Star: Everyone stands to gain by getting retirees back in the workforce

Posted on Posted in Media Coverage

BY S. INDRAMALAR; DECEMBER 28, 2018; The Star2

When Noorhayati Abdul Rahman retired a few years ago, her friends assured her that retirement would give them all more time to “catch up” over teh tarik and roti canai. But retirees also have really busy schedules; between caring for grandchildren and seeing to their own daily tasks, the catch-up sessions were few and far between.

And although Noorhayati enjoys watching television, she wasn’t about to spend all her time at home and in front of her TV.

Instead, she printed copies of her curriculum vitae and pounded the pavementd looking for a job.

“The response was the same, ‘But you are 64…’. I urged the employers I approached to check my references. I assured them that I was a hard worker who hardly had any sick days but they said all that was irrelevant,” recalls Noorhayati, who worked in administration and human resources for over 30 years.

Thankfully, a friend steered her to Hire.Seniors, a service that finds job opportunities for retirees.

“I contacted them and within a day, I was offered a job,” says Noorhayati who does administrative work for Value Tree Sdn Bhd, a company offering sustainable living solutions in the agriculture industry.

As if one job isn’t enough, Noorhayati took on a second job on weekends, as a Grab driver.

“My first job allows me the flexibility of working from home which was something that I was looking for. But I soon realised that working at home means that I don’t get to engage with people much anymore. So, I registered with Grab and after passing their assessment, I started driving earlier this year. It’s been great,” she says.

Hire.Seniors, which specialises in finding career opportunities for retirees, is a start-up set up a year ago by friends and former colleagues Sharmila Sinnathurai and Jasmin Amirul Ghani who, after years of working in consulting, were looking to do “something new”.

Noticing a gap in opportunities for retirees to find work and remain engaged and active post retirement, the two decided to do something about it.

“I really look up to my parents who started their own business after retirement to keep their minds active.

“But we also have relatives whom, upon retirement, stayed at home all day and slowly, they lose their edge because they are not mentally engaged anymore.

“We wanted to create opportunities for all seniors and we asked ourselves what we could do, and the first thing that came to mind was employment,” explains Jasmin.

The duo needed to find out if their idea was viable: do retirees want to go back to work? Would companies be open to hiring seniors?

They got in touch with Seniors Aloud, an online community of about 500 retirees who advocate active living for seniors to get feedback on the idea of going back to work.

“The seniors were all very keen on the idea. They all told us the same thing: they wanted to return to work but didn’t know how to go about it or who would hire them,” shares Jasmin.

The seniors, explains Sharmila, were initially skeptical if they would be able to find them work.

“They kept asking us if they were ‘too old’ but we reassure them that they’re still so young. That’s kind of our tagline, actually. And they are really so appreciative to have this platform to help them find work,” shares Sharmila.

The duo reached out to their corporate contacts and human resource managers to gauge the response from employers.

While many thought it was a “good idea”, companies were not too keen on changing their employment structures which catered for full-time employment.

About 70% of seniors who’d signed on with Hire.Seniors were, however, looking for part-time work.

“Not all retirees are looking to go back to full time employment, five days a week. Most companies however don’t have mechanisms in place to hire part-time employees.

“What we’re trying to do is bridge that gap. It’s a slow process to try and change the mindsets of employers but I believe we will get there,” explains Jasmin.


Time for change

If the 2019 budget is anything to go by, things may be looking up for seniors who want to rejoin the workforce. Among the measures announced at the tabling of the budget last month were tax exemptions for companies that hire senior citizens (with a salary limit of RM4,000 a month).

“Things are looking good,” says Sharmila. “I guess it pays to have a prime minister who is a senior.”

Globally, increased life-expectancy and a growing above-60 population have resulted in a growing trend of older workers continuing to work post-retirement.

According to a study published in BMC public health last year – “Why older workers work beyond retirement: a qualitative study” – labour force participation of adults aged 65 and above in the United States went up by 4% in the last decade. In the Netherlands, the labour participation of those aged between 65 and 75 more than doubled from 5.5% in 2003 to 11% in 2014.

In Malaysia too, where the average life expectancy has gone up by about 15 years (from an average of 59.42 years in the 1960s to 74.26 in 2016), seniors are keen on staying in the workforce, either because they cannot afford to retire, want to continue to contribute to the economy or simply because they want a purpose.

A survey conducted by Universiti Malaya’s Social Security Research Centre (SSRC) last year revealed that out of the 518 Malaysian seniors polled, 70% said that they would continue working as long as their mental and physical capablities permitted.

SSRC director Prof Datuk Norma Mansor said that many of those surveyed were not self-assured financially about their capacity to live comfortably post-retirement. Many felt that there should not be mandatory retirement as they would still need to finance their lives as they age.

In fact, keeping retirees in the workforce could boost the country’s gross domestic product by as much as 5% in the long run, according to SSRC’s Old Age Financial Protection chairholder Prof Naohiro Ogawa at a conference late last year.

“In other words, the country can depend on the elderly,” he was reported as saying.

Seniors aged 60 and above make up about 9.5% of the population but are expected to hit 15% by 2030.

The benefits of hiring retirees are numerous, points out Sharmila. Apart from their strong work ethic and reliability, seniors often record lower absenteeism, more job loyalty, eagerness to learn new skills and very strong customer service skills.

“They are also not looking interested in career development and don’t require training, except maybe skills in using new technology or IT.

“But they bring with them years of experience often in varied fields which will not only benefit the company but also younger co-workers.

“In many cases, employers are getting more ‘value-for-money’ when they hire seniors,” she says, adding that unlike many youngsters, seniors aren’t too picky when it comes to jobs, although they may prefer a job closer to home or something that doesn’t require them to be on their feet for hours.

Attesting to this is Fazul Ikmar Mohd Som, advisor at Value Tree Sdn Bhd, who hired Noorhayati without a moment’s hesitation.

“I fully support hiring retirees because of what they can bring into any organisation. Noorhayati is the second senior I have hired; the other is our creative director.

“They have a lot of confidence because of their years of experience and they get things done.

They also have better public relations skills than the younger generation.

“More than anything, they have a lot to teach the younger staff, even me. I’ve learnt to be patient, because I need to be respectful when dealing with them, which is really an important thing to be.

“Sure, they may be forgetful at times and may need a little coaching with technology, but the benefits not just to the company but to society will be great if more seniors join the workforce.

“After all, just because a person turns 60 it doesn’t mean they can’t add value or contribute to society. In fact, I aim to be like them,” says Fazul.