If you watch television you may have noticed commercials from financial institutions that encourage retirement savings. There’s one, in particular, that stands out for me. A financial expert gives people ribbon. Each person stretches the ribbon as far as it’ll go across a timeframe laid out in the grass.
The goal is to show how far the money they’ve saved for retirement will—or won’t—last. Sadly, most only have enough saved for five or six years!
The commercial’s concept may be goofy, but its underlying message is scary. It highlights an important message when it comes to our collective financial wellness. According to a recent survey by GoBankingRates, almost half of all Americans are on track to retire with less than $10,000.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says only 16.5 percent of people have more than $300,000 saved for retirement, and folks age 65 and over spend about $46,000 a year.
We could all be in trouble, unless we do something. As an employer, you can encourage retirement savings with communication. Educate your employees on what they need to know (e.g., Social Security probably won’t be enough). Help them set themselves up well for the future, when they’re no longer working.
Highlight the Power of the 401(k)
The 401(k) plan has been around for decades as a retirement savings tool. Many Americans still don’t know how it works or why they need to participate. Show them. Targeted campaigns illustrate to employees all these plans offer them and their families. To increase engagement and encourage retirement savings, promote tax advantages and the company match, if appropriate.
Highlight and expand on those “what’s in it for me” points when you describe your plan. If your offer a company match, make sure your employees know how much to contribute to get it. It’s one the most powerful savings growth tools available to your workforce. If employees ignore the company match, they ignore free money.
Promote Retirement Planning Tools
Saving for retirement can be intimidating. Many people don’t know how much they’ll need to save and where. Planning tools, like Financial Engines, which is available to us at Trion, can help if people know they exist. Put them front and center in your communications and remind employees how to access and use them to encourage retirement savings. There may be some cost involved to maintain these tools, but the payoffs in employee goodwill and financial security could be enormous.
Highlight Other Savings Opportunities
If your company offers deferred compensation, employee stock purchase plans, pension plans, profit sharing, money purchase plans, or other retirement savings vehicles, point them out in your benefits communication. Teach employees as where they go for more detailed information. Provide links to carrier documents where they can learn more.
Saving for retirement is about more than stocking away money in a 401(K) plan. Use your communications to make sure employees take advantage of all savings opportunities. That way, they can have more funds to put towards their retirement contributions. Show how they’ll pay a lower copay with a visit to an urgent care clinic versus the emergency department. Describe the money-saving benefits and efficacy of generic drugs. Remind them how a covered bi-annual dental visit can prevent costly problems.
Employees may not be aware of everything you offer to help them save money. Show employees you’re serious about helping them build a nest egg for their futures. Encourage retirement savings with your communications so sure they know what you’ve got, and how to get it.
Ask any professional to tell you a key to his /her success, and you’re likely to get an answer like this: “I had a mentor earlier in my career who taught me a lot.” Mentors can provide professional and personal benefits to their mentees. There are serious benefits for themselves as well.
Mentoring is a positive experience. Mentors feel a sense of personal fulfillment by paying it forward. They contribute to the company by helping to keep talented employees.
Trion has a corporate mentorship program through its GROW initiative—Growth and Relationship Opportunities for Women. While women are encouraged to participate, it is by no means limited to women. The mentorship program is now in its second year. It’s a complete success, partly because of the effective communications the mentorship committee uses to get the word out.
Of course, it’s a challenge to coordinate such a program. All the participants are busy professionals, so it presents logistical difficulties. In the case of the GROW program, the committee solicits applications from those who want to take part, then holds a meet-and-greet. At this event, the prospective mentors and mentees each get eight minutes to get to know one another. Then, the mentees each submit a list of their top three choices for a mentor. The committee matches up pairs and holds a short training session. The mentors and mentees take it from there.
One key to the program’s success is the large awareness the committee created through communications. It uses a three-channel approach, which has proven effective.
Channel 1: Email
As the program’s launch approaches, the committee sends out many emails to inform the whole company the launch is coming soon. There is an application attached to the first email. The emails talk about past participants’ positive experiences, the timeline, and what new participants can expect. They have a sense of urgency but a positive tone to try to get potential participants excited to sign up.
Channel 2: Print/Newsletter
Each quarter, the overall GROW initiative publishes a print newsletter for the entire company. The newsletter describes the different, upcoming events and program. In the issue before the launch of the Mentorship program, the committee publishes one or more articles about the program. Topics include interviews with prior participants, benefits that mentors or mentees might enjoy, or program details.
Channel 3: Word of Mouth
The committee encourages participants in the corporate mentorship program to talk about their experiences—good or bad. Honest feedback can help the committee make changes, although the feedback for this program has been very positive. Word of mouth creates a buzz for the program and can reach colleagues that may have missed the other communications channels.
With this approach, Trion’s mentorship program looks to continue its success far into the future in large part thanks to effective communications tactics.
The face of benefits has changed. As costs continue to rise, companies introduce new benefits, like consumer-driven health plans. Traditional PPOs or HMO’s enjoyed by our parents and grandparents are now prohibitively expensive. Terms like deductible, coinsurance and health spending accounts are part of the vernacular. All this represents a seismic shift in thinking for your employees.
