Hiring Elderly

Sabyasachi DuttaBy Sabyasachi Dutta, (Country General Manager of a British MNC in India)

Recently, Narayana Murthy – cofounder of Infosys – stirred up a hornet’s nest by proposing youngsters in the infancy of their career to work 70 hours a week. This is a far cry from the universally accepted 35-40 hours of work week and threw floodgates open for arguments for and against his view, corroborated with strong and pertinent data.

Even before the dust settled, he stoked the debate further giving his example that he used to be in office at 6.20 am often. The context that we might be missing is comparing a situation in two different eras. What used to be kosher for 80s or 90s youth may not be acceptable to today’s generation because the opportunities are arguably aplenty now to shape one’s career. Concurrently, one should not be oblivious to the fact that an enormous number of freshers churned out every year are found not up to the mark for quick absorption in the corporate world. But, then that’s a malaise for a separate discussion another day.

The rapid advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI), seeping into almost everything for which human involvement would have been a necessity earlier, is eliminating mundane jobs thick and fast. An estimate says 25% of the jobs that are routine and demand no specific skill might be gone in the next 24 months.

In the backdrop of this, there’s another school of thought that implores hiring experts with niche skills, who have retired and assumedly surpassed their productive lifespan, on a ‘need basis’ to tide over some specific demands or projects.

Re-employing retirees and having a mixed workforce of young and old adds to the diversity quotient. Many believe such elderly employees can positively contribute with their vast experience and skills acquired over a long tenure while introducing perspectives that the younger generation might be overlooking. But whether they want an encore career or are simply looking to trade their valuable insights gathered over years in a particular niche, is open to debate.

Having said that it’s interesting to note that many countries have been experiencing negative natural population growth – defined as births offset by deaths. Thus, countries like Germany and Canada look at migrants to augment their labour force. A country like Japan with a remarkably high median-age workforce population can face structural issues in labour supply shortly.

Hence, this new trend of ‘unretirement’ is gaining currency now. It can be defined as those eligible to retire and claim pensions instead of returning to work for reasons like having a longer life span with a healthy body, economic uncertainty, willingness to fill the skill shortage gap, demand for expertise, and a desire to keep oneself busy.

Not widely published, in India, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJ&E) in 2021 introduced a programme called Senior Able Citizen for Re-Employment in Dignity (SACRED) which enables citizens above the age of sixty to search for a job through an IT platform.

For an organization, re-hiring a retired staff substantially lowers the associated costs of recruitment and training a fresher. Such staff brings stability and could serve as mentors to the next generation of workers. Their vast repertoire of knowledge could help organizations navigate unexpected difficulties. On the flip side, their age could be a cause of lower productivity, and many may struggle in a technologically ingrained work arena.

In conclusion, ultimately the decision to hire elderly should be based on a strict evaluation of their skillsets in demand, the cultural fit prevalent in the organization, and their true ability to contribute. Age should not be the sole determining factor but rather an addendum to other relevant criteria.

(Views expressed here are personal)

(About the author: A business executive with more than two decades of corporate experience spanning across the globe, writing is a passion for Sabyasachi. He primarily writes on buzzing management and leadership topics.)

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