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Singapore companies not doing enough to retain, tap talent of older staff: Prudential survey

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Wilf Blackburn, CEO of Prudential Singapore, said companies will benefit from viewing their mature employees as assets instead of costs.

COMPANIES in Singapore are not doing enough to tap the talent and expertise of older employees for sustained growth even as the workforce rapidly ages, a study commissioned by insurance giant Prudential found.

Nearly nine in 10 of 200 Singapore-based executives surveyed in March 2018 said companies need to invest more in their older staff, according to Prudential's Skilled for 100: Leveraging an older workforce study, conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Nearly half (48 per cent) of the executives admitted to not investing enough resources toward retaining workers, with only 16 per cent believing their companies are committed to supporting the aspirations of their older employees.

Age is still a factor in the recruitment process, with six out of 10 executives saying a candidate’s age influenced their hiring decisions.

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Older workers were perceived as less receptive to feedback, less creative and less flexible than their younger counterparts, the study found.

On the flip side, they were valued for their strong work ethic, punctuality and positive attitude towards work, with 84 per cent viewing older employees as more committed to the organisation.

The study also found that the combination of rising longevity and falling birth rates saw the number of of Singapore workers aged 60 to 64 more than double in the last decade - from 75,600 in 2008 to 165,000 in 2018.

Singapore’s labour force participation in the age group above 60 is among the highest for developed countries.

A separate Prudential study which surveyed 1,214 residents showed that Singapore’s older workers want to continue working. No more than 5 per cent of residents aged 55 to 64 surveyed indicated they want to retire soon, and 64 per cent said they still enjoy their work.

When asked what policies their employers could adopt to help extend careers, the top factor cited was a better work-life balance, beating even financial and retirement benefits.

Dr Kanwaljit Soin, orthopaedic and hand surgeon, Mount Elizabeth Hospital, who was interviewed for the report, said many employers, especially heads of smaller companies, fail to recognise this and miss the opportunity of fully engaging older employees in the pursuit of key business objectives.

Experts interviewed for the report also recommend measures that foster more interaction with older employees as a way to dispel negative perceptions about them at the workplace.

Prudential itself has implemented older worker-friendly measures such as scrapping the retirement age and raising CPF (Central Provident Fund) contribution rates for employees above the age of 55, equalling younger employees' rates.

The government has also taken measures to address the greying workforce, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announcing in August a gradual rise in the retirement age from 62 to 65 and the re-employment age from 67 to 70 by 2030.

Wilf Blackburn, CEO of Prudential Singapore, said: "Companies will benefit from viewing their mature employees as assets instead of costs. Backed with knowledge and experience, they can be equally if not more productive than their younger counterparts."