Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Work till we drop?

I sometimes wonder whether it is still worthwhile thinking about retirement. It was supposed to be a time when one can finally "enjoy life" - whatever that's left of it anyway - and not worry about any sort of financial commitments and associated worries.

The current trend, however, is that there IS no such thing as "retirement" anymore. Not in Singapore anyway. At least that's what our leaders are telling us. Where there used to be a fixed retirement age of 62 (or was it 60?), now this appears to be a moving target. One that is constantly being pushed later and later. What choice do we have? The population is greying. If the elderly doesn't work, who will then support this country and ensure the economy doesn't collapse under its own weight?

Then, there's that argument that retirement should -not- be about "doing nothing", as that would slowly but surely take away the reason to live. This I do not dispute. Yet, must the activity a retiree engage in necessarily be "productive" and more importantly - contributing the economy? In my opinion, when a person hits his/her 60s, surely he deserves to DECIDE for himself, what he wants to do with his life. Afterall, he has spent the last 3 and a half decades ( or possibly 4) slogging it out on the job, just to bring home the dough and feed the family.

Yes, if one has done proper financial planning (which has to start as early as possible, it must be added), he can afford to "declare" his own retirement at any point in his life. In fact, a friend of mine ever boasted that his retirement age would be in the 40s! Still, the fact that the government locks away a substantial amount of money that belongs to the individual, till he's deemed 'old enough' to withdraw the funds - in the form of the Central Provident Fund - says a lot about the state of financial understanding and saavy-ness of the people. Or at least that's how the government perceives its citizenry to be - that they can't be left to decide when they can retire.

Funnily, even as the government tries to get the nation's folks to work longer, the recent spate of letters in the papers suggest that sometimes it takes more than 2 hands to clap. Yes, the seniors are responding to the call, whether out of willingness or necessity, but no company wants to employ them! Unless the public sector (again, led by the government) display the courage to walk the talk, and start employing folks in their 50s and 60s, I wouldn't bet on the private companies doing anything heroic. The perception of older folks being more demanding (in terms of their working hours, nature and renumeration), less adaptable and creative, compared to their younger counterparts is sticking to the minds of the HR consultants. Some companies even go as far as to reject the prospect just by ascertaining their age at the onset.

It is futile to argue on the rights and wrongs of their approach. Afterall, private companies exist only for the purpose of generating profits, be it for their shareholders or for the private owners. Thus, they will do whatever they deem to be beneficial for the organisation's growth and ultimately the bottom line. The only way these companies are going to be convinced about hiring older workers, is for the government/public sector to take this leap of faith first. If the public sector starts to employ the older workers (in sizable numbers, mindyou - not just a handful for publicity sake!) and can be seem to be doing well and prospering, it may just send the neccesary message to the private sector to turn their heads in this direction.

Unfortunately, as far as many of us could tell, even the government/public agencies are not convinced of its leaders message, and they continue to place the utmost importance and emphasis on attracting the younger talents, from local and abroad. Until this changes substantially, I think our "retirement" age should be capped at 60, don't you?


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