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“I’ll be retirement age in April, and then I face the void,” my friend said to me a few weeks ago. When I asked what she meant, she said that she was afraid to retire. She loved her job, and derived much of her identify from her work. “I don’t know what to do next,” she replied.
Fortunately, there are many options for older adults after retirement. With the ageing of the world’s population, older adults are a naturally replenishing resource. And they have wealth of experience to share with others. Finding an organisation with which to volunteer can be fulfilling, and can be a big help to other people.
Are all older adults ready and willing to volunteer? The answer depends on several things. First, it depends on the nature of the volunteer job. Do you agree with the mission of the organisation? Does the organisation have a volunteer job that “fits” with your skills and interests? Do you receive on-the-job training? Are there easy ways to communicate with staff members, and are you kept “in the loop?” Are you recognised for your contributions?
Second, older people need to know that volunteering has health benefits. Research shows that volunteers live longer than non-volunteers. They also report that volunteering helps them stay active, increase physical and cognitive functioning, reduce depression, and increase life satisfaction.
Third, research shows that older adults are more ready to volunteer if they have experience with volunteering. It may be easier for young volunteers to turn into old volunteers, than for people to start volunteering in old age. Thus, policymakers should consider ways to encourage and reward volunteering across the life course.
Every country has its own examples of good programmes. Some successful volunteering programs in the US include:
- AARP Executive Corps – an award-winning national programme that engages people over 55 in tutoring and mentoring elementary school students, helping teachers in the classroom, and leading after-school enrichment activities.
- Senior Corps – a network of programmes that link older adults to agencies serving vulnerable populations. Although volunteers are not paid, they are covered by liability and accident insurance, and receive assistance with transportation and meals.
- Foster Grandparents connects volunteers age 55 and over with children and young people with exceptional needs.
- Senior Companions brings together volunteers age 55 and over with adults in their community who have difficulty with the simple tasks of day-to-day living.
- RSVP offers “one-stop shopping” for all volunteers 55 and over who want to find challenging, rewarding and significant service opportunities in their local communities.
- Volunteer Match – a US website that allows you to enter the city where you’d like a volunteer opportunity and gives you a list of options.
After my friend and I talked, she went online to look at volunteer opportunities of interest to her. She was pleased to find that the Honolulu Film Festival was looking for volunteers. She was recruited to welcome film viewers at one of the festival theaters. She loves film, and was thrilled to see seven new films over the course of the week. She also met local producers, directors, actors and other film buffs. These new connections have led her to other volunteer opportunities with people she enjoys being with.
There are many options for volunteering. With a little searching, one can find an opportunity that is right for him or her. One can start volunteering at any time, and the benefits will follow.
– Dr Kathryn L Braun is professor and chair of the DrPH Program in the Department of Public Health Sciences of the University of Hawaii. She has a joint appointment with the School of Social Work, where she serves as co-investigator of the National Resource Center for Native Hawaiian Elders. She is affiliated with the UH Center on Aging, through which she serves as evaluator for the Hawaii Healthy Aging Partnership, dedicated to building capacity to deliver evidence-based health promotion programs for older adults.
(** Photographs © By Alex Harris for AARP Executive Corps.)
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This is a podcast of a presentation given by Dick Stroud at the Investing in the Ageing Boom (the age of reason) conference in October where he spoke about the importance of understanding the physiological and psychological aspects of ageing, 10 ways of segmenting the market – the right option for your organisation and using your segmentation strategy to drive all aspects of marketing. Stroud is the founder of 20plus30, a marketing strategy consultancy specialising in the 50-plus market. He is the UK’s leading expert on using interactive channels to communicate with the over-50s market. He is the author of “The 50-Plus Market” and he has a blog.
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McDonald’s Restaurants in Singapore was recently in the news for wanting to hire 600 seniors during its inaugural McDonald’s Career Day. The company has been a pioneer in hiring seniors, Agelessonline finds out more about its policies and being all-inclusive from Tan Kwang Cheak, senior director, Operations, Brand Extensions, Business Planning and Human Resources, McDonald’s Restaurants, Singapore:
How much of your workforce comprises of mature workers? Where are they typically placed?
In Singapore, McDonald’s currently has over 115 restaurants serving more than five million customers every month. We employ around 8,500 employees, of which around 40 percent are mature workers (defined as those who are 40 years old and above).
We focus on proper hiring and orientation processes for our employees when they first join us. Regardless of age, they are fully trained and proficient in various stations in our restaurants and can work in our lobbies, kitchen areas or at our service counters. Our restaurant managers will assign the relevant workstations to our employees, regardless of age, based on the individual restaurant’s needs and manpower availability.
I understand the oldest worker is 84-year-old “Auntie” Lily Cheng at the Boat Quay outlet. Can you share the reason why she decided on working?
We are not at liberty to share her personal reasons for working with us but she clearly exemplifies our focus on employing and engaging our mature workers and is a shining example of active ageing in our society.
Many of our mature workers cite the energising work environment, the opportunity to interact with people of all ages and friendships that they form in our restaurants, as well as, the flexibility of working with us as key factors in their decision to continue working with us.
When did you start hiring older workers? Why do you feel that hiring mature workers is important?
McDonald’s Singapore was a consecutive recipient of the Aon Hewitt Best Employer award in Singapore in 2007, 2009 and 2011. We were also awarded Aon Hewitt Best Employer in Asia-Pacific in 2009 and 2011.
As a best employer, McDonald’s does not set any age boundary when hiring our employees. We hire people who are fun, energetic, young-at-heart and have a sincere service attitude. In fact, McDonald’s was one of the pioneers to recruit mature workers and we have done so since the start of our business in Singapore in 1979.
Our mature workers are fondly called “Aunties and Uncles” and are treated as a valuable part of our McDonald’s family. They often offer valuable advice and guide our younger crew in their work. They are also loyal and tend to stay with us as they enjoy the environment, the flexibility and the future that we can offer.
Can you share more about your training?
We ensure that the new hires are properly oriented and trained for their work during their first 30 days at work. We also train our managers to take care of their mature workers and manage them as part of the team. We allow them adequate breaks during their shifts so that they can work well and productively. Our key challenges include hiring mature workers with the service mindset, disposition and willingness to learn and do well in our jobs, and orientating and training them to ensure that they are productive and happy in their workstations particularly in the first 30 days when they join our restaurants.
Can you share more about the flexible hours and employee benefits?
Regardless of age, our employees can opt for either full- or part-time work employment in our restaurants. All policies concerning employee welfare and benefits apply to every employee, regardless of age, race, religion or marital status.
Some examples are:
• Annual leave, medical leave, and medical and insurance coverage apply to all employees.
• All employees are eligible for the various company awards and to attend company events as long as they are actively employed by the company.
• Promotion criteria are strictly based on the performance of the individual.
McDonald’s doesn’t pay much (keeping in mind minimum wage and so forth). Even with the 20-percent increase for this year that you mentioned during your talk at the Age Friendly Workforce Asia 2011 Conference, I am assuming that can’t be a lot. So why do seniors want to join your company?
McDonald’s Singapore provides competitive wages and benefits for our people, in line with industry and market wage levels.
Beyond remuneration considerations, our employees join us also because we provide great employee value propositions to them:
a. Friends and family – great energising environment and teamwork in our restaurants. We take care of them as part of our McFamily.
b. Flexibility – We offer them full flexibility in terms of work schedules and jobs to meet their needs and concerns at their respective life stages.
c. Future – At McDonald’s, every crew can be a manager. Employees are exposed to an environment of career-long learning opportunities and are encouraged to expand their skills and experience. Development programmes are designed for each level of our restaurant staff and all are provided the opportunity for career growth, regardless of their age.
Our founder Ray Kroc aptly said that “We are a People company serving hamburgers; and not just a hamburger company serving people”. At McDonald’s, our People are our most valuable resources and our People Promise is a commitment to our employees that we strive to achieve with our actions everyday.
Would you say you are ahead of the Re-employment Act that will take place next year? What advice would you give other companies who still need to get their act together?
McDonald’s Singapore is able to fully comply with the Retirement and Re-employment Act (RAA) because our people philosophy is fully aligned with it. Our mature workers are treated like all other employees and they receive the same salary rate, employment benefits and development opportunities as their younger counterparts. They also continue to enjoy annual increments until they reach the ceiling of their wage band, where they are awarded performance bonuses. (As in all organisations, our remuneration structure is based on salary grades linked to the job profile and level. Each salary grade comes with a salary band based on wage competitiveness and benchmarks with the market.)
