In Focus
HR & EDUCATION | Staff Reporter, Hong Kong
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Here's the real deal on age discrimination in Hong Kong

Age does matter, but older workers are not always at a disadvantage when it comes to finding jobs.

When it comes to hiring new employees, Chen, an employer in the logistics industry, is adamant about preferring younger workers. “To be really honest, we need to employ younger people because they are far more adept with the new business environment,” he shared. “Also, they are more intelligent with computers. And we are facing financial difficulties and older workers are more costly when it comes to salary and insurance,” he added.

Chen may be prejudiced against older workers, but not all employers are biased against more mature employees. Some, in fact, prefer older employees, believing that younger workers are disloyal. “I don’t really like hiring younger workers. We are a small company and it’s hard when young people leave after only a short time of working with us,” said Ng, an employer in the retail industry. “They’re just beginning to get familiar with our clients then they leave, and their colleagues have to take over. It’s bad for business,” she shared.

Ageism is alive and well in Hong Kong, which currently has no laws in place to prohibit age discrimination. A landmark report by the Equal Opportunities Commission shows that over one-third of older employees have suffered workplace discrimination in the past five years, and over 70% of employees believe that there is a need to introduce legislation against age discrimination.

Engaging older workers
There is now a higher proportion of employees aged over 60 in Hong Kong’s workforce than ever before, posing challenges for both organisations and employees.

“The challenge facing employers is keeping their most experienced staff members motivated and engaged as they near their retirement age, particularly, as they represent a larger proportion of the labour force than ever before,” said Elaine Lam, associate director at Robert Half Hong Kong.

Lam noted that employers need to prepare for a loss of skills as experienced employees retire, which means making adjustments to working arrangements, recruitment policies, and training programs to allow for the evolving needs of a more senior workforce. Providing opportunities for upskilling and bridging the gap between older and younger employees is crucial in coping with an ageing workforce.

“With white collar professionals, establishing a strong work culture, providing a conducive work environment, exploring more flexible schedules and focusing on more diversity and inclusion initiatives are just a few of the ways companies are working to achieve a more inclusive environment,” said Howard Chan, regional director at Michael Page Hong Kong. “Many older staff are very resistant to taking instructions from managers junior and less experienced than themselves, this is a problem that companies need to get ahead of,” Chan added.

Amongst the upskilling initiatives now available for older workers are information technology classes at the Active Ageing Centre. The Centre offers collaborative and subsidised computer courses for the elderly, tailor-made for students of various levels. Other initiatives include vocational English lessons and dedicated job fairs for older workers.

No youngsters, please
Whilst being adept at new technology is crucial for older workers, learning new tech is not the only way to stay competitive.  “Although there are so many reskilling and upskilling opportunities, older employees should focus more on developing soft skills such as being able to apply a multi-generational lens, demonstrate empathy and listening skills, enable life experience to provide mentorships,” noted Brian Sy, head of career products and total rewards at Mercer Hong Kong. “These skills are often more valuable and effective than learning a new hard skill or adopting new technology. However, it’s always beneficial to be curious about how technology is evolving and to understand its impact on future business,” he said.

Ageism doesn’t only affect older workers; it also impacts younger employees, particularly graduates straight out of university. Employers in certain industries such as banking, hospitality and insurance prefer hiring older workers, revealed a report by the Employment Research Institute of Edinburgh Napier University.

“Banks have been hiring retired workers on a part-time basis to work in branches, because they are more stable and caring,” an employer in the finance industry shared. “Loss of experienced employees means loss of company knowledge, so companies need to prepare by assessing what skills will be lost/impacted and make the necessary preparations. Implementing internal knowledge-sharing initiatives across generations is an important measure to creating a smooth workforce transition,” Lam added.

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