In our first article we challenged the assumption that the elderly only present a burden to the economy and considered the potential to create new business services to meet the diverse needs of senior citizens. Now we would like to turn attention to the opportunity presented by the untapped potential of older people to continue to contribute to the economy.
Business can create value directly through their productivity and indirectly through the benefits that accrue to individuals and society through engagement in work.
Redefine productivity amongst senior workers and treat them as valuable assets
Hong Kong is starting to run out of workers, especially skilled workers. According to the latest Census and Statistics Department projections, the proportion of people aged 65 and above will rise from 15 percent in mid-2014 to 32 percent in mid-2041 while the proportion of the population engaged in work is expected to peak in 2018, then start to decline steadily. Does this demographic trend present an opportunity or a threat? It would be a great mistake, we think, to overlook the emerging opportunity presented by a well-educated, healthier older population to contribute to the pool of labor able to meet Hong Kong’s varying needs.
Employers need to appreciate more how a multi-generational work force can contribute to productivity and can benefit their bottom line. Research and employers feedback show that older workers are just as productive as their younger counterparts (at least up to age 70). They are just as successful in training. They take less short-term sickness leave and they tend to offset any loss of speed with better judgement because of their rich experience.
The elderly have three essential needs: health, social connection and security. “Active ageing” addresses all these three needs. It refers to the concept of living with a clear purpose and a sense of achievement. When one is practicing active ageing, well-being and health are maintained together with the capacity to remain independent. When one stays socially active, one maintains friendships and develops positive emotions.
Employers can play a key role in helping to address the challenge of an ageing population by re-conceptualizing employment to promote “active ageing”. Senior employees can contribute by coaching younger staff members, capturing and imparting knowledge within the organization, pursuing improvement projects using their rich experience; or put in place risk and crisis prevention programs. These are areas in which younger workers are not known to excel.
It is a sad side of Hong Kong that today most employers do not usually recruit people aged over 50. Once an older person is out of work it is very hard for them to secure new employment.
Recruiting managers and agencies wrongly assume that there are risks in employing people over 50. These are unfounded misconceptions based on a narrow and outdated focus on health and cost issues in employing older people.
The improved health condition of the baby boomer generation as it enters the traditional retirement age has been widely recognized around the world and is obvious here as well. Much as employers may be concerned about the costs of engaging older workers, approaches including flexi-time, part-time hours, job sharing, compressed hours, temporary contracts, seasonal work or home working are ever easier to administer with new technology. They often suit the interests of older workers and rather than being detrimental to the bottom line can give businesses greater flexibility to respond to changing conditions.
One successful employer that has focused on engaging older workers in Hong Kong is a local restaurant chain called the Gingko House. This provides training and employment for those considered retirees by other firms and is ensuring a steady supply of labor for its business well into the future.
However, the number of employers who commit to doing this is still less than a handful. Most employers still seem to be competing for the pool of traditional workers, a pool that will soon start to diminish. We believe that the successful businesses of the future will be those that can engage the growing resource of a healthy, active older segment of the population, enabling this great asset of Hong Kong to continue to make a diverse and productive contribution to society.
In our final article on the subject of rethinking our view of the elderly and their needs, we will consider the last of Porter and Kramer’s ideas, that of empowerment of individuals and communities.
This is the second in a three-part series on elderly care. [Part I] [Part III]
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