Understanding older workers

by | June 18, 2021

A report brief by the Centre for Ageing Research and Education on the triumphs and tribulations of older workers.


Over the last two decades, there is an increasing trend of rising employment of older workers in Singapore’s workforce. The number of older workers aged 55 and above in Singapore has quadrupled from 120,400 in 2000 to 553,300 in 2019, according to the Ministry of Manpower. This further coincides with the Government’s efforts of promoting the employment of older workers. Besides raising the mandatory retirement age from 62 to 63 in 2022 and then to 65 in 2030, there are also financial incentives for older workers and their employers, and policies to create age-friendly jobs and practices.

The report shared that occupationally, younger older workers had a larger proportion of PMETs than the older age group, while the older age group who were employed as cleaners, labourers and related workers was twice that of their younger counterparts. The report also highlighted a significant rise in the percentages of women aged 55 and older in employment, with the highest increase coming from women aged 65 and older.

However, research on the motivations, skills and challenges of older workers in Singapore, particularly from the perspectives of older persons themselves, remains scant, according to the Centre for Ageing Research and Education (CARE). As such, it has released its 10th research brief  called “Triumphs and Tribulations of Older Workers” aimed at addressing the gap by presenting findings from focus groups conducted with older persons. In July 2019, 10 focus group discussions were held with those aged 55 and above.

Some of the findings from these focus groups:

      • Older persons’ motivations for work is the physical and mental health benefits from being employed. Employment was also viewed as an integral part of realising happiness in old age. However, the characteristics of certain jobs, specifically non-professional and service sector jobs, may place older workers at greater risk of developing physical and mental health problems.
      • Older persons saw work as financial security and did not have to rely on support from their children and other family members to survive. They want to prolong their savings, maintain their current standard of living and stay self-sufficient for as long as possible.
      • Some noted a need to support their adult children who may be facing challenging life circumstances and be able to financially contribute and thus, participate in raising their grandchildren.
      • Work was viewed as a key facilitator to developing and maintaining social relationships that extended beyond older persons’ usual circle of friends and family members. This also made them feel “integrated with society”, said the report.
      • Many of the participants of the focus groups considered the use of their experiences in guiding and educating younger colleagues as well as fellow older workers to be an important aspect of their social roles. They also expressed a desire to share their knowledge on heritage, culture and history – a further wish to stay relevant and have the value of their contributions recognised by society.
      • Most of the participants highlighted qualities they possessed that were key to organisational success – loyalty, good work ethic, and being resilient and consistent workers. Some also brought up institutional knowledge and strong communication skills.
      • They added that low and drastically-reduced salaries most older workers received were reflective of how their productive skills, efforts and potential were often insufficiently valued and recognised by employers.
      • Participants raised numerous experiences of unfair treatment by employers and inequitable employment conditions, which they attributed both directly and indirectly to age discrimination. The instances include the job application process, employment conditions such as remuneration packages and job scopes, as well as intergenerational dynamics at the workplace. Such experiences have made the participants feel demoralised and insecure about their self-worth.
      • Many believed that their inability to adapt to the demands of employers compelled them to accept inequitable work arrangements and conditions which they felt were incommensurate with their work experience, abilities and preferences. These included settling for drastic reductions in salary and work benefits while being expected to deliver on the same responsibilities and job scope. Participants also cited insufficient health and medical insurance coverage when they joined a new company or even when they were re-employed by their current employers.
      • Participants noted intergenerational differences between younger and older workers. They perceived the current organisational and work cultures as suited for younger employees and some even reported having nothing in common with the younger generations, in addition to feeling irrelevant, outdated and incompetent. There were also accounts of bullying by their younger superiors.
      • Many participants pointed out that the training they had did not translate to “real work” opportunities and mentioned a disjuncture between the jobs that there were being trained for and their own competencies and past work experience.
      • Technology also was highlighted as a particularly challenging aspect of the workplace. Several participants felt excluded, overwhelmed, and that their skills were outdated – as they were unable to keep up with the pace of technological advancements. However, participants accepted technological change as something that was necessary, which they needed to learn to adapt to.
      • Several participants reported having to leave their jobs because of caregiving issues and found it hard juggling work and caregiving.

    The report added a need to build age-empowering policy framework for employment and retirement. This included rethinking the mandatory retirement age as it was viewed as an obstacle towards achieving financial security in later life, and aligning the goals of training and employers’ demands for productivity. The report shared about the latter: “… the upgrading of mature workers should be complemented by key changes to work structures and processes within organisations that would empower older workers and allow employers to leverage on their strengths – specifically their institutional knowledge and communication skills”.

    The report also recommended five work conditions. These include employment tenure to be determined by performance and ability instead of age, remuneration to commensurate with clearly defined job scopes and responsibilities, and more comprehensive medical benefits and health insurance. It also recommended that employers offer more flexible work hours and job-sharing options to accommodate greater diversity in work-life circumstances of older workers, and employers grant paid leave for older workers to care for dependent family members. It further recommended looking at greater age diversity and diversity-supportive management and HR policies with the key to harnessing the diverse qualities of their staff.


    (** PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash/John T)


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