What Can the Aging of China Mean for Your Business?

In China, there are 128 million elderly people today (one in 10 people).  By 2050, the number is projected to be 400 million.  The aging of China presents a large number of social, economical and personal challenges to the nation and its population as a whole.  And just about everyone I know of my generation in China are struggling to find an ideal solution to take care of our aging parents.

The implications for businesses operating in China can be multi-faceted.   What it means for businesses could be anywhere from offering products and services that directly meet the needs of the seniors, to creatively localizing employee benefits that help alleviate the burdens on their families.  When businesses take serious notice of this significant social trend, they will discover that many opportunities exist.  And when dealing with these opportunities, it is imperative to take into consideration the Chinese culture that often requires rethinking of what may have worked successfully elsewhere.

Here are a few examples:

1.     Elderly Care

Traditional Chinese culture emphasizes filial piety towards the elders.  It used to be common to have aging parents live with you in order for them to be taken care of.  But the highly demanding career life in China today are putting so much pressure on the adult children that there is clear demand for more paid elderly care.  The key to providing such care, however, is perceived quality.  In order to save face, people seek out places and services that promote themselves as "luxurious" and "high-end", so it would at least look good to the outsiders that they are being "good children".  

Another cultural taboo is death.  The Chinese do not want to be associated with death, prompting the immense challenge hospices face in China.  Hospices have frequently been driven away by local residents who do not want to live next to the "hospital for the dead people".   Overcoming such cultural barriers requires much education as well as alternative thinking on how to message its benefits.

2.     Technology Products

Despite the huge number of senior citizens in China, there is generally a lack of focus on the part of businesses to target this segment.  Technology products, for example, represent an area that has so much potential to help satisfy the needs of the seniors.   Seniors are using mobile devices, computers, online services and electronic products of all kinds.  Most of all, they use them as a necessity to communicate with their children.  But they need them to be much more intuitive to use, simpler to program and easier to remember.   

Besides offering truly user-friendly products designed for the elderly, brands can secure higher loyalty by providing superior customer services.   Seniors need tutorials, training, on-demand customer support and the like to assist them while going through the learning curve. 

3.     HR Benefits

Traditionally, a big part of the middle level manager's job in China is to take care of the employee's personal welfare.  For example, if an employee's parents fall ill, the work unit generally extends help in the form of extra paid days off, paying hospital visits, helping to resolve logistical issues and even co-workers making monetary contributions as a way to express concern.  Foreign companies operating in China may find these traditions difficult to comprehend at first.  But as the youthful workforce in China grow older, so will their parents.  And since most of these employees will be the only children, they will also be solely responsible for carrying the burden to take care of their parents. 

Businesses have learned that in order to stay competitive in China, talents are one of the most difficult resources to secure.  And every bit can help towards a competitive total benefit package to attract and retain talents.  It is therefore worth the resources to consider crafting HR policies and benefits that help employees better deal with this uniquely Chinese cultural phenomenon.

These are but a few examples of the many more opportunities and implications that surround the aging of China.  What could it mean for your business?



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