Unlocking the Potential of Older Workers

An ageing population. A tight labour market. The manpower crunch. Sounds familiar? This seems to be the outlook for the Singapore workforce in the not too distant future, based on forecasts by various HR practitioners in a recent news report [1]. Given such a climate, it is no surprise that you will soon need to cast your nets wide to reach diverse talents made up of a myriad of ages, backgrounds and experiences.

As such, the shape and form of workplaces may increasingly move towards an age-diverse, multigenerational workforce – a composition of young fresh graduates, middle-aged employees and older workers – all equipped uniquely with their own skills and perspectives. Every individual will have something different to contribute and bring to the table and this accumulative diverse value is something that employers should look to harness.

Out of the age spectrum, older workers are often overlooked when companies source for manpower and talent. It is common for older workers’ positive traits and values to be overshadowed by sweeping stereotypes of them being slow, stubborn or obsolete against the backdrop of a fast-paced, ever changing 21st century workplace. Such deterministic views and conversations perpetuate an inaccurate representation of older workers and promote unhealthy cultures of ageism in the workplace.

On the contrary – older workers are an untapped, valuable resource, possessing a wealth of experience and accumulated expertise that cannot be bought with money or developed overnight through training courses or workshops. Equipped with the right skills and knowledge, older workers are a valuable source of manpower for all companies. You can reap substantial benefits from having an agediverse workforce, where older workers with the requisite experience and skills are able to contribute productively in their jobs.

The longevity of the older individual can be translated into a positive force for companies in multiple ways.

The Benefits of Older Workers to Businesses

Many older workers are seasoned veterans in their industry. These workers bring with them not only the knowledge of the business, but also experience and resilience of tiding through industry changes. Many have gone through crises and have lived to tell he tale – or rather, lived to reap the lessons that come with the ups and downs of building a career. Others have built long-standing relationships and ties with customers and vendors which provide them with an edge in industries that are premised upon social capital. Such value is highly sought after by companies, if only these workers are given a chance to prove their worth.

The competencies and skill sets that older workers have acquired and perfected over the years is something that you should be looking to firstly, preserve and secondly, have them pass on to the younger generation. Older workers are pillars of institutional knowledge that make them perfect candidates for mentoring and coaching younger workers. This knowledge transfer enables the preservation of invaluable traits, skills and expertise that will be critical in the long term. Furthermore, in the wake of an increasingly multi-generational workforce, interaction between younger and older workers is key to having them understand each other’s differences in the workplace, appreciate one another’s contributions and to complement each other’s skills.

Many organisations acknowledge this too – based on a study conducted by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) [2], older workers were seen to bring valuable skills and competencies that led to better mentoring, coaching and better knowledge of the business. Nearly two-thirds of respondent organisations reported that older employees benefited the organisation through better customer understanding and being good organisational ambassadors.

Older workers also bring with them intangible value of positive work attitudes. TAFEP’s same study showed that among respondent organisations, older workers are seen to have high levels of loyalty and commitment coupled with strong work ethics, with many organisations benefiting as a consequence of reduced turnover and absence costs.

Older workers may well be one’s organisation’s advocates and enhance one’s company’s reputation and standing.

Recruiting and retaining older workers is a logical strategy in the face of the tight labour market. This is especially so in industries which traditionally report high turnover. Given such trends, employers need to support older workers as an integral part of the workforce. This is a win-win partnership that can give one’s organisation’s the competitive advantage.

[1] Tackling Ageism at Work: Flexibility needed, say experts” Channel NewsAsia, 17 March 2015

[2] The Value of Mature Workers to Organisations in Singapore, TAFEP Study, May 2013

- The Tripartite Committee on Employability of Older Workers -