Surveys show most Hong Kong employers are not interested in recruiting elderly workers, who are often stereotyped as slow learners and less capable.
But some social enterprises who have been hiring people in their 50s, 60s or even 70s tell us that in quite a lot of circumstances, senior workers can outmatch their younger counterparts.
Catering firm Gingko House shared some of its experiences with EJ Insight.
To start with, the older employees are extremely punctual.
“In fact, they often come in earlier than required,” said chief executive officer Joyce Mak.
“We open at 9:00 a.m., but some of them will be standing outside the shop at 8:30 a.m.”
The older workers are also more disciplined and responsible.
“Some youngsters usually call in sick on Monday, probably after playing too hard during the weekend, but this rarely happens with the elderly staff,” Mak said.
To the older generation, coming to work is fulfilling an important promise to the boss.
Young workers will stress the importance of realizing their dreams and prospects, but older employees simply treasure the chance to work and interact with colleagues and customers, she said.
So, they really care and genuinely want to do a good job.
Older workers typically develop a stronger sense of belonging to the organizations they work for, Mak said.
Another good thing about the older workers is that they are less likely to cut corners. They are more serious about getting the job done properly.
This translates into paying attention to detail and putting themselves into the customer’s shoes.
They are great at handling thorny situations too, like complaints from customers, probably because the older workers tend to be more patient and have more life experience, Mak said.
Stronger interpersonal skills also make them promising salespersons or officers who answer enquries from potential customers.
People often associate the elderly with poor health, but Mak said that is a misconception.
“It depends a lot on individual cases. It is totally possible to find someone still going strong in his 60s or 70s, even sturdier than younger guys in their 30s or 40s,” she said.
One’s physical condition is linked to one’s age, but Mak has observed that the connection varies very much from one individual to another.
Older workers do have limitations, she said.
They are slower, they may have poorer eyesight and hearing, they forget things, and they lack the vigor to work for long hours, but that does not necessarily make them poorer performers.
“They may not be as quick, but they may be able to achieve a better result in the end,” Mak said.
Gingko aims to promote employment of seniors in Hong Kong, a mission statement printed on its business cards.
It has about 200 elderly workers on its payroll, roughly 80 percent of its staff.
Gingko is hoping to reach its goal not just by expanding its own business and getting more elderly on board, but also through inspiring other firms to do the same thing.
Mak said more companies are valuing elderly workers these days, but with a fast aging population, Hong Kong still needs a lot more employers that share the same mindset.
Highlighting the merits of elderly workers by no means implies a company will do better by maximizing their number.
Part of the logic of hiring the elderly is to have them pass on their rich experience to the next generation.
Young workers are also vital, because they are more aware of what’s in fashion and they are better at generating new ideas, Mak said.
That’s why older and younger workers can be a perfect combination.
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