Thursday, April 9, 2009


Have you ever walked into a music store and asked for a Beatles CD and be met with a blank look from the young sales assistant? Or step into a hair salon where the young hairstylist is only interested in making every customer look like a clone of himself, never mind that you have your own idea of which hairdo best suits you?

We are moving rapidly into an ageing society, and businesses would do well to employ more silver-haired staff to cater to customers in the older age group. Whether we are talking about departmental stores, supermarkets, restaurants, pharmacies, banks, gyms or airlines, older sales staff aged 45+ are a rare sight in Malaysia.

This is not quite the case in Singapore. According to a Straits Times report, Robinsons and Takashimaya each has 60 per cent of its retail staff in their 40s and above. Metro and Isetan each has more than 40 per cent, while Tangs has 20 per cent. It is a model Malaysian businesses should emulate to cater to the more discerning mature consumers. Older customers definitely feel more comfortable with older sales personnel who understand their needs and tastes much better.

It certainly makes sense for the big chain stores to hire more senior citizens. Besides the experience and expertise they bring to the sales force, they are also more patient and confident in handling customers’ requests or complaints. They have better work ethics and do not job-hop as a rule. Any business enterprise that deals with customers of all age groups should have a workforce that reflects this diversity in age. Wal-Mart is an excellent example. About 20% of its workforce is at least 55 years old, making it one of the largest employers of senior citizens in the US.

When it comes down to who needs a job more in these financially troubled times – the young or the seniors? I say the latter. They have a family to feed, teenage children to put through college and loans to service. With the number of retrenched workers in Malaysia hitting a new high of 22,887 from October 2008 to April 2009, and the number of workers laid off temporarily at 45,614, the job market is inundated with people looking for a second or third opportunity at re-employment.

On the other hand, retrenched mature workers seeking to rejoin the workforce should not be too picky about job offers and be prepared to accept lower remunerations and fewer benefits until the economy improves.

As one reader puts it in the Straits Times forum, there are many reasons why older workers are better, among them:
~ older workers are more mature and wiser
~ older workers are more conscientious
~ older workers are more willing to accept a lower salary for doing the same job
~ older workers are more willing to work longer hours
~ older workers are more willing to work overtime
~ older workers are more committed to their job
~ older workers have better people skills
~ older workers are more experienced in handling emergencies

The message to employers is this: make older workers an integral part of your organization’s workforce. There should not be any age discrimination when hiring workers.

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