Feb 28, 2009

Wider range of work arrangements would entice 7 in 10 to stay employed
By Radha Basu
MISS Mary Tham has been searching for work since March 2007, when the snack shop where she worked finally closed its doors to business. So far she has had no luck and, given the rapid economic slide, fears she may still be in for a long wait.

The hitch? She is 70, and wants flexible working hours.

'I am fit, but my bones are tired,' said the soft-spoken woman, who lives alone in her three-room Ang Mo Kio flat. 'I cannot work more than five or six hours a day, but I want and need a job.'

Miss Tham's eagerness to work flexibly is far from unique. An overwhelming 72 per cent of people surveyed in a study here said working fewer and flexible hours would encourage them to continue working as long as they could.

The Singapore paper, written by researcher Helen Ko, an expert on ageing, scrutinised data from interviews with 1,000 individuals on what kind of work opportunities and practices for older workers would make them want to stay employed for as long as possible.

It then asked 300 employers whether they would be willing to offer some of these opportunities to their older workers.

For Mrs Ko, the biggest take-away is the urgent need for companies here to implement 'flexi-work' practices.

'These need to go beyond offering three- or four-day weeks,' she said. 'Not all companies may be able to do that, so we need to also look at more creative options.'

One such option is job-sharing, where two older workers share one job, with each working for blocks of three to six months or even each alternate week.

Employers could also explore the concept of 'phased' retirement, where an older worker's hours and responsibilities are gradually reduced over time.

'Such measures may require some paperwork, even job redesign, but they would ultimately lead to a happier and more productive workforce,' said Mrs Ko.

'Besides, the downturn could be a good time to start - instead of retrenching, why not begin with gradually reducing the workload of older workers.'

Flexible work arrangements also hit the top spot in a recent Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports survey, where baby boomers were asked what factors would encourage them to remain employed even after they cross the official retirement age.

Employers here, however, are lukewarm to the idea of flexi-work for older folk. In Mrs Ko's survey, a minority of employers interviewed - 27 per cent - said they currently offered such opportunities. More importantly, less than half of all employers - 43 per cent - think flexi-work could or should be made available to older workers here.

Among companies that already offer some degree of flexibility, most are in shift-based positions in areas already facing labour shortages, such as health care or hotels and catering.

The five-star hotel Royal Plaza on Scotts, for instance, initiated a flexible work scheme in March last year to give older workers in particular the opportunity to work shorter hours. As a result, the proportion of workers above 50 on its payroll has shot up by 50 per cent over the past year.

Currently about one in four there are older workers. The hotel has also begun job-sharing schemes, mostly involving older workers. 'Rather than employ someone for eight hours, we get two workers for four hours each, with pay and perks being pro-rated,' said the hotel's director for human resources Eileen Ang.

It seems to be working. Butler David Low, 63, who works at one of the hotel's restaurants, applied for a 22-hours-a-week job at the hotel six months after retiring from another hotel job. 'I was bored, but wanted some time for myself as well,' said the father of two grown-up children.

He took a 70 per cent pay cut, but that is something he is not regretting, given that he now has weekends off for the first time in 40 years.

Patient-care associate Joseph Robert Roch, 57, also took a pay cut to work a four-day week at Alexandra Hospital, but said that with savings in the bank, money is not his main concern.

The former shipping company executive now helps nurses feed or bathe patients and said he needs at least three days a week to enjoy leisure activities such as reading, walking his dog, watching movies or attending church.

The survey suggests that Mr Roch is not in a minority. Only 18 per cent said they needed to continue working because of the money.

At present, many of the companies that are actively extending flexi-work arrangements - such as the Royal Plaza on Scotts - are doing so only for blue-collar positions.

Older white-collar executives, used to larger pay cheques, who are looking for flexible positions, have it much harder.

A 56-year-old father-of-three The Straits Times spoke to says he has been looking for a flexible job since being retrenched in 2002 and reckons he has sent out at least 200 applications.

He has only been offered jobs as a cleaning supervisor or security guard and the pay is a quarter of the $4,000 he used to earn.

He thinks the Government should give tax rebates to companies for hiring local older workers 'rather than inexpensive foreigners'.

The Government and unions, meanwhile, do have flexi-work on their radar, as they study how best to keep older folk employed.

By 2012, Singapore is meant to put in place a new law that requires companies to rehire workers who are retiring.

The Government, unions and companies need to consider a number of options before re-employment can occur, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Boon Heng told The Straits Times.

'An example is flexibility. Seniors want flexibility - part-time work, contract work. Employers have to work out how to offer such work...

'This has to be worked out at the company level. There are no standard answers. However, when a company has been able to do so, we should encourage sharing of experience, so that others can adapt their practices,' said the former secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, who is now the Minister in charge of ageing issues.

But relying on the Government - or companies - to hand over jobs or training on a platter to older workers is unrealistic, says Mr Gerard Ee, chairman of the Council for Third Age, which advocates an active lifestyle for older folk.

He suggests that the most effective approach would be for older workers to take a more proactive role.

Take ownership of your future and, if necessary, reinvent yourself, he said.'Sitting around doing nothing is not going to help.'

創作者 milk100sina 的頭像


milk100sina 發表在 痞客邦 留言(0) 人氣()