What older staff want: flexi hours, being valued

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 3, 2013 

Flexible working hours and a sense of being valued top the list of what bosses need to do to keep their older workers, human resource experts said yesterday.

Not far behind on this to-do list for employers are adequate pay, an age-friendly environment and continued medical benefits.

These measures are central to any effort to get older workers to stay on beyond the current re-employment age of 65, said 10 HR experts giving their views on a call Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made to companies at the annual May Day Rally on Wednesday.

In his speech to some 1,600 union leaders, members and guests, he had urged bosses to go beyond the re-employment law - which requires companies to offer jobs up to age 65 when eligible workers turn 62 - and "enable as many as possible to continue working for as long as possible".

Companies can do this by first offering flexible hours, said manpower experts like Mr John Quek of Worklife Solutions. "There is no 'one size fits all' working arrangement for mature workers."

Ms Helen Lim, managing director of social enterprise Silver Spring, too, said some may want a shorter work week, while others would prefer a full week with half-day shifts, so they can see their grandchildren after school.

She and the other experts said the key was talking to older workers about their individual needs.

"What is needed is clear communication and planning way before they reach 65, perhaps two or three years before," said Ms Christina Ng, associate director of financial services and legal at Robert Walters Singapore.

Engaging them early also addresses another of their needs - to feel valued.

"Beyond the obvious physical limitations and constraints, older employees have a need to feel affirmed and appreciated," said thYnk Consulting Group director Evelyn Kwek.

One way is through adequate pay. But beyond pay - which some firms cut when re-employing workers on a new contract - "recognition and a 'face-saving' job title could be offered", said HR consultancy BeyondAge executive director Helen Ko.

It also matters to them that bosses value their contributions, and the work environment is open and welcoming, she added.

The environment also has to address practical issues, like redesigning jobs to be less physically taxing, said the experts.

Ms Ng also noted that older workers tend to lose their medical benefits when re-employed. This is "not ideal" for their well-being, she said, and urged firms to continue the benefits even if it means higher costs.

Bosses also need to be less taken up with age as a number, said the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep).

For instance, if a job requires physical strength, bosses could have a test "to objectively assess the candidate's ability to perform the job, rather than limiting applicants to a particular age group".

Tafep noted that workers at Singapore General Hospital who stay past the retirement age are assessed on objective factors like work performance instead of being forced to accept a unilateral pay cut at a specific age.

As for older Singaporeans, two-thirds of those interviewed by The Straits Times yesterday said they hoped to keep working.

Of the 65 people aged 50 and older polled, 45 intend to work beyond 65. Their top reasons are to stay financially independent and make productive use of their time.

Security guard Kam Lian Seng, 59, summed up the common view: "Without work, it'd be boring - I wouldn't know where to go. My children are grown up and they have their own family. We cannot rely on them to provide for us."

He works a 12-hour shift now, but thinks an eight-hour shift is ideal: "The pay may be lower, but we have more time to relax."

Additional reporting by Debbie Lee, Eugene Chua, Cheng Jingjie and Lim Min Zhang

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 3, 2013 

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