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Ageing society

Longer life spans must mean longer working lives

Andrew Chung says to cope with population ageing, developed economies must create a working environment that is friendly to elderly people

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 August, 2016, 8:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 August, 2016, 8:33am

It’s 2033 and the office is buzzing: dedicated employees are working on their tablets, sitting on hi-tech seats that monitor body temperature and administer massages. But they are all 65 or older.

This is not a scene from science fiction. With ageing populations worldwide brought about by longer life expectancies and declining birth rates, this could be the future. In 2013, the UN World Population Ageing report showed that the proportion of people aged 60 or older went from 9.2 per cent in 1990 to 11.7 per cent in 2013. By 2050, it will rise to 21.1 per cent, or 2 billion people.

The situation is even more alarming in the more developed parts of Asia. A third of the population of Japan is aged 60 or above, for example. By 2050, 40 per cent of the population is expected to be over 65.

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In Hong Kong, census figures show that, while the city’s population will grow from 6.8 million in 2003 to 8.38 million by 2033, the proportion of citizens aged 65 or above will grow dramatically, from 11 per cent to 27 per cent over the same period. Singapore is facing a similar issue.

We need to face reality. Ageing populations mean ageing workforces. So societies and governments need to start preparing themselves.

To be fair, many governments have already acknowledged this challenge and started to implement policies to empower the elderly. In Singapore, the government will spend S$3 billion (HK$17 billion) on over 70 initiatives, covering areas such as housing, transport and protection for vulnerable seniors.

In Japan, while the official retirement age is 62, the government has requested that employers allow employees to remain at work until 65 under a “continuous employment” policy, which pays a lower wage.

Hong Kong has a problem with population ageing, rather than an elderly problem

However, governments can’t do this alone. A partnership between the public and private sectors is needed. One way is to allow senior citizens to remain in the workforce.

It is inevitable that our physicality and energy levels will decline as we age. But our mind will remain sharp if we are free from serious illness. Armed with a wealth of experience, elderly folk are a great asset in a company.

We should begin creating a working environment that is friendly to senior citizens. Flexibility is the key, with variable working hours and locations to fit their needs. We should also provide training to improve skills.

Ageing populations will represent a serious challenge in the near future. But this challenge can be met, if we can begin equipping ourselves to work side by side to win this battle.

Andrew Chung is CEO of Compass Offices