Singapore

Empathy needed with ageing population

Private sector and the government must work together to incentivise employees to delay retirement

It is an age-old problem: People in rich countries are not having enough children to keep up with their ageing.

The accelerated ageing is an issue that many governments, especially in Asia, grapple with.

In Singapore, our population is ageing much faster than most other countries, with the number of Singaporeans aged 65 and above set to double by 2030.

It is imperative that the Government and businesses here work together to adopt a proactive stance in planning ahead against this upcoming stress on physical and social resources.

The Government has implemented solutions to manage the problem of an ageing population, including putting in place one of the most efficient pension systems in Asia.

The appeal of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) lies partly in its flexibility to complementary initiatives. However, businesses cannot afford to consider Singapore's ageing population as a challenge left for the Government to handle.

As additional stress is placed on infrastructure by the ageing population, there are opportunities for the private sector to partner the Government to safeguard sustainable business growth via a skilled and productive workforce.

Until recently, Singaporeans with disabilities could receive disability income payouts from the Government or an insurer only after losing at least two activities of daily living (ADL), such as dressing, washing or feeding themselves.

This results in a gap as there exists a population segment experiencing the debilitating loss of one ADL, unable to receive the necessary support, placing the burden of full-time care on family members, who often stop work to become the caregiver.

Many companies have embarked on well-designed initiatives that encourage healthy living among employees, which will go a long way towards preventing disease.

For example, SBS Transit has the Healthier Workers, Happier Workers programme, which helps employees with chronic disease management.

The change in Singapore's re-employment age from 65 to 67 this year signalled an acknowledgement that we need to maintain longer working lives to ensure Singapore can sustain its economic growth.

Initiatives that incentivise employees to delay retirement need not require huge effort.

Dairy Farm encourages re-employment by sending its employees to undertake Workforce Skills Qualification training, which helps them adapt to new ways of working.

By encouraging employees to extend their working lives in a meaningful fashion, companies can benefit from the experiences of these old-timers, and even help their employees strengthen their cognitive health.

The community also has a role to play in engaging the ageing population. With a correlation between the level of social engagement and physical mobility in seniors, our businesses benefit from having people age with strong connections in the community to support them.

Businesses have recently been focused on reinventing the rules to accommodate millennials, but most older workers find little being done to engage the people who have been in the company longest.

Employee engagement policies should be designed to be inclusive across age. Empathy is what it really boils down to, and the private sector must take upon itself to recognise the importance of planning alongside the Government in tackling the problems of the Republic's ageing population.

This means staying abreast of national policy and direction, as well as a constant and conscientious examination of areas where it can contribute meaningfully to Singapore's future.

The writer is chief executive officer of Tokio Marine Life Insurance Singapore. This article appeared in The Business Times yesterday.

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