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Dispelling myths about the older workforce



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Simon Chong, senior HR manager for MAN Diesel & Turbo Singapore, reveals how companies can leverage on the hidden potential of their aged employees to maximise organisational efficiency.

There is a popular Chinese saying which advocates that having an elderly person in the household is akin to possessing a piece of treasure.

Here at MAN Diesel, we believe this saying extends to the workplace. Many may raise eyebrows at this.

The presence of older workers in the workplace is often associated with negative stigmas of ageing – decline in movement and intellect, loss of value, lack of productivity, or worse, disability.

As a company that has had a history of employing and re-employing older workers, with one third of our workforce aged 50 years old and above, I would very much like to dispel this myth for my fellow HR professionals.

Our hiring practices at MAN Diesel & Turbo Singapore are reflective of a strong family culture. Every individual is valuable to us, with a different set of skills to offer and a different role to play.

The presence of older workers in the workplace is often associated with negative stigmas of ageing – decline in movement and intellect, loss of value, lack of productivity, or worse, disability.

Integrating senior workers in our culture

Older workers are very much a part of this family.
In fact, they form an unwavering pillar for the organisation, premised upon their vast accumulation of experience, knowledge and skills.

The younger employees join the company bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager to start work straight away – but they begin from zero. As fresh entrants, they need coaching and guidance from senior employees – and that is where the older workers step in to contribute.

As such, the older workers in MAN Diesel often assume the critical role of mentors, teachers and advisors. They are an infallible part of the system that helps with knowledge transfer to their younger colleagues.

Beyond that, they have the ability to sharpen and perfect the skills of the younger workers due to their vast experience in the industry.

Take Yap Chee Siong for example, an assistant workshop manager at MAN Diesel who has been with us for more than 30 years.

At 66, he mentors the younger engineers and on top of that, continually ensures his skills are up to date by taking part in company training and development opportunities.

His technical knowledge enables him to troubleshoot faster than a lesser experienced colleague, but he does not hoard his expertise to himself.

He patiently coaches the newer hires and, in fact, learns from them as well.

“By allowing me to guide the young engineers, I get a chance to practise, stay mentally sharp, and learn from their mistakes,” he says.

The older workers in MAN Diesel often assume the critical role of mentors, teachers and advisors.

Indeed, we are encouraged by his thirst to learn and to continually upgrade himself. He has been a valuable treasure to the MAN Diesel family.

The importance of diversity

The MAN Diesel company culture is centred on diversity and inclusiveness.

Inclusiveness is key to understanding how employees’ differences and similarities can be mobilised for the benefit of the individual, the organisation and even society as a whole.

We also recognise that different approaches are needed for different individuals with varying needs and expectations, and older workers are no exception.

It is important that we place value on differences, as opposed to just being concerned with having our employees “fit in”.

MAN Diesel exemplifies this as we have employees from 15 different nationalities, and our workforce is a multi-generational one – about 35% of the workforce is aged below 40, and 35% of our employees are aged 55 and above.

We have also continued to offer re-employment to older workers since 2009, and have retained eight employees above 61 years old.

This is because, despite their age, older workers continue to be an important treasure to the company due to their wealth of experience and the diverse perspectives and skills they can bring to the table.

Maintaining employee engagement levels

It is important that we base our hiring practices on merit, so as to ensure a happy and motivated workforce. This has also translated into resignation and absenteeism rates being way below the industry average.

In 2012, MAN Diesel was the Special Mention Recipient for the Outstanding Leadership in Supporting Fair Employment Practices category in the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) Exemplary Employer Award 2012.

This award recognised and applauded outstanding organisations that have implemented fair, responsible and inclusive employment practices in the workplace. However, receiving this recognition was not what we as a company took the most pride in.

Instead, it was the fact our own employees had to first nominate us for this award that encouraged us. This internal affirmation from our own people assured us that we were on the right track and in the right direction.

We are confident that the way we respect all our employees regardless of differences in age or nationality has resulted in the strong family culture we enjoy at MAN Diesel today.

Despite their age, older workers continue to be an important treasure to the company due to their wealth of experience and the diverse perspectives and skills they can bring to the table.

In particular for older workers, we have always and will continue to see them as an important foundational pillar for the company.

They bring with them a vast wealth of experience that their younger colleagues can tap on, and life lessons that even we, as senior management, can benefit from.



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