F&B employers, The Wok People and Sushi Express Group, are proving age is no barrier at work
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F&B employers, The Wok People and Sushi Express Group, are proving age is no barrier at work

Job redesigns, constant training of mature workers, work policy changes, and more - here's how Alfred Chua, MD, The Wok People; and Weishan Chen, HR Manager, Sushi Express Group; are enabling their mature workforce.

In an aging society like Singapore, mature workers have become an integral part of our workforce – a group that has, over the years, been contributing meaningfully to the workplace. Many employers are also playing their part in enabling these workers, be it by emphasising flexibility in their work policies, or investing in training and reskilling them to take on roles more suited to their needs.

Walking the talk are two companies - The Wok People, and Sushi Express.

Established in 2009 and comprising a team of about 600, The Wok People is a provider of staff cafeteria services to more than 60 hotels, factories, and company employees' restaurants in Singapore. Its Managing Director Alfred Chua, (pictured above, left) and his team are firm believers that people are key assets, meant to be retained and developed regardless of age and job titles. A majority of the workforce (69%) is made up of employees aged above 40, while 27% are in their 50s, 21% are above 60, and the rest are in their 40s and below.

Meanwhile, Sushi Express Group, a Taiwanese 'conveyer belt' sushi brand founded in 1996, too focuses on hiring the right employees, free of age restrictions. It employs 246 staff members, of which 25 are above 60. To Weishan Chen, HR Manager of the brand (pictured above, right), and her team, work attitude, as well as personality and cultural fit, are of utmost importance – thus the need for an age-friendly work environment, practices, and processes. One way the company is attracting older workers, for instance, is through its flexible work hours, whereby individual outlets work to accommodate to these workers' timings.

On the occasion of International Day of Older Persons, which falls on 1 October, HRO partnered with Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) to spread awareness about the valuable contribution of older workers in our society and share some best practices that organisations have put in place. In this special feature, let's hear from Chua and Chen on how they and their respective teams are taking conscious steps in doing so.

Case study: The Wok People

Recognising the contributions of senior workers; and having in place an existing and extended retirement age that sits above the national recommendation – these are some of the age-friendly practices set in place by The Wok People, Chua shares.

As part of the former, the company has implemented a job re-design for senior workers who wish to shorten their working hours to reduce long standing-hours for their routine work, which Chua notes may be too taxing for them as age catches up. "This initiative is meant to encourage our senior workers to remain passionately keen on continuity of employment with The Wok People, especially those who have invested more than 10 or 15 years with The Wok People," he explains. 

In preparing the employees for the redesign, Chua and the team undertake a series of processes, including:

  • Career planning and training;
  • Identifying eligible employees for redesign;
  • Re-design consultation;
  • Making job arrangements for redesign;
  • Conducting a salary package review for the redesign, and
  • Allowing flexibility for the senior workers to tap into flexible working arrangements.

Meanwhile, as part of the second initiative, it has set its retirement and re-employment age above the nationally-recommended levels. In particular, while Singapore's current statutory regulation is up to age 63 for retirement, and up to age 68 for re-employment (effective 1 July 2022), the company has set the ages to up to 65, and up to 70 respectively.

Chua adds: "It is the policy of The Wok People that an employee will not be asked to retire compulsorily before the minimum retirement age recommended in the Retirement and Re-Employment Act. An employee reaching the recommended minimum retirement age will be able to continue their employment without having to go through a yearly contract of service."

Case study: Sushi Express Group

For Sushi Express Group, like many F&B companies, with the year-on-year cost increase in running an F&B business coupled with the rising manpower shortage especially in the services industry, the move to equip workers with the necessary skillsets is more important than ever before.

Thus, the company believes in continuous learning and has an established training department to ensure all employees (from full-time to flexi-time) are equipped throughout their lifecycle as an employee.

Chen adds: "We recognise the need for a settled and stable workforce to increase productivity levels, in turn allowing us to keep our service levels to a high standard. We have noticed that we had an increasing percentage of especially flexi workers above the age of 50, and thus implemented several initiatives to help train and motivate them."

Among the initiatives Chen mentions is a no-pay reduction policy for mature above retirement age. As such, the rate of salary is the same for both full-timers and flexi-timers at the outlets. "Some of our mature workers have shared during various informal focus groups that they do enjoy the feeling of community that exists within our outlets. Some of them enjoy going out together after work for birthday celebrations, or even meeting on off days for meals."

Some of the other initiatives for mature workers include:

  • Flexi working hours offered to outlet-based service/kitchen employees are extended to senior workers, as it remains a strong factor to help attract them to join and stay with the company.
  • Job redesign – equipment change to ensure a safe working environment in the kitchens - One example would be the switching out of open torching in favour of machines with grilling features to ensure that certain dishes like its popular aburi items are prepared with employees’ safety in mind.
  • Work process change - To ensure effective communication with especially our senior colleagues, the chef team often releases pictorials and step-by-step guides in both English and Chinese languages to ensure that new items released are being taught in the most effective way.
  • Training - Relaunch of the training plan with a longer timeframe for flexi workers to complete. This longer lead time allows outlet managers to have sufficient time to train them at their designated outlets.

Concluding the conversation, Chen advises employers looking to implement HR strategies in support of mature workers to start with an end goal in mind.

"Before each strategy was put into place, the HR team had always started by gathering feedback from employees across the ground from several outlets – this included mature employees, long-serving outlet managers, etc. This was so that we could ensure that the strategy put into place was in line with what would be most necessary and required by our senior workers, and what would work best in our outlets to achieve business success.

"After which, we would communicate the strategy via memos and policies during managers’ meetings, and do the necessary analysis to ensure good progress towards goal attainment.

"This, in turn, also cultivated a positive organisational culture over the years, successfully translating multiple HR initiatives for our seniors into action!"

Lead image / Provided [Featuring Alfred Chua and Weishan Chen]

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