Mature workers matter too

The process of population ageing is occurring much more rapidly in Asia than is the case in Europe or North America. HRM discusses how employers can tap into the strengths of the silver workforce and keep them engaged, whilst also boosting the national economy

In the face of an ageing population in Singapore, mature and back-to-work locals form an alternative resource pool that companies can tap on to fill their vacancies and stay competitive.

“By successfully integrating, managing and deploying both mature and younger workers, employers can create a productive, dynamic and experienced workforce to sustain and grow their business,” says Julia Ng, Senior Director – Workforce Growth and Development Division, Workforce Development Agency (WDA).

The Singapore Government has been vocal in supporting mature workers in the country. Recently, it announced that CPF contribution rates for those aged between 50 and 55 would increase by two percentage points from the employer and 0.5 percentage points from the employee. Meanwhile, employer contribution rates for those aged above 55 to 65 have been increased by 1.5 percentage points.

To mitigate the cost impact on employers, the government has made provisions for Special Employment Credits (SECs), a twice-yearly pay-out for employers who hire older Singaporeans at wages of under S$4,000 per month. The scheme was launched in 2012, and is currently scheduled to end in 2016.

As part of its 2014 Budget, the government also announced an $8 billion-Pioneer Generation Package to give some 450,000 elderly Singaporeans special benefits for life.

Apart from medical benefits and assistance, there are additional factors and concerns that need to be addressed for people to enjoy the process of ageing, says Tan Bee Wan, executive chairman of Integrative CSR Consulting and co-founder of the Ageless in Singapore Movement. For example, one may ask questions such as:

  • How do I age purposefully and stay engaged?
  • Will I be financially adequate in paying for my retirement needs?
  • How do I stay gainfully employed and have a regular income?

What do older workers really want?
The current group of older workers is diverse in educational and career experience, says Helen Lim, managing director of social enterprise, Silver Spring. “It ranges from those who need to stay employed for financial reasons, to those who desire to stay occupied meaningfully and be regarded with value and dignity,” she explains.

These workers essentially want three ‘Rs’: Respect, Recognition and Reassurance. “If we consider these in our design and delivery of work to enable older adults to contribute, we will be tapping on their strengths, rather than their age,” says Tan.

Regardless of age, employees join McDonald’s Singapore because of its known employee value propositions. These include the “McFamily”, an energising environment and teamwork in the restaurants, and full flexibility in terms of work schedules.

For mature workers, flexibility in accommodating work schedules also allows them to pace themselves at work and meet their own needs. “For instance, we allow them adequate breaks during their shifts so that they can work well and productively,” says Audrey Chin, Director – HR, McDonald’s Singapore – winner of the HRM Award for Best Mature and Re-Employment Practices this year. “Managers are also trained to take care of their mature workers and manage them as part of the team,” she adds.

With technological advances, companies require less manual work and value should be given to a more experienced and thinking workforce, says Tan.

According to the Truth About Connected You study by McCann Truth Central, seniors in the East (Japan, China, and India) are in fact more technologically-savvy than their counterparts in the West. In these Asian countries, 70.7% of those aged over 55 used their mobile devices as their primary way of connecting with the world, compared with 32% in Germany, Spain, the US and the UK.

At McDonald’s, touchscreen cash registers and hand-held order takers are designed with visual representations of menu items for easy order-taking and speedy service by mature workers.

“Also, with medical advancement, older adults are now fitter and more agile, and their biological age is less than their chronological age,” says Tan.

Employers must have open minds to see value in experienced talents. “For example, it would bode well for SMEs that plan to expand overseas to engage mature workers with specific experience and in-depth knowledge of different cultures,” Tan says. “They have knowledge that cannot be learnt through textbooks and besides, these seniors are generous to share their experiences with younger colleagues.”

The CEO of one SME – engineering company AJA Enterprise – looked towards silver talent to propel her business forward. A relatively young entrepreneur with a background as a chemist, Angela Tan needed a number of qualified people to join the company’s management team and complement her strong technical skills (See box out on pg15).

“I identified the right mature professionals to help her take her business to the next level and in just over three years, her business has grown from two million to 18 million,” says Lim. “Her preparedness to work with people more than 10 years older than her has paid off – I wish for many more SMEs to follow suit.”

To encourage more companies to hire mature workers and back-to-work locals, as well as to build age-friendly workplaces, the WDA and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) launched the WorkPro scheme in April 2013.

Under the scheme, companies that have existing mature workers aged 40 years old and over, or are planning to hire mature workers, can tap on the Age Management grant of up to $20,000. This provides funds to develop age management capabilities such as improved re-employment practices, performance management and job redesign.

Other resources available to employers include the new Age Management online portal ( It provides employers with tips and case studies on the implementation of good age management practices, information on upcoming seminars and events and guides to funding programmes.

Another useful tool is the Age Management Toolkit which helps equip companies with practical knowledge to develop capabilities to better manage an ageing workforce. It covers seven focus areas such as Fair Employment, Re-employment, Job Redesign, Flexible Work Arrangement and others.

