Create flexible workplaces with synergy for all ages

How can workplaces become inclusive and elderly friendly? What will progressive workplaces look like in 2030? Round-table panellists give their views.

Dr Robert Yap Workplaces have to transform. A flexible work environment is something I'm encouraging a lot of the companies to do because then, you can keep and hone the best talents, especially in Singapore, where we are very short of people. And if you are able to do that, you are able to create agility in your workplaces, so they are not so rigid.

That agility means not just being able to allow your workers to work, but agility in the way that you're going to face adversity, in the way that you're going to face opportunity. When it comes, you have the agility to go for it.

Mrs Josephine Teo Prof Chia (Ngee Choon) had a useful perspective. You have talked about how in certain societies, places that are geographically dispersed, an ageing society brings a different challenge.

Associate Professor Chia Ngee Choon We are a city state, we've always said we don't have a hinterland, we have limits to grow, but maybe it can turn out to be an advantage in a greying society.

In a big country like Japan or even in the United States, you see the population dispersion - young people are mostly in big cities and the older folks are isolated in rural areas.

Being a city state, there are also a lot of opportunities for inter-generational interactions so that society would not be polarised. We are in the vicinity, we can plan programmes that involve younger workers and older workers.

If I may give an example, we know that for Singapore to grow, we need to encourage entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship needs certain ingredients. You need the creativity and the energy which we see in young people. But you also need business and management acumen, which is mostly embodied in older people.

So for a good start-up, you need not only these young people with a lot of energy, they can work like 48 hours a day... If we can find some kind of synergy, it might work.

Mr Ng Chee Meng Believe that you can do it, take the first steps to discover how far you can go and ride on the teamwork that is in Singapore, which is the labour movement together with our Government and our employers. Get our hands dirty, go do it...

Make whatever you want of (2030) a reality today. That must be the spirit of our workers. It's not just ideas any more, let's get the ideas (to become) reality.

Dr Yap What I hope to see in 2030 is that we have actually transformed. The country is in a different state from where we are today. Employers definitely have to be more enlightened.

We are very open to all this flexible work and all the new things that we're talking about to make the workplaces much more age-friendly. We accept all these older workers, in fact, we embrace them. We have Merdeka Generation workers, Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z, all working in harmony in that kind of environment. That can be a competitive advantage in itself.

You have that kind of experience that the much older workers can give, the younger ones give the creativity, that energy, the main ones come up with systems and processes. I think it's a very nice formula. I hope that is where we can go.

Prof Chia 2030 - that's the time when we are considered super-aged. Twenty per cent of the population will be aged 65 and above. It's called a super-aged society.

So when you say 2030, I was thinking: What kind of society am I going to see? I want to see older workers to be more broad-based (in their jobs).

Right now, we see older workers mostly in lower-skilled jobs like cleaning tables in the coffee shop, the uncle who pumps petrol.

Come 2030, I'd like to see when I walk out to any pharmacy, there is an older worker. That is the 2030 I hope to see where we have more enlightened employers, people go for retraining, and workers can adapt.

Mrs Teo I think in order for the employment rate to realistically go up, it also has to involve more flexible work options... that benefit employers in terms of how you deploy but, at the same time, allow people having reached that age to work at reduced intensity.

It has to be win-win. How do we get there? I think there's still a lot of work to be done.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2019, with the headline Create flexible workplaces with synergy for all ages. Subscribe