Nations forecast that all 10 countries in the region will be ageing societies by 2040 and that the situation could become dire in Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand in the foreseeable future.

Singapore, where seniors might are predicted to form 35 per cent of the population by 2040, has taken a positive step in keeping today's seniors on the job.

As well as answering immediate economic needs for the government, businesses and the elderly themselves, the measure offers a boost to older citizens' sense of value.

Importantly, it bolsters their self-esteem at a stage in life when modified bathrooms, dietary constraints and physical extras such as hearing aids become discouragingly necessary.

Prolonging their working lives thus represents a wise measure worth emulating elsewhere. It's easy to imagine the pleasure derived from applying long years of experience to a task with which younger colleagues might struggle.

Even if the old-timers in the office, school or factory are no longer capable of tackling heavy workloads, they typically have the wisdom to do the job better and more efficiently.

In an era driven by hunger for financial success and wider profit margins, hiring and retaining older staff might not seem fiscally smart, possibly even a burden on the balance sheet.

But in the bigger picture - showing the short-range boon to seniors and the long-term benefits to society - it's an idea worth pursuing and sharing.

Thais have heard wonderful stories about housemaids kept on long after they've grown too old to do their chores, becoming respected members of the family.

Society as a whole should take this view and take care of the people who've served them so well over the years.

* The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 media.