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Time to redefine Malaysia’s work culture

The Star Online - Tapping the 50 Plus Market by Carol YipComment By Carol Yip
Saturday April 24, 2010

THE world of work is changing. More people are working into their so-called retirement years. Many wish to embark on new career paths. I know of people who have said good-bye to high-stress jobs to follow their passion. For others who are less financially secure, work is a necessity. Perhaps they didn't save enough for retirement or maybe their investments have soured.

Age matters

Unfortunately, older employees are not always valued in today's fast-moving world.

In many instances, employees in their late 40's or 50's find it hard to find a company that understands how valuable they are.

Unless the person has special experience or credibility that is sought after for management, directorship or advisory positions, their employability value has decreased.

Age discrimination in the workplace still persists in many companies. All young employees will ultimately age and they will experience similar treatment if we do nothing to change the negative perception aged employees currently suffer. You could soon become a victim of that discrimination.

There is a need to promote ideas for employing older employees and extending the retirement age. Savvy employers must recognise that their success depends on their employees' contributions. It is the result of team effort, with old and young employees contributing their best. Yesterday's employer-of-choice concept needs to be refined because the shifts in age demographics that have characterised the early 21st century have brought new challenges to the workplace. For instance:

  • Brain drain: Baby Boomers and Generation-X migrating to other countries contributes to the country's lack of talented and experienced human resource;
  • Responding to the marketplace: A salaried ageing workforce will lead to more consumers. Only if businesses create job opportunities - with necessary take-home pay - for aged consumers will there be sufficient cash and demand for the products and services that are designed for that demographic;
  • Manpower shortages: Employers with high percentages of older employees have begun to feel the impact of lost talent as Baby Boomers near the retirement age of 55 and above. Their concerns are exacerbated by fewer employees from the younger generation who are keen to work in routine or mundane jobs with unattractive salary packages. Sometimes, it is no longer the “work hard” but the “work easy” attitude for the young ones; and
  • Lack of interest: Employers in industry sectors like agriculture, manufacturing or labour-intensive industries are facing difficulties in attracting young people. They resort to hiring foreign workers instead of retirees, who are often fully trained and capable of productive work.

It takes both hands to clap

Stereotypes of older employees have made us believe ageing brings with it physical and attitude limitations (not to mention a lack of being technology savvy). Sometimes this can lead to disengagement at work with other colleagues.

But this may not be necessarily true. There are Baby Boomers with positive mental health and attitudes, superb technical and people skills that are not being given second opportunities to excel.

Unless employers accept that age is just a number and continue the employment relationship as long as the employee can make valuable contributions to the company, nothing much can be done.

While older employees can adopt new paradigm shifts in mindset to be more engaged with young colleagues, employers can consider aligning older employees' competencies with specific business strategies that take advantage of their wealth of experience. Whether you call them “know-how”, “gut feel” or “instinct”, these attributes are often lacking in younger employees.

Multi-generational workforce

Companies in some western countries with ageing populations are now adopting a new work culture - a multi-generational workforce - and policies that provide alternatives for both young and old employees to improve their work-life balance.

These measures have proven to help overcome manpower shortages, retain employees who want to spend time with family and attract retirees to work.

These new approaches have led to a healthy work culture for employees of all ages with different life priorities and are non gender-biased.

Employers benefit from less staff turnover and salary costs, while work gets done with multi-generational engagement ideas such as:

  • Flexible work options: Flexi-time or reduced-hour options like part-time positions, job shares and phased retirement (part-time work designed for older employees to ease the transition into retirement);
  • Work on project or contract basis where an employee is “self-employed”;
  • Jobs with different sets of responsibilities to develop new competencies, or less demanding jobs due to health or personal reasons; and
  • Work from alternative locations or home to reduce commuting time and ecological footprint.

For the 21st century multi-generational work culture to be successful and rewarding for Malaysia's business and work community, human resource managers must implement these new concepts as soon as possible. Employment agencies or online job portals will need to specialise in flexible work option job matching.

These are small hurdles but the result is a healthy society with higher number of employed people including retirees, leading to improved economic growth for the country and consumption growth for individuals. It is at this point that we can all stand and give ourselves a self-congratulatory clap - with both hands!

Yip is a personal financial coach and also founder and CEO of Abacus for Money.

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