Hong Kong Jockey Club’s mentoring programme helps retirees to feel like champions as they mentor new recruits for its telebet centre
Going into retirement can be bittersweet for some Hong Kong people who are used to the hustle and bustle of work, compared with the slow and uneventful life of a pensioner. This is especially so as many retirees believe they are still capable of having a meaningful career and contributing to society.
To help retirees to revitalise their careers, the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) launched the Service Coach Programme in October 2012, aimed at tapping into the extensive work experience of retirees to help in coaching new hires at the club’s telebet centre.
“Given the ageing population and the shrinking proportion of those at prime working age, we support post-retirement employment to encourage retirees to re-enter the workforce and allow those with vast networks and experience to return to the job market,” says Gary Chow, HKJC’s executive director of channels and organisational development.
The “service coaches” help mentor new recruits, who work as frontline operators responsible for placing phone bets and answering inquiries about betting services.
The HKJC offers various training courses to help the retirees – mostly former telebet frontline staff themselves – transition to being a coach.
“Mentoring is a new skill for many of our service coaches, so we need to ensure they have enough support before taking up the job. They have to go through a four-day workshop to learn communication skills,” Chow says.
“The club is aware of the huge age gap between the mentors and mentees, so we give them extra guidance on how to get along with the younger generations,” he adds.
Having run the Service Coach Programme for more than a year now, the HKJC has received positive feedback from both mentors and mentees, Chow says.
“The programme produces a three-win situation. The club wants to provide guidance for new employees, retired staff want to return to work, while newcomers certainly could have more support at work. The programme makes all three parties happy,” he says.
Besides being able to return to work, service coaches have told Chow that their new mentoring role has given them a new sense of success.
“Some coaches have told me they felt happy and satisfied being a coach. Through the process, they also learnt to communicate with young people, which helped them enhance their family relations,” he says.
Chow points out that the programme has reduced the turnover rate at the telebet Centre. “I think the programme has proved to be a success. Currently, we have 22 service coaches and there is a plan to recruit 20 more this year in view of the encouraging feedback,” he says.
Winnie Yee Man-ling had worked in the telebet centre for 17 years before retiring in 2012.
“I was not happy after I retired. I felt so bored and it seemed like I did not have a purpose in life. I loved my job. I didn’t want to spend my days playing mahjong with friends, so I immediately accepted when the club asked me if I was interested in becoming a service coach,” she says.
Going back to work did wonders for Yee, who was happy to see that her ability was being recognised and valued by the club. She says her new role has given her a goal in life again. She has also acquired new skills that have made her a better mother, she adds.
“When I received training to be a coach, I was taught to balance criticism and compliments when coaching new recruits. To get your message across, you should not only focus on criticism. You also need to praise the new recruits so they remain confident that they can do the job,” Yee says.
“My children are happy because now I have learnt to praise them. My relationship with them has never been better,” she adds.
Each service coach is in charge of two to three mentees a day. “I listen to their calls when they serve clients and give them advice on how to improve their service. Working in the telebet centre is not easy. Services assistants need to get the numbers right, and many new recruits have trouble in communicating effectively over the phone when they first start,” she says.
“My job is to identify their weaknesses and help them get better. I will talk to them individually to help them improve. I don’t just point out mistakes, I also praise them for things they have done well so that they are not discouraged.”
Being a coach is not only about providing guidelines at work. Yee says her relationship with her mentees is for the long term.
“Each mentee is under my guidance for 90 days, but that does not mean we no longer keep in touch after that. I hang out with my mentees after work and we text one another all the time,” she says.
“When I first started, I was worried that the new recruits – many of them in their early 20s – would not be willing to listen to me, but they turned out to be willing learners and I have become very good friends with them,” she says.
Leung Yuen-shan, a telebet services assistant under Yee, says she has developed a strong bond with her mentor during the course of the training programme.
“I think Yee had done a great job helping me with my job. Some of my friends who had worked at the telebet centre before left quickly because of the difficulties. I think they would not have left the job so quickly if they had had someone like Yee taking them under their wing,” she says.
“Yee has given me various support, she helps me with my work and encourages me when I am down. We are not just mentor and mentee, we are close friends.”
Following the success of the Service Coach Programme, the club rolled out the Sapphire Programme, a tailor-made scheme to re-hire retirees in the retail and telebet department.
“The programme is for retirees who would like to do the same job they were on before retirement and to also participate in charity work,” Chow says. “It is flexible – staff can choose to focus more on their work or do more charity,” Chow says. “Sometimes retirees can find new meaning in their lives after devoting most of their lives to work.”