Mindset change needed on how we view older workers

Dr Margaret Chan's piece on her job prospects when she turns 68 next year highlights an intractable problem facing many older workers here in Singapore and the world over (Will you still employ me - when I'm 68?; June 10).

In a society that values youthfulness - equating it with vitality and productivity - older workers are often prejudged by their age and appearance.

Research elsewhere shows that, in general, workers 55 years and over are more likely to face job loss in an economic downturn and spend a longer time in unemployment when the economy picks up than their younger counterparts.

Interestingly, the Advisory Council on the Aged in Singapore argued in 1988 that "with our small population, it would be a waste of human resources if the experience and knowledge of the elderly are not recognised and tapped".

To its credit, the Singapore Government has long recognised that the population is rapidly ageing.

More recently, it has not only recognised that older adults are an essential and integral part of society, but has also taken some controversial steps to increase their likelihood of remaining employed, like raising the re-employment age.

However, negative stereotypes of older adults do not exist in a vacuum.

Anecdotally, a sales assistant at a local department store informed me that an anti-ageing formula was their hottest-selling product.

To survive and thrive in an ageist society, older adults are expected to not look or act old.

While upgrading our skills and staying current in our fields are important endeavours, we need to change our mindset in ensuring that we do not judge people by their age or appearance.

Indeed for Singapore to fully realise its pro-ageing policies, we have to ensure that employers continue to provide opportunities for their older workers to thrive.

This may mean looking beyond our age, which research shows is a poor indicator of our skills, knowledge and abilities.

For the sake of current and future older workers in Singapore, I hope that Dr Chan remains employed long after she turns 68, as long as she wishes to and can do so.

Obviously, not everyone wants, needs or is able to work in their later years. However, in a rapidly ageing society like Singapore, older workers might just prove to be the rule rather than the exception.

Philip A. Rozario (Dr)

Professor, Adelphi University

Senior Visiting Research Fellow,

Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2017, with the headline 'Mindset change needed on how we view older workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe