Helping seniors to remain engaged

A dominant feature of state efforts to ease older Singaporeans into active ageing is the role of paid employment past the retirement age. Aside from the income, promoting a sense of self-worth by being active and connected does help seniors ward off debilitating conditions associated with old age, such as depression.

There is no clearer commitment of this than the current requirement that fit and productive workers be re-employed up until age 65. The civil service will in January raise the ceiling to 67, which the private sector is encouraged to follow.

Latest research on ageing issues commissioned by the Council for Third Age, a state-supported outfit that studies ageing, has reaffirmed the image of senior citizens as being well-adjusted and largely content with their lot. This is thanks mainly to a plethora of support programmes in public housing, wellness management and community engagement.

But a key finding on employment was a disappointment, confirming the belief that workplace cultures and entrenched attitudes of employers are a significant barrier to more participation by older workers. This flies in the face of the government push to expand the labour force and in the process, make the lives of senior citizens more meaningful. Nine in 10 respondents told researchers from the National University of Singapore they wanted to continue working but were running up against a wall of passive resistance.

The disconnect needs to be addressed in a forthright manner by companies large and small. Employer organisations and the National Trades Union Congress have to step up their act as change agents. The message should have filtered through that conventional prejudices about 60-something workers - that they are slow, less productive and prone to illnesses - are not supported by the facts.

They bring value in experience, judgment and dependability in non-physical occupations, and it is no hardship to employers keeping them as they have discretion in adjusting terms. They often set a good example to younger workers. Another finding that older workers desire continued learning, even if on their own time, attests to their determination to be useful.

Employers have a crucial role in helping the state achieve age-related goals and prevent a blowout in health expenditures, by keeping senior staff gainfully occupied. Mr Lee Kuan Yew once said that retirees who do not stay fruitfully engaged atrophy and expire faster. The great conductor Claudio Abbado, who died this year aged 80, was studying a Schumann score for a performance up until his final days.

For average oldies here, just having some work to do and feeling positive about each new day is reward enough.