Thursday, June 20, 2024

THINKING OF GETTING A JOB? GOOD LUCK IF YOU ARE OVER 50!

If you are seriously contemplating getting back into the work force, especially if you have not worked for 10-20 years, not only will you face stiff competition from younger job applicants, but there is also the question of qualifications, says Fu. - 123rf

Just like the younger generation, older folks need jobs too. The longer life expectancy of 73.8 years (71.5 years for males and 76.3 for females) is both a boon and a bane. EPF savings and pensions are simply not enough to see recently retired workers through.

There are housing and car loans to pay off, insurance premiums and credit card debts to settle. Many still have to support their elderly family members and cover the latter’s medical expenses. As it is, we are already complaining about escalating prices and soaring expenses. With inflation eating into our nest egg, we just have to rethink our options – full retirement or reemployment?

Financial experts say that we would need to have at least RM1mil in retirement savings to enjoy the level of lifestyle we were accustomed to before retirement. EPF says contributors should have least RM240,000 in basic savings by the time they retire. As of 2023, only 33% of EPF contributors have achieved this target.

Not surprising there is a clear shift for countries to raise the retirement age or do away with it altogether to enable more workers to continue working and save more. Singapore allows for contractual employment till 67. Taxi drivers there can work up to age 75. Malaysia raised the retirement age from 55 to 60 in 2013.

The initial protest from EPF contributors was not unexpected as many were eagerly waiting to withdraw lump sums for the plans they had made. But since then, most have come to accept the reality of the need to work for as long as they are able and save as much as possible.

Raising the retirement age makes sense on several fronts. It eases the government’s burden to provide welfare assistance for our senior citizens. Having working parents relieves adult children of financial support for them. Finally, keeping busy at the workplace helps older workers remain active both physically, mentally and socially. All of which contributes to ageing well.

However, herein lies the problem. While older workers may want to continue working, companies are reluctant to hire them. Employers will give 101 reasons why they can’t or won’t hire applicants above age 50. They say older workers are too expensive, they take too many days off on medical leave, they are not as productive as younger ones, they lack the required skills, etc.

Some companies have cut salaries of rehired older workers by as much as 30%, reduced medical benefits, and in some cases, taken away bonuses. It all boils down to “take it or leave it”, with the employer having the upper hand. Unless they have skills or expertise that is much sought after, older workers are in a weak position to negotiate for better terms.

It’s sad really that one day you are drawing a salary of X ringgit. The very next day your value to the company depreciates for no reason other than you’ve just hit 60. If you continue to do the same work, it’s only fair that you continue to receive the same pay. Anything less is clearly a case of discrimination against older workers.

But having said that, retirees and retrenched mature workers seeking to rejoin the workforce should not be too picky about job offers and make demands like asking to be paid the same as their last drawn salary. Both parties can work out mutually beneficial terms.

Some advice

If you are seriously contemplating getting back into the work force, especially if you have not worked for 10-20 years, not only will you face stiff competition from younger job applicants, but there is also the question of qualifications.

University degrees obtained in the 1970s-80s cannot compare with those obtained today which are so much more specialised and more relevant to the particular job specifications.

Fields of study were limited then. Today one could select from a myriad of courses. It’s the same with professional qualifications. A diploma in secretarial studies awarded in the 1980s would probably not equip you with the skills needed in the modern office of today. So much has changed since.

What this means is you need to upgrade your skills so that you will remain current and relevant. Knowing how to use the latest office software programs is a necessity. Keeping up to date with industry news and trends is vital if you want to ace the interview.

As for your CV, do update it, and keep it to one A4 size page. Omit mention of anything that is older than 10 years unless it is relevant to the job specifications. As for your personal photo, make sure it is less than a year old. Avoid digitalised photos. You don’t want your interviewers to do a double-take when you show up looking nothing like the young man or woman in the photo.

