Thursday, June 20, 2024


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

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.

No comments: