Insights + interviews

An Ageing Workforce Part 2: In Conversation With Edwin Quek

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We interview a 65-year-old lifeguard on his thoughts on ageing well in a working environment.

As a 65-year-old, Edwin Quek (EQ) is no ordinary senior citizen leading a sedentary lifestyle. Albeit in his 60s, he continues to be gainfully employed as a lifeguard and from the interview, although he did imply that he did have some things slow down for him, overall he lives well, leading a fulfilling life. Here’s what Edwin has to say about ageing actively in a working environment.

AA: Hi Mr Quek, first things first, let’s started off with the physiological changes associated with ageing. As we get older, our sight and hearing start to deteriorate while our bones get thinner and we lose weight. From your experience, are there ways that we can take charge on our own to get closer to not aging quite so fast?

EQ: When one ages, one will definitely experience physical changes. Personally, as I get older, I can feel my muscles deteriorate, and in a bid to maintain my physique as required in my line of work, I can feel that that the development of my muscles starts to slow down as the body is no longer strong enough to withstand the rigours of training. However, that should not discourage an active ager from exercising, as the routine of training up your body helps maintain what’s left of one’s muscle mass. It’s true that one would not bulk up as much as he or she would like as compared to the past, but there is still strength to be gained from consistent training. In fact, at this age, I can still do a sub 9-minutes swim of 400-metres. Although it is a daunting task to train at such an age, it is not entirely impossible; I would think that it’s all in the mind.

AA: Another point is to encourage the active ager to engage in preventive measures such as the monitoring of one’s blood pressure as well as eating clean. For those who want to exercise but yet have high blood pressure, what measures would you recommend?

EQ: Medical checkups are important to assess one’s physical condition, and whether he or she is able to partake in physical activities. Also, it is important to eat properly and watch your diet and not eat things that are too oily, salty or sweet. So for those who have problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes and yet want to exercise, they must first take the doctor’s advice and be aware of their own abilities. If the doctor says you can exercise then you exercise as per the doctor’s recommendations. But if you’re not fit or unwell, don’t play hero and disregard the doctor’s advice. What’s important is to listen to the doctor as well as your own body. If you need to rest, you better rest and if you are sick, you better take your medication.

AA: What are some fears of ageing? From your personal experience could you tell us some of yours, and what can be done to mitigate it?

EQ: Fear of aging? Well, one of those would be the fear the deterioration of sight and hearing, as well as being weak. And as mentioned earlier, as long as we keep exercising, maintain a proper diet, take supplements and go for regular check-ups, one should be fine.

AA: As for an ageing workforce, what are your thoughts on this issue? And what are some ways we can better engage the ageing workforce?

EQ: It is vital that we help older workers prolong their lives through means of gainful employment, as it helps one age actively. Without work, one’s mental capacity might diminish, and this is also another fear in most of us, as older people fear having dementia, so they need to be active and lead meaningful lives to live longer and happier. One good way is to establish a mentorship programme, whereby older workers can help the management train up younger workers.

AA: Age discrimination as we know, exists at some work places. What are some ways we can explore regarding this debate regarding experienced versus youth, and how one can make use of age as an advantage in the workplace.

EQ: Okay, in my workplace here, there is no age discrimination, because if there is you wouldn’t be talking to me now. At the swimming complex, what we have is a 50-50 ratio of older and young lifeguards. I’m unsure of what goes on in other companies, but age discrimination is definitely not an issue here. But what sets the older lifeguards apart is experience. Although we all go through the same training regime, it is experience that helps us guide the younger lifeguards, as experience helps us foresee potential dangers occurring and warn the rest, thus nipping the problem in the bud before it happens. I believe in any field, experience matters, and this can be beneficial to our younger colleagues.

AA: Okay, so there is no discrimination here, but what are your thoughts in general, across the board?

EQ: Well, it is general consensus that older people are weaker, and the younger ones think that they are at an advantage because time is on their side. I would agree and disagree. Granted that younger workers are mentally more alert and physically stronger, however the older workers compensate their shortcomings with experience, something the younger workers lack.

AA: Final question. Do you think the raising of the retirement age to cope with labour shortage is effective in engaging the older workers, as well as countering age-discrimination?

EQ: Raising the retirement age will definitely help those who still want to continue working, like me. I hope that I can work further because I still have the strength and energy, and working gives me a sense of worth. To be honest, I feel privileged to be still working at this age. And if you stop some of them from working, it’s kind of like a denial of rights. I actually have some retiree friends who envy me.

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 4 here.

Read Part 5 here.




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