Working on options for hiring retirees

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By Lisa Goh, 14 Oct 2012 – Has the time come for companies to be more open about hiring senior citizens?

WITH her blood pressure at an all-time high, and migraine attacks becoming a daily occurrence, Shereen decided it was time to retire from her job as a school teacher.

So at the age of 50, she took optional retirement on the advice of her doctor.

“I decided to retire because my blood pressure had shot up, and my doctor warned me that if this continued, there was a risk of getting a stroke,” she says of her decision some seven years ago.

“I discovered that I was slowly losing my skills, and that my memory wasn’t what it used to be. Also, my son was studying overseas, so I needed some income,” she explains.

Finding a job proved harder than she had expected.

“There were job offers, but they were for full-time roles. Hours were from 9am to 6pm, five-and-a-half days a week, and the salary they offered was between RM2,500 and RM3,500.

“I wasn’t keen because of two issues I didn’t want the pressure of a full-time job, and for my hours and experience (30 years of teaching experience), I didn’t think the pay was worth the effort I have to put in,” she says.

Many applications and interviews later, Shereen finally found a job as a part-time lecturer in a college near her home.

Her schedule differs every semester, but she works an average of three hours a day, three to five days a week (depending on the semester), and she’s very happy with this arrangement.

“Things are really good right now. I have ample time to prepare for my lessons, and still have enough time for my family and for household chores.

“I’m happy I can still keep active, and I, too, am learning in various ways from my students,” she says, adding that she’s been with the college for almost six years now.

“So far, my bosses like my performance and work ethics, and I’m very, very glad they appreciate senior citizens like me who can still contribute to society.

“I plan to continue working even in my 60s, as long as I am still able to contribute professionally. I have no plans to stop for now, but I may take fewer classes as I grow older,” she says.

Another retiree, Steven says he, too, found it hard to get back into the workforce since retiring from property development at the age of 56 some six years ago.

“I initially thought of taking a break for about a year, and then continue working, but once you retire, it’s so hard to get back into the workforce.

“I’ve tried applying for work many times, but as soon as they find out my age, most employers don’t get in touch with me again,” he says.

Steven, 62, says he’s spent most of his time at home helping with chores and running errands for the family, but retirement wasn’t quite what he had imagined either.

“It affected my health. I became forgetful and even suffered depression,” he says, adding that he has since received treatment for his condition.

Fortunately for him, he recently found a job as a site supervisor via his contacts, and says he’s happy to be back at work.

“The job is tiring, but it keeps me physically active and mentally alert,” he says.

Shereen and Steven are two examples of retirees who have found it relatively difficult going back into the workforce post retirement, and many quarters feel the time has come where this should not be the case.

National Council of Senior Citizens Organisation Malaysia (Nacscom) president Datuk Dr Soon Ting Kueh says the corporate sector should be more flexible in hiring senior citizens as they have a wealth of knowledge and experience that they can still share within their industries, even though they have passed their retirement age.

“If I am 59 (years old) today and I have expertise in a particular field, it doesn’t mean I lose my expertise tomorrow when I turn 60. We are still good at what we do, and we are still able to contribute.

“Not all retirees may want to go back to work after they retire, it’s an individual choice. But that opportunity should be made available for those who want to go back to work,” he says.

Relating to recent news reports about the rise in number of senior citizens who end up in welfare homes after being abandoned by their families in hospitals, Dr Soon adds that a two-prong approach should be used to reduce such cases of abandonment.

“On the one hand, we need to educate and instil a sense of filial piety in our children. Your parents brought you up and when the time comes, you should also carry out your responsibility towards them.

“But we’re also trying to push the idea of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. You (the elderly) should be prepared for a retirement where you are comfortable with what you have, without having to depend on hand-outs from relatives or social organisations,” he says.

He urges senior citizens to have a contingency plan “in case you cannot depend on anyone else, even if it means living a more frugal lifestyle”.

“I think the Government should also encourage the corporate sector to hire senior citizens. They have a lot of experience which can come in useful,” he says.

Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Shamsuddin Bardan concurs, saying that statistics from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) 2011 Annual Report shows that there are currently about 240,000 senior citizens between the ages of 56 and 85 who are still formally employed. Of that, about 210,000 are from the ages of 56 to 65.

“This 240,000 may sound like a big group, but it only represents 4% of some six million Malaysians who are in that age group.

“In Malaysia, we still do not have a culture of hiring those with grey hair, but I think the time has come for us to look at our resources and our requirements. How long can we keep up the current trend of depending on foreign labour?” he asks.

He adds that based on Malaysia’s productivity value of US$14,217 (the value of productivity of one Malaysian employee), the productivity value for the potential labour force of six million senior citizens is at about RM85.3bil.

Shamsuddin adds that as Malaysia moves towards being a knowledge and service economy, “age will not really be a barrier” as far as human resources is concerned.

But more incentives need to be in place, if more senior citizens are to come back into the workforce.

One incentive could be allowing retirees to have a tax-free income. (Malaysia’s minimum retirement age has recently been raised to 60, and is expected to be enforced next year.)

“These people have been paying taxes all their lives, perhaps now the Government can afford to let them off taxes.

“As for companies, perhaps they should be allowed double tax deductions when they hire senior citizens. If there are such policies in place, the perception to hiring retirees will start to change,” Shamsuddin says.

Such changes in policy may have to come sooner than expected.

On Oct 1, in conjunction with the International Day of Older Persons, the United Nations released a report urging governments around the world to work on policies to cope with ageing.

The report, titled World Population Ageing: 1950-2050, was prepared by the UN’s Population Division, under the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

It had four major findings population ageing is unprecedented, pervasive, profound and enduring. The report stated that “by 2050, the number of older persons in the world will exceed the number of young for the first time in history” and it will have “major consequences and implications for all facets of human life”.

“In the economic area, population ageing will have an impact on economic growth, savings, investment and consumption, labour markets, pensions, taxation and intergenerational transfers. In the social sphere, population ageing affects health and healthcare, family composition and living arrangements, housing and migration. In the political arena, population ageing can influence voting patterns and representation,” it said.

It was reported that an estimated one in nine people around the world are older than 60, accounting for some 810 million of the seven billion global population. According to the report, the size of the elderly population is expected to swell by 200 million in a decade to go beyond one billion people and soar to two billion by 2050.

For some retirees, such as Steven, going back to work for another few years may not be a bad idea at all, especially if it means keeping him active, healthy, happy and self-reliant.

“Before I started working again, on a happiness scale of one to 10, I was probably at a three or four. Now that I’m back at work, I’m probably around a six or seven.

“My time is fully occupied, and because I’m physically active, I sleep better at night. And at the end of the month, I can look forward to getting my salary. What’s not to like?” he says.