Tapping on silver talent: Mature workforce practices

Falling birth rates, longer life expectancies and a rapidly ageing workforce are placing additional talent pressures on companies in many developed economies. HRM looks at how older employees can continue to make a valued contribution and help fill these talent gaps

According to data compiled by the United Nations' Population Division, the number of people aged 60 and above in the world is expected to triple by 2050, with Asia already accounting for half of the world's older population.

Further data provided by the International Labour Organisation and analysed in Mercer's 2012 Global HR Factbook shows that currently, one out of every five people (21%) in Italy and Germany is older than 65. In Japan, it's almost one out of every four people (24%). That country is currently undergoing the largest decline in working-age population, from 66% of the population in 2007 to an expected 59% in 2020 (see infographic). This trend is expected to accelerate even further beyond that year.

Countries bucking the trend however, are Pakistan, Bolivia, India and the Philippines. Pakistan in particular is expecting the largest increase in working-age population, from 59% in 2007 to an expected 64% in 2020.

"While the changes seem small in percentage terms, it's important to remember that these dramatic demographic shifts represent hundreds of millions of workers, and they can have a major impact on state pension systems," says Deborah Cooper, Partner in Mercer's Retirement business.

"Most national retirement schemes are state funded and start paying pensions from around age 65, so a contraction in the numbers of the most economically active group will see a reduction in funds available for welfare, health and retirement programmes."

 

Making the silver connection

While ageing populations mean an increased burden on governments by way of higher social expenditure and social security benefits, companies can focus on tapping the experience this group of workers has to create unique business opportunities.

"As mature employees retire, they take with them a wealth of experience, industry insights, and longstanding customer relationships - value that is hard to replace," says Helen Lim, managing director of social enterprise Silver Spring.

"We recognise these individuals as 'Silver Talent' who will be a valuable resource to meet your human capital needs. Furthermore, we believe that Silver Talent, through their maturity, have greater and tested resilience to new job challenges," she adds.

The Singapore Government is also moving in that direction. In his annual May Day Rally speech to some 1,600 union leaders, members and guests earlier this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged employers to go beyond the re-employment law (see boxout) and "enable as many as possible to continue working for as long as possible".

Some older workers may want a shorter working week, while others would prefer a full week with half-day shifts, so they can see their grandchildren after school, says Lim.

"What is needed is clear communication and planning way before they reach 65, perhaps two or three years before," says Christina Ng, Associate Director Ð Financial Services and Legal, Robert Walters Singapore.

Practical issues in the job environment also have to be addressed. For instance, jobs should be redesigned to become less physically taxing on mature workers.

Ng also noted that older workers tended to lose their medical benefits when re-employed. This was "not ideal" for their wellbeing, she said, and urged firms to continue benefits even if it means higher financial costs.

 

Harnessing the power of the silver tsunami

Companies can focus on up-skilling the mature workforce by updating their current skills sets with relevant courses, says Gwen Lim, Manager - HR Division, Robert Walters Singapore. "These extra training and development initiatives are important in assisting with new technology and integrated systems."

It is also important to take care of mature workers' welfare. "We recommend having more company-wide teambuilding activities for better integration and enhanced medical benefits and insurance cover for mature employees," says Lim.

One organisation that's at the forefront of tapping the older workforce is Singapore General Hospital (SGH). Amongst other measures (see boxout), workers at SGH who stay past the retirement age are assessed on objective factors instead of being forced to accept a unilateral pay cut at a specific age.

Another concept that can open doors for mature workers is "ReCareering". Many mature workers started their working life without much reflection on their true interests, authentic values, and unique strengths, says Lim. "They immerse themselves to make the best of their jobs. When the remuneration package is reasonable, they conveniently slip into their comfort zone," she explains.

A wake up call can be triggered in a variety of ways: through coaching, self-discovery workshops, or organisational restructuring to name just a few. They help people to take stock of their lives and initiate a career Plan B before being overwhelmed by external events.

"While ReCareer typically occurs during the second half of our phase of life, it is not necessary to wait till you reach the magical 50" says Lim. "It begins when you look at your life, wonder how much time you have left, and desire to do something more meaningful or significant."

 

China's "Four-two-one" problem

Traditionally, children in Chinese society play an important role in taking care of the retirement needs of their families. However, as birth-rates continue to decline and extended families find themselves increasingly separated by urbanisation, this safety net is becoming less resilient.

Demographers refer to this as the "4-2-1 problem," where one child is expected to support two aged parents and four grandparents.

In response to such an issue, all provinces in the country have now decided to allow couples to have two children (previously they were limited by the well-known "One Child" policy) if both parents were only children themselves.

 

Silver talent: Myths vs facts

Myth

Fact

Older employees are absent from work a lot because of poor health.