This brings us next to your interview attire. It is safest to dress casual but smart. Ladies, avoid fashion trends. Don’t show up in frumpy auntie clothes either. No chunky jewelry, heavy make-up and badly coloured hair. Guys, the same rule of casual smart applies. A neck- tie is fine, but a coat is too formal, unless you are applying for a top senior management position. You might even make the interviewers feel under-dressed if none of them are wearing a coat! No jeans or T-shirts, please. Make sure your shoes shine. Look confident and poised. Have a firm handshake. Older people love to talk and share their stories, but keep that to social gatherings, not at job interviews. Keep your answers to the point, and if asked to elaborate, stay within the topic. Don’t bore them with irrelevant anecdotes of your past achievements.

Having said that, you do have some pluses that might clinch you the job. Your wealth of experience is one of them, that is, provided you are seeking re-employment in the same industry that you retired from.

Older workers are known to be generally more committed, more patient and more loyal than younger workers. They don’t job-hop, ask for emergency leave frequently or indulge in office politics.

Be prepared to make some adjustments. For one, be prepared to take a slightly lower pay than your last drawn salary. Also, be prepared to swallow your pride as you may be working under a much younger boss. Three, don’t expect the same employee benefits you enjoyed previously. This is a different company, and you are considered a new staff recruit. So don’t make the mistake of demanding this and that when you haven’t even got a toe in the door yet!

Most important of all, ask yourself if this job is really what you want. You must enjoy your work, whether it is full time or part time. Remember, at age 50+, you don’t want to stress yourself out by dragging your feet to work. Your take-home pay may boost your retirement savings and provide for your daily essentials, but it should not put your mental and emotional health at risk. It is not worth it. There are other options to explore if you need to grow your nest egg.

Like it or not, with countries experiencing declining birth rates and declining mortality rate, companies will soon have to face the inevitable. The young working population is shrinking. Companies will have no choice but to draw on older workers for their staff recruitment. Just make sure you are employment-ready.

(The above article was first published in the print edition of The Star under the column 'Grey Matters' on Wed 5 June 2024. The online version can be accessed at https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/family/2024/06/07/thinking-of-getting-a-job-good-luck-if-you-are-over-50)

Lily Fu is a gerontologist who advocates for seniors. She is founder of SeniorsAloud, an online platform for seniors to get connected and enjoy social activities for ageing well.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

WHEN HAPPENS WHEN YOUR ABUSER IS IN THE FAMILY?

Most abused parents would rather suffer in silence than go public about their ungrateful children. After all, who would want to lose face by dragging their family name through the mud? - 123rf

We shudder with horror and disbelief when we read in the papers about caregivers in aged care homes physically abusing the elderly in their care. We cannot fathom how anyone could cause pain and injury to frail and defenseless old people.

Carig for the elderly requires a lot of patience, tolerance and dedication. It’s a calling, and if you don’t have it, you will end up inflicting harm on the very people you are supposed to look after! You are not cut out for the profession. QUIT!

Feeding, bathing and changing the diapers of an 80-year-old is vastly different from performing the same tasks for a cherubic, adorable eight-month-old. It takes super-human patience and infinite compassion to do so 24 hours a day often with no break or day off. Not everyone can handle the stress, especially caring for the frail elderly with dementia, who cannot understand you or follow instructions.

Caring for the elderly exerts a heavy toll on the mental state of the carer. If you are still working, think twice about leaving your elderly parent alone in the care of a full-time maid who is doing the job solely for the salary. Most domestic helpers are not trained as caregivers.

While we hear of elder abuse cases in aged care homes, in reality, there are more cases of elder abuse at the hands of family members. Statistics in the Health Ministry’s National Health and Morbidity Survey 2018 found that one in 11 elderly were at risk of abuse at the hands of someone they trust.

The figures are expected to rise in tandem with the changing demographics. Malaysia is on track to reach aged nation status by 2040.

The elderly from lower socio-economic strata are the most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. It is not uncommon to hear of adult children exploiting their elderly parents for their own financial gains. Examples include compelling their parents to prematurely sign over ownership of the family property to them, or transferring shares to their names. For whatever reasons, these children can’t wait to inherit from their parents.