Employers can also consult WDA’s Age-Friendly Employment Practices Guide for examples of best practices and case studies that should help in better leveraging the skills and experience of older workers through the adoption of age-friendly HR practices.

The guide provides practical tips and case studies in six key areas: Recruitment, Remuneration and Benefits, Job Redesign and Automation, New Work Arrangements, Re-employment Policy, and Managing Career Transitions.

“Through the WorkPro scheme, learning platforms such as the Age Management Seminar and associated resources, companies will be better equipped to manage an aging and multi-generational workforce,” says Ng.

Lim believes once society is focused on seeing value in older workers, SME leaders can come up with creative ways to fully engage a diverse multi-generational workforce. “SMEs will be rich in with innovative business solutions to take their companies way ahead of their competitors,” she notes.

Chin agrees: “Age does not matter as long as employees want to continue working and employers recognises their value to the company and remunerates them based on their contributions, performance and experience.”

Casestudy: AJA Enterprise
Angela Toh, founder and CEO of engineering company AJA Enterprise, wanted to increase AJA’s turnover by 10 times in 10 years. She realised that in order to achieve this vision, she would need to have a strong top team of people in sales, operations and finance, but finding such people proved to be very difficult.

“For start-up companies and local SMEs, such as AJA, attracting and retaining talent is even more challenging as many young and mobile professionals prefer working in multinational corporations (MNC) or for more well-known brands,” says Helen Lim, managing director of social enterprise, Silver Spring.

Angela reached out to Silver Spring to help her identify suitable candidates that could strengthen the management capability of her company. “We matched her requirements with two mature professionals who had substantial commercial experience and were looking to re-invigorate their careers with doing something different that could utilise their experience,” says Lim.

Bernard Tan, 49, joined AJA in 2012, after more than 20 years of working with large MNCs. Within a relatively short period, he executed an organisational gap analysis for AJA, put in place a series of business processes to step-up the quality of various functional units and thereafter helped the company achieve industry-recognised standards, such as the Integrated Management System (IMS) and BizSAFE certifications. As Senior Manager of Strategic and Corporate Branding, Tan is now working towards building AJA into one of the most well-recognised and sought-after brands in its category, not just in Singapore but internationally.

Philip Tan, 61, joined AJA in 2011at age 58. He brought with him over 30 years of sales and commercial experience with global brands. As Commercial Director for AJA, he has helped to remodel the business from a products distribution business to a solutions-driven organisation with unique, world-class products. Working closely with him, Angela saw the company’s order-book jump nearly 10 times in just three years. The number of employees also grew from five to 50.


The government is looking to further raise the re-employment age, from 65 years old to 67.

Since re-employment legislation was introduced in 2012, a government survey has shown that 99% of private sector local employees who turned 62 in June 2013 were offered re-employment, including 67% of retiring employees who were offered re-employment on existing contracts, with no change to their employment terms.

Among those re-employed in the same job in the private sector, 96% did not experience a basic wage cut.

And to enhance lifelong learning, the government is reviewing its Continuing Education and Training Masterplan, which is expected to give greater emphasis to self-initiated upgrading.

In addition, the government will review the issue of legislated parent or eldercare leave as part of broader efforts to address the challenges of an ageing society.
The Japanese Government says it will shelve its plan to extend the compulsory retirement age for national government employees from 60 to 65. Instead, it plans to increase the number of employees working until the age of 65 by rehiring workers who retired at 60 at lower wages. The eligibility age for mutual pension payments will begin to be raised to 65 in stages.

The country is known for technology and this is also true in the realm of mature workers. A few years ago, researchers unveiled the HRP-4 robot, something that would replace ageing workers in doing repetitive manual tasks, hence easing Japan’s looming labour shortage.
China’s retirement age should be raised to 65 over the next 10 to 20 years for all workers, say top social insurance experts. The average age of retirement in China is now about 53, while life expectancy is 75.

The gap is much wider than the 12 years that Wang Dewen, a social protection economist with the World Bank’s Beijing office believes is a reasonable period for an individual to draw a pension.

The State Council says it will increase pensions by 10%, which have been set at a fixed rate for the past nine years. Still, the reality is the pension level has failed to match inflation, and workers’ salaries have surged in recent years thanks to rapid economic growth, Wang added.

Feng Lijuan, an HR expert with recruitment website 51job, argues that raising the retirement age may lead to a situation where some in the older labour force become trapped in poverty as they lack new skills to find jobs while they have not reached the age to claim pensions.


Retirement around the world
Geography plays a role in determining at what age employees can take a permanent break from their jobs, according to the Mercer’s latest Worldwide Benefit and Employment Guidelines. And sometimes gender, industry, and years of service are also factors in determining when that golden date arrives.

“For example, a company envisioning a particular market for its experienced and ample supply of talent would want to know that workers could — and likely will — retire in their 50s,” said Samantha Polovina, the Mercer Principal responsible for the guidelines.

“In a bordering country,” she added. “This same company could face a retirement age nearly 15 years older, which would introduce a different set of talent issues.”
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