The latest medical and pharmaceutical developments have facilitated longer life expectancies and promoted better health. Furthermore, studies have shown that older workers use fewer sick days compared to their younger colleagues.

Older workers are less productive.

Older employees are actually more productive as they are more dependent, loyal and have better judgment. Furthermore, many older staff desire to remain in employment, not just for economic reasons, but also to maintain physical health and mental agility.

Older workers resist change and are slow to learn new skills.

Resistance to change doesn't only affect older workers; younger employees can be steadfast against change as well. While it is true that older employees face steeper learning curves, they are not unwilling to learn - the fastest growing group of internet users is aged 50 and above. Suitable methodologies, tools and a conducive environment can greatly assist older workers to pick up new skills.

It is expensive to hire and retain older staff, who are also less productive.

Compared to their younger colleagues in their 20s and 30s, mature employees are less likely to job hop, thus lowering continuing recruitment and training costs. Instead of penalising older staff, it is far wiser for companies to capitalise on the depth and expanse of knowledge they possess, gained only from their lifetime of work experience.

Source: GSI Executive Search

 

Overcoming the challenges of an ageing workforce

The following questions provide a guide for companies that want to avoid potential pitfalls and proactively address changing workforce issues:

  • What do you see as your company's key HR requirements in the next five to 10 years?
  • Does your company have a detailed understanding of its employee demographics and what key positions or job categories may be at risk in the near future?
  • Has your company identified potential opportunities for attracting and retaining mature workers using part-time or alternative work arrangements?
  • To what extent is the retraining and acquisition of new skills by mature workers part of your company's overall learning and development strategy?
  • Does your company have a strategy in place to preserve critical knowledge before it walks out the door?
  • How effectively are age-related issues addressed within your company's overall diversity strategy?

Source: IBM Institute for Business Value

 

Singapore's re-employment law

As part of a set of measures to enable older employees to work longer, the Singapore Government enacted re-employment legislation last year. It aims to enable more people to continue working beyond the current statutory retirement age of 62, up to 65 in the first instance and, later, up to the age of 67.

Under the law, employers are to offer jobs to employees reaching the retirement age, though it need not be the same position, or on the same salary or terms.

 

Japan's employment measures for the elderly

Hello Work, the Japanese Government's employment service centre, provides advice and support for companies to help them to continue the employment of the elderly after the retirement age of 65 years old. It also provides subsidies to employers who make efforts for employment maintenance and to those who employ people with difficulty finding work, such as aged workers.

 

 

Casestudy: Singapore General Hospital

The Golden Years should be just that - golden. With its focus on elderly-friendly work policies, Singapore General Hospital (SGH) continued in its efforts to enrich the lives of mature workers, clinching the HRM Award for Best Mature Workforce Practices for the second time in a row in 2013.

SGH's commitment to its mature workforce is indeed commendable, and the hospital has a vast range of programmes and resources in place for its older staff. These include programmes preparing older workers for re-employment and upgrading technology consistently to help older workers do their work with greater ease. For example, magnifying glasses are given to older nurses to help them read patient sheets. SGH's holistic provision of an elderly-friendly workplace goes right from the big picture to the little details encapsulated through this very example.

This belief in retaining the older workforce is a key factor to its success. "Older workers add that special touch in caring for patients with their wealth of experience," Esther Tan, HR Director of SGH, tells HRM. "Moreover, getting staff to work longer can help in labour crunches and fill in gaps left by talent shortages."

All in all, SGH walks the talk by having a robust and fair HR system which discounts arbitrary factors such as age in providing the utmost care and benefits for its employees.

 

Internships for mature workers in the US

The Tecumseh Area Partnership (TAP) in the US state of Indiana is implementing an employment strategy for mature workers, using subsidised internships.

The project's public funds pay an hourly wage to mature workers in internships that give them on-the-job experience in a new field or industry. The internships are exclusively for high-growth industries, and the hourly rate that the intern receives is based on the rate that the employer would otherwise pay a trainee or new worker.

TAP is reaching out to employers to let them know about this opportunity to "try out" a mature worker with no obligation to hire long term, and project staff are also coaching mature-age workers to pitch the idea to prospective employers.

TAP's Susie Perkins says, "Having the mature worker promote a no-cost internship directly to an employer during an interview could end up being a key part of the strategy - a way to entice the employer to take a chance on a seasoned worker."

The project is not requiring employers to hire the worker at the end of the internship, and the paperwork has been streamlined to make this an even more appealing prospect for the employer. The intern's supervisor and TAP will be evaluating the progress of interns throughout their stay, which could last anywhere from 30 to 90 days.

 

Analysing the Workday advantage

Sandeep Aggarwal, Chief Financial Officer of Aon-Hewitt Asia-Pacific, shares his thoughts on the Workday finance and HR analytics platform. He says the cloud-based system is intuitive and easy-to-use, but still provides powerful insights across the functions.

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