More companies should realise that mature workers can form a vital part of any workforce, and given the right environment they can contribute just as much to a business as their younger counterparts. We have seen that mature workers who are adaptable, open to new experiences and maintain a positive mindset tend to enjoy their work more.
During the Age Friendly Workforce Asia 2011 Conference, experts spoke that it is not just about hiring. The company needs to have its environment elderly-friendly. How have you done this?
As examples, to create an operations-friendly work environment for our employees, we have simplified training aids including greater use of visuals and graphics in instructional guides. We have also designed our point-of-sales system with visual representations of menu items for easy order-taking and speedy service.
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Later today, Philips Singapore will announce the winners of its Philips Future Living Spaces contest organised as part of the company’s 60th anniversary celebrations. The contest was organised to inspire the next generation to think of solutions to improve Singapore’s living spaces and issues such climate change, an ageing population, urbanisation and sustainability were brought up. More than 60 ideas were submitted by local tertiary students and 20 were shortlisted.
Of the finalists, 21-year-old Juventia Tjahyono from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, was the only one who tackled the ageing population. Agelessvoice gets the low-down on her idea:
Why did you choose elderly as an issue to address in your concept and idea for the contest? What do you see are the issues affecting elderly in today’s society?
Based on research, Singapore has a fast growing ageing population. Despite this, many people remain unprepared for this and there are not many products for the elderly available in Singapore yet. This is why I chose to focus on the elderly as it would bring attention to this problem, and give me a chance to share my idea with others. In my opinion, the issues affecting the elderly is health as opposed to anything else.
Can you share how you came up with the concept of a walking stick?
Health is one of the biggest problems for the elderly. Memory deterioration and overall weakness are inevitable problems that they face. Even though technology may be a problem to the elderly now, future generations will be more tech-savvy. This was the inspiration for the walking stick which will not only aid them in their walking but has a mounted screen on it to help them remember their schedules.
If you are not a winner, what will happen to your idea? Would you try to get it further realised?
Yes, if there is an opportunity for me to make it happen, I will explore more into it.
With your interest in elderly, what are your plans after you have graduated?
At the moment I do not have any specific plans, however if there are opportunities to work with the elderly, I would consider them.
** There were a few other entries from students who tackled the ageing population but did not make it to the Top 20. Here are two:
• ‘Specs – Empowering your future vision’ – www.60thanniversary.philips.com.sg/index.php/contest/view/14bfa6bb14875e45bba028a21ed38046
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Andrew Fung, general manager, TAFEP, Singapore (Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices) (the organisation promotes the adoption of fair, responsible and merit-based employment practices among employers, employees and the general public) shares his thoughts:
What help is there when someone encounters age discrimination at work?
Anyone who has experienced age discrimination at work, can now contact TAFEP for advice and assistance. What we’re learning at TAFEP is that addressing age discrimination in an effective way that is not straightforward and we are always mindful to do more good than harm in what we try to do. Thankfully in Singapore we already have a practical set of fair employment guidelines that set out some good principles with examples of what is acceptable when it comes to age and work.
How is ageing going to impact the organisation or team I lead?
Some smart employers and supervisors have already realised that effectively addressing ageing is a tremendous business opportunity to gain competitive advantage. While some organisations are struggling with the high staff turnover, dysfunctional teams and disengaged employees, other employers are learning that simple steps, which take into account the ageing of the workforce, can reduce costs and raise productivity.
What do you think are possible impacts of an ageing workforce on fair employment policies and how can companies manage them?
With more mature workers and a shrinking pool of younger Singaporeans entering the workforce, Singapore is experiencing a demographic change that will affect practically every employer. Employers cannot assume that they can continue to rely on hiring young people to meet manpower needs as it will be increasingly difficult. By not stereotyping, employers get to widen their pool of talent. There are simple steps that employers can take to avoid being discriminatory, e.g. focusing on the relevant skill or ability rather than stipulate age as a requirement for employment. Words or phrases that suggest preference for young candidates should also not be used in job advertisements. If the nature of the job is physically demanding such as the handling of heavy cargo, the required physical attributes or other job-related criteria should be clearly described in the job advertisements, rather than indicating a specific age cut-off such as “must be below 30”.
How are Singapore companies faring when it comes to hiring and treating older workers in a fair manner?
