Retirement doesn’t necessarily mean endless vacations for Hong Kong’s senior population. Some post-retirement folk want to transition back into the workforce, and social enterprise Gingko House aims to offer these individuals a suitable position at their restaurant and catering outlets. We sit down with business development manager Kenneth Choi to get his views on employing workers that are past their prime employment age.
Kenneth Choi’s aunt started Gingko House 10 years ago, with a small restaurant on Gough Street that hired elderly staff to run the operations. The business, which also operates a separate charity arm, has grown to include four branches across the city, as well as a catering and retail division.
1. Retirement is not always what it’s hyped up to be
When you retire it can get quite boring. When you work 60 to 70 hours a week, going from that to being retired, that’s quite a big change.
I’ve noticed a pattern after doing hundreds of interviews, and our interviewees all say similar things like: “I’ve just retired and the first week was great, I got a chance to catch up with some friends, do some laundry.”
But then sitting at home doing nothing all day, they couldn’t take it. A month later, they would come back out and try to get hired again by other businesses, but the problem is there’s to some extent, age discrimination in Hong Kong. Once you’re 65 or above or appear a bit older, generally speaking there is some discrimination.
2. It can get lonely without work
A lot of seniors we deal with, they usually fall under two groups. One, they need the income. The other, they’re quite well off, but they crave social interaction either with colleagues or with clients — they’ve lost that part of their lives. Before, they had something to do, they felt valued.
3. People are living longer, but they might not be financially prepared
With the advent of better healthcare, people are living longer, or if you have a sickness it can be cured relatively easily. People are understanding how to take care of their bodies a little bit more.
In Hong Kong, the social welfare isn’t great. Should anything happen, Hong Kong citizens need to foot the bill. You don’t know how many days you have left, and you don’t know if your savings will take care of your expenses.
Hong Kong is always one of the most expensive cities to live in, when you read the surveys. And yet when you retire, you have no income, and you don’t have free healthcare in Hong Kong. When you’re older, that’s when you start experiencing more health issues. Sure, there are public services, but not all of the treatments are covered.
You need to be very frugal. Say you retire at 65 and you have savings. The first thing you need to do is the calculations: it’s a very morbid thing to do. For example, say I have $2 million saved up. I don’t need to pay mortgage because the house is in my name. I’m lucky enough to have worked for 40 years of my career. Say I live to about 85 or 90. How much money can $2 million last me?
4. Health can improve for senior citizens on the job
What we found with some of our workers is that from the initial interview, to them having worked a few months, their mobility and health has gotten much better. We’ve had people say at the beginning, “Oh my knees are not that good, I can’t walk up the stairs,” and we would tell them to rest and sit. But eventually they’re walking back and forth from the kitchen, they’re holding plates, they’re getting a slight workout. And physically they benefit from that.
5. Seniors have a broader life experience
I prefer hiring senior citizens. They already come with 30 years of experience. The experience doesn’t have to relate directly with the F&B industry, but for example, they’ve had 30 years of eating out at restaurants. Some of them travel the world. So with their skillsets, when we put them on the job you can see that they know how something needs to be done, just because they’ve been eating out all these years.
The Hong Kong government has released a lot of information about the aging population. By the year 2040 one out of three people in Hong Kong will be aged 65 or over. So that’s not very far away. At the same time, the ratio of eligible workers (aged 18 to 64) to senior citizens, that ratio is decreasing.
We’re just one small restaurant chain. We can’t really do a lot in terms of changing this outcome. What we ideally want to see is more people hiring senior citizens, which improves their emotional and physical health, and also gives them a bit of income. There are no laws that restrict us from hiring senior citizens, although the insurance can be a bit pricy.
And it takes both the private and the public sector. Take Japan for example. Their bullet trains are being sanitized and cleaned by senior citizens. We hope in the future we see other restaurants and even other industries supporting our cause, and hopefully we can change the outcome to one where senior citizens can support themselves.