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The ultimate guide to hiring older workers as mentors

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Countries faced with an ageing population are likely to also see a shortage of talent as these mature workers go into retirement. To combat that, Jerene Ang looks into how organisations can re-hire these mature workers and tap on their experience.

An ageing population is no stranger to countries all over the world. It is estimated that between 2015 and 2030, the number of older people (60 years or older) in the world is projected to grow by 56% – from 901 million to more than 1.4 billion.

This was according to the World Population Ageing report published by the United Nations in 2015.

The report also found that Asia is expected to see the third fastest growth (66%) in the number of older people over the next 15 years and by 2030, older people are expected to account for about 17% of the population in Asia.

As these older people retire and exit the workforce, countries in the region will be faced with a diminishing workforce.

One of the most popular ways countries are using to deal with this problem is by raising the retirement and re-employment age.

After much speculation about the re-employment age, at the 2015 National Day Rally, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced formal changes to raise the country’s re-employment age from 65 to 67 adding the change will take effect by 2017.

Earlier last year at a conference on ageing, health minister Gan Kim Yong pointed out the Lion City’s future in the next 50 years would depend partly on how it managed its ageing population. He added that in the next 50 years, one in five Singaporeans would be aged 65 years and above making the society quite different than what it is today.

Gan explained that for the nation to age successfully, both individuals and companies must first rethink their attitudes towards work.

“The ability of employers to capitalise on the creative energies and experience of a workforce of different ages will be the key to unlocking productivity and economic potential of a fast maturing nation,” he said.

Old is gold

Wong Keng Fye, head of human resources at Maybank, agrees with that notion saying: “As Singapore continues to compete in the global marketplace, we need to ensure that our workforce remains competitive despite a greying population. “One way to achieve this is to tap on the growing pool of experienced and skilled mature employees.”

Health minister Gan Kim Yong said that in the next 50 years, one in five Singaporeans would be aged 65 years and above making society quite different than what it is today.

Roslyn Ten, general manager of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), agrees and points out that amid an ageing population and shrinking talent pool, companies can ensure they have the talent to drive their businesses by holding onto their talent for longer – by employing and re-employing older workers.

“It makes business sense to recruit and retain older workers, as employers get to tap into a wealth of experience, skills and knowledge, and have higher loyalty and commitment as well as lower absenteeism for the organisation to stay competitive and productive,” she says.

“In fact, research conducted by TAFEP that surveyed employers’ attitudes towards older workers found that 76% of employers felt that older workers provided better mentoring and coaching; 73% felt that older workers contributed important insights that shaped crucial company decisions; 73% felt that the older workforce was loyal and committed; and over 60% believed that older workers were more reliable at work and resilient in the face of a crisis.”

Likening older staff in the company to the “Google” search engine, Wong says: “The best data repository rests with people – the older staff in your company who have been with the organisation for the past 20, 30, 40 or more years.”

One of the benefits of hiring older colleagues as pointed out by Wong is they bring with them stability, commitment, reliability and a strong sense of loyalty and identity.

“Most older workers have gone through a lot. Many of them may still be in their first or second jobs, staying with the same employer for about two to four decades. It is with a certain sense of contentment and appreciation that they have chosen to stay on,” he says.

“Older workers believe that if you do your best for your employer, your employer will recognise your achievements and reward you for it. In turn, you continue to grow within the company. This is a positive cycle.”

Older employees as mentors. Case study – Maybank

Walking the talk, Maybank employs more than 250 staff who are over 50 and about 50 staff who are aged 62 and above. Wong gave the example of Mr Lee who was made a senior banker in Maybank’s global banking division when he reached the retirement age of 62.

“His role is to deepen the relationships with customers, to groom the younger bankers and to teach and nurture them,” Wong says. “Mr Lee’s role is very much like an emeritus mentor, an ambassador for the bank. He sees the customers, develops paths to certain markets and paves the way for businesses to build up and flow in.”

Explaining why Mr Lee was appointed to the role, Wong says: “He can do this because he has spent more than 35 years – the larger part of his career – in corporate and commercial business. He knows the ground, the way to do business, customer behaviours and how to sustain and enhance relationships with customers.”

Research conducted by TAFEP that surveyed employers’ attitudes towards older workers found 76% of employers felt that older workers provided better mentoring.

Challenges to overcome

Despite the obvious benefits older employees can bring as mentors, there are still mindset challenges that have to be overcome for this to work successfully.

Stephane Michaud, PhD, senior director – consulting at Human Link Asia (a Mitsubishi Corporation Company), points out that in a classic Japanese scheme when an employee reaches the age of 55, they are given a pay cut of 20% and less responsibility until they reach the age of 60 where the company may or may not re-employ them.

In a classic Japanese scheme when an employee reaches the age of 55, they are given a pay cut of 20% and less responsibility until they reach the age of 60.

He adds Mitsubishi got rid of that scheme at its headquarters in Japan as it was “way too young for the Japanese”. However, he says: “There’s still the mentality in the region that managers will still do that to employees when they reach that age and, of course, it brings anxiety.

“When someone feels like the company wants to get rid of them, they entrench themselves in their positions and they have less incentives to teach their subordinates.” He adds this can also be a cultural problem “when departments work in silos and there isn’t a high level of trust and teamwork and there’s a lot of internal competition”.

“The way to prevent that is to change the culture to a more open one.”

Revealing a strategy he has to counteract the problem, he says: “In some countries in which we operate, I’m trying to make it comfortable for the mature workers to teach and transfer the knowledge.

“If they know they are valuable and the company wants to keep them for an extended period of time, they will feel more comfortable in sharing the knowledge.”

Michaud feels that instead of just being an adviser where they may not have an influence on decisions, if the mature worker is involved in designing and shaping their new role – even if it has to be a little bit modified – they will be more open to it.

He further notes that other than changing the retirement age in the company’s handbook, “it’s also about changing the mindset to say that this individual has skills and knowledge that are useful to the company regardless of age”.

Integrating mature workers into the workforce

In light of the upcoming increase of the re-employment age from 65 to 67 here are four tips TAFEP’s Ten has for employers to integrate mature workers into the workforce.

1. Look beyond the stereotypes to see the abilities of older workers.

2. Look at how to make workplaces more age-friendly, either by redesigning jobs, making changes to the physical work environment or providing an environment where multi-generations can work together.

3. Provide opportunities and encourage older workers to upgrade their skills.

4. Consider implementing flexible work arrangements for older workers such as job sharing, part-time work, flexi-hours or even telecommuting.

“The key to successfully employing or re-employing older workers is to see them as a valuable resource and making adjustments at the workplace to allow them to contribute meaningfully,” Ten says.

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