Retirement a question of age
With low birth rates, it means if people live longer they must also be expected to work longer to be sure of making ends meet in their later years.
Traditional viewpoints, particularly the idea that the retirement age is fixed, may have to be revised because many people could find their lifetime savings, including those from the Mandatory Provident Fund, just won't stretch as far as they had hoped.
"One of the best solutions is to make the retirement age as flexible as possible," says Winnie Ng, director of the Bauhinia Foundation, an independent think-tank that has closely studied the issue.
"Some of the big banks and insurance companies are taking a lead, but everyone has to realise this is a market force we are talking about."
She notes that the government, as the biggest employer in Hong Kong, can obviously influence thinking. However, organisations of every type must consider alternative models that allow for longer working lives, and individuals will have to accept the need for change.
"In the last year, many more people, including the Civil Service union, have become concerned about the ageing population," Ng says.
"It is going to take time, but the first thing is to raise the retirement age a little bit and then find models that, for example, let people continue to work part-time."
She is encouraged by the trend of older people in Hong Kong, generally, wanting to remain active and involved.
However, she cautions, it will still require considerable public advocacy before most employers, with their eye on budgets and bottom lines, really grasp the nettle to make flexible retirement a reality.
"Somehow, we have to get managers to look at the broader picture and see the benefits for society as well," Ng says.
Confirming that theme, Dr Alfred Chan, chair professor for social gerontology at Lingnan University's department of sociology and social policy, also notes the implications of a shrinking workforce on government finances, with income tax revenue falling while expenditure on health and welfare services is climbing.
"We need both a change of mindset and a more flexible work environment for all ages," he says.
His suggestion is a gradual retirement, with employees given the option to reduce hours or days worked from, perhaps, the age of 45, while continuing to earn.
At present, government workers must retire at 60, while a growing number of people in the private sector work beyond this age, usually as consultants. Chan adds that a well-planned system can also offer incentives for employers to retain older staff and retrain them for suitable roles in a knowledge-based economy.
Dr Jean Woo, professor of medicine and head of the division of geriatrics at the Chinese University, notes the best way to sustain economic growth in the existing circumstances is not through immigration, but to "mobilise all available labour resources".
In a community project on "Elderly Friendly Employment Practice", written with Benise Mak, research assistant professor at Hong Kong University's faculty of social sciences, Woo found respondents aged above 50 favoured the idea of a flexible work schedule.
"Older people represent enormous potential for the economy and society," Woo says. "Working conditions and employment opportunities must be adapted."
- The Hong Kong Jockey Club's "Cadenza" initiative will help fund a series of job expos for older people in the coming year
- Forecasts show that the proportion of Hong Kong people aged over 65 will rise from 13 per cent in 2009 to 28 per cent in 2039
- By 2039, the average life expectancy for Hongkongers could be 83.7 years for men and 90.1 years for women