That would take too long. We have read in the media of cases where elderly parents have been evicted from their own home by their children. Money over-rules blood ties. In a society where cash is king, and wealth equals power, the elderly without much assets to their name have no voice, no rights. They become easy victims of elder abuse.

The most common abuse is verbal or emotional. In moments of stress, anger or frustration, family carers lose patience with their elderly parents, chiding them, belittling them, even threatening them with the possibility of packing them off to a welfare home for old folks. They are ignored, neglected, even shamed in front of others, and constantly told they are “useless” and “should die quickly”.

There have been reports of children abandoning their elderly parents in hospitals or at bus stops.

End the stigma and shame

Most abused parents would rather suffer in silence than go public about their ungrateful children. After all, who would want to lose face by dragging their family name through the mud?

But the neighbours are aware. They have seen the bruises; they have heard the cries. But few would make a report as, “It’s none of my business. It’s a family matter.”

There are also highly educated, successful adult children who are ashamed of their illiterate parents. They have no qualms or guilt about confining their parents to a room at the back of the house with strict orders not to come out when there are visitors or guests in the house.

Are these cases in the minority or are they the tip of the iceberg?

What is the world coming to when children can chase their parents out into the streets, siphon off their savings or isolate them from their friends?

Is this a failure of our education system or a breakdown of the family system, or both?

Filial piety is becoming rare these days. Countries such as Singapore and India have implemented the Maintenance of Parents Act whereby parents can report their adult children to a tribunal for failure to provide financial support and care.

When adult children face problems in their business or marriage, or are struggling with heavy debts, it is easy to take out their frustrations on their elderly parents who are vulnerable and unable to defend themselves. Life becomes unbearable for their elderly parents. It is no wonder many say they prefer to die than suffer at the hands of their own children.

If we do not want our children to treat us this way, then we should not treat our aged parents this way. Let us set a good example by according our parents and all elderly the respect they deserve. We exist because of them. We are who we are today because of them. We owe them a lifetime of gratitude and love.

It may sound rather selfish, but retirees must protect their retirement funds and their home if they choose to age in place. Keep working if you are physically able to be financially independent for as long as possible. There are just too many horror stories of abandoned or abused elderly.

What to do

Here are some things parents can do to reduce the risks of ending up abused or abandoned by their own children:

• Continue to build your nest egg and make sure you are not financially dependent on your children when you reach old age

• Look after your health so that you remain physically active and independent as long as you can, right into your 70s, 80s and beyond.

• Protect your property. Do not hand over the deeds of your house prematurely. You need to ensure a roof over your head at all times.

• Have a network of friends you can count on to support you through the difficult times

• Seek professional help or counselling especially if you feel suicidal

• Know you are not alone in this. Join a support group.

One day, it will be our turn to experience old age. Will we fall victim to elder abuse? Not if we raise awareness of this despicable social ill, not if we raise our children to respect our elders. We can be good examples by showing our children how we care for our parents. They will learn from us.

The Chinese have a saying that translates to, “When the children are big, it is their world”. How true, especially when it involves money and property. When elderly parents have to depend on their adult children for a roof over their head or food on the table, they lose all say in matters of importance.

The key lies in building a strong bond between parents and children, and nurturing this bond through the years. Children who are neglected or abused, are more likely to grow into adults who are abusive towards their parents.

The advice to young parents – teach your children universal values, including filial piety and responsibility. Be good role models yourself. Do not give them a chance to turn around one day and say, “But ma and pa, you never really took care of us when we were young, so don’t expect us to take care of you in your old age.”

How we treat our elderly parents will determine how our children will treat us in our twilight years.

Lily Fu is a gerontologist who advocates for seniors. She is founder of SeniorsAloud, an online platform for seniors to get connected and enjoy social activities for ageing well.

(The above article was first published in the column Grey Matters in the Star on Wednesday, 08 May 2024, with the online edition on 12 April at this link: https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/family/2024/05/08/what-happens-when-your-abuser-is-in-the-family?)