With TAFEP’s promotional efforts, we do see signs of progress in this area. It is now rare to see job ads that have a maximum age requirement. Most employers realise the importance of hiring on merit and using of relevant criteria. While age discrimination continues to be a concern given the growing pool of mature Singaporean workers, I am encouraged that more and more employers are adopting employment practices supportive of fair and responsible employment practices.
What are the common misconceptions companies have about hiring older workers?
One of the key challenges mature employees face is the prevailing mindset of some employers who feel that certain jobs may require physical abilities beyond mature and older employees’ abilities. It is also common for employees to stereotype and think that older employees are unwilling to change, or learn new things or technology. All these assumptions and stereotypes need to change as many Singaporeans are living longer and staying fit longer. The sooner the companies act to overcome these stereotypes, the better it is for their businesses.
** TAFEP’s Fung will be a speaker at the the upcoming Age Friendly Workforce Asia 2011 Conference.
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How age-friendly is your workplace? Almost certainly, most HR managers will respond with answers about compliance with laws and regulations. But we believe there’s a broader issue that needs to be addressed and it relates to the way the workplace adapts to the physiological ageing of its workers.
One can argue about the balance of risks and opportunities that the ageing of the workforce presents, but the truth is that in the developed world the median age of workers will be increasing for the foreseeable future.
On the positive side, McDonald’s found that customer satisfaction levels were higher in outlets that employed kitchen staff and managers aged over 60, while B&Q (the UK’s biggest DIY chain) found that older store workers have better empathy with their customers.
As with most aspects of society, our workplaces are optimised for younger people. But as the retirement age edges up, we need to rethink this if we expect our older workers to remain productive and motivated.
While worker attitudes, labour law and culture will differ from country to country; physiological ageing is universal, predictable and relentless. So if we can modify our work environment to anticipate the changing needs of our older workers, we might foster a happier and more productive workforce.
Our company has defined ‘age-friendly’ as – “an environment that accommodates the unique physical needs of older people in a way that is natural and beneficial for all ages”. In other words, it is inclusive and relevant to younger workers.
Biologically, our bodies begin to age at around 27 year-old (depressing isn’t it?) but at around 50, things begin to accelerate. Usually, deteriorating eyesight and hearing are the first things we notice. Old sports injuries come back to haunt us. Dexterity of fingers and suppleness of the body might also begin to suffer. At the cognitive level, we sometimes find our ability to multi-task and to deal with complexity is not what it used to be. Of course, some people remain fit and sharp into their elder years but it can’t be denied that some of the 20+ effects of ageing we’ve identified, will impact on our lives and the ability to work as we once did.
We cannot plan our workplaces for only older workers who are physiologically fit. Thought also needs to be given to the less physically-capable thus making the environment productive for all.
In our presentation at the Age Friendly Workforce Asia 2011 Conference, we will explain the case study of a major company who realised the impact of physiological ageing. Through a real-life production line experiment, they effectively confirmed that going unchecked; ageing would indeed cause a problem to their productivity. However, by gaining a deeper understanding of the physiological issues and subsequently making relatively minor adjustments to the working environment, they were able to record significant improvements in productivity and motivation among the older team.
The imminent introduction of the Re-employment of Older Workers legislation in Singapore (in 2012) requires companies to rethink many aspects of their operations. We suggest that with this inevitability in mind, companies need also to re-assess the age-friendliness of their workplaces in order to maximise the safety, productivity and ultimately the happiness and effectiveness of the older workforce.
So back to my original question: How age-friendly is your workplace? Will it accommodate the needs of your older workers in a way that is natural and beneficial for all ages or is it in fact, optimised for younger workers? Most importantly, will it benefit your organisation by maximising the contribution from your older workforce?
We must stop reacting to the changing demographics by using a ‘silo mentality’ of launching one-off projects that tackle specific aspects of the workplace. Instead we must consider the entire journey your employees make from their home to the workplace, their preparation for work, carrying out their tasks and the interaction/knowledge transfer with your younger workers.
Unless all aspects of physiological ageing in the workplace are addressed, neither the individual or the organisation will achieve their full potential. We should all strive to make our workplace age-friendly.
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Welcome to the new and more focused Agelessvoice. This is a blog that will have posts from experts in the ageing sector from all around the world. I hope through this exchange of opinions, ideas, etc, will get people talking and putting seniors in the forefront, and others in the ageing sector and Governments can learn from each other and not re-invent the wheel.