Do you know what your employees think about this new world of benefits? How do their perceptions reflect on how they feel about you as an employer?
Employees may perceive benefits changes as the company not caring about what they think—or need. That’s a dangerous path that creates workers who are resistant to communications.
Remember WIIFM in New Benefits Introductions
How employees receive new benefits information depends on how well you communicate it. A solid communications plan puts “WIIFM” –What’s In It For Me— first. It can swing workers in the right direction and support them in making benefits decisions that offer them valuable coverage.
Communications that miss the mark, or worse yet, minimize employees’ pain risk falling on deaf ears. This decreases the level of appreciation for the benefits you do offer and your efforts to save employees money.
So, how can you manage everybody’s health care spending without alienating your workforce?
Make an effort to understand what employees think about new benefits. And that starts with listening.
Ways to Listen as You Introduce New Benefits to Employees
When you introduce new benefits to employees, there will be many questions. Be prepared to answer them through a variety of communications. Note commonly asked questions as cues where to focus your communications. Remember, delivery method matters. If you mail postcards to workers who’d rather get a text, your message could end up in the trash.
Here are four ways to get your message into the minds of employees and introduce new benefits successfully. They include both conventional and out-of-the box options. Chose one or a combination of two or more, whatever works best for your needs and audience.
1) Focus Groups and Surveys
There are a few conventional methods, like, focus groups and surveys to help you learn what employees think.
They’re best used to complement one another. Surveys and quick pulse polls are good at getting answers to broad surface questions. Focus groups are excellent for digging down deeper into a single issue.
2) Engage Employee “Listeners”
While there’s many ways to communicate these days, the most effective remains face to face. Non-verbal cues determine whether 93 percent of communications are effective. In-person conversations are an essential tool for reading employees thoughts about new benefits.
Appoint trustworthy, likeable, approachable, and influential employees as “Listeners.” Arm them with some questions and send them to “Listening Posts” in high-traffic areas. There, they can approach passing employees and ask them question or two about what they think about the introduction of new benefits.
You decide how in-depth you want the questions to be. Promise anonymity to encourage honesty. Potential questions to ask include:
- Which aspects of the new benefits plan are unclear to you ? Where do you have questions?
- How do you prefer to get your communications?
The “listening post” process shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes. You could even give a small gift to anyone who participates.
3) Create How Are We Doing? Cards
Create a comment card style survey and place stacks of them near comment boxes around the workspace. Craft the questions to be open-ended and offer anonymity as an option. If you get any workable suggestions—and you likely will—be sure to attribute them to the program.
4) Hold Q&A Sessions
Often, workers don’t take advantage of the benefits they’re offered because they don’t understand them . Provide employees with an opportunity to participate in an open forum where they can ask their questions and get answers.
You can even offer separate sessions for separate groups, to provide new benefits information targeted to their unique needs or concerns. For example, one session can be for millennials just off their parents’ plans, another can be for new or expecting parents, and another can be for employees with chronic conditions, like diabetes.
Focused attention shows it matters what employees think when you introduce new benefits. As a bonus, you may get ideas for improvement you hadn’t already considered.
It’s crucial to strike the right tone in your communications that introduce employees to new benefits. These listening methods will help you refine your approach, benefitting both workers and the bottom line.
There is one thing each of us can do to ensure that our benefits have the greatest impact on our loved ones—especially in the event of our own passing.
The one simple thing is to update our beneficiaries. Each year, during open enrollment, take a look at the beneficiaries you have listed for each benefit that has them. Do you have critical illness insurance? Check the beneficiaries. Life insurance? Check the beneficiaries. Do you have a 401(k) plan, or more than one? IRAs? Brokerage accounts? Check, double-check, and triple-check those beneficiaries at open enrollment or when you have a major life event. If you only have a primary beneficiary listed, make sure you also list a contingent beneficiary (in case something happens to your primary).
Life is fleeting and fragile. We each think that we’re going to live forever, but we are not. And the young and healthy are not immune. My wife’s coworker lost his daughter on a hiking trip out west last month. She succumbed to an illness all but eradicated in the modern age. When we do pass, the sadness and loss for our loved ones will be devastating. The best we can do is prepare for the eventuality and be sure our family can readily access whatever measures we’ve set aside.
If You Don’t Update
What happens if you don’t? First of all, your assets could go to someone you didn’t intend. Perhaps you are now in your second marriage, but your ex-spouse is still listed as primary beneficiary on several old accounts. You could set up serious family discord—nothing puts already sensitive nerves on edge like a money dispute.
If you don’t name beneficiaries, parts of your estate could end up going through probate in the courts. That means your loved ones will be waiting and wondering about their inheritances. And there is always the chance that your assets will be distributed in a manner in which you didn’t intend.
The Beauty of Beneficiaries
When a policy holder dies, insurance companies, retirement account trustees, and brokerage houses look at the beneficiaries first. They are not subject to the will probate process. If you are a primary beneficiary on a policy, IRA, 401(k), and many other account types, those assets come to you in the event of the account or policy owner’s death.
Primary v. Contingent Beneficiaries
There are two types of beneficiaries for most account types: primary and contingent. You can split up your assets in any manner of percentages, but it’s important to note that primary beneficiaries always take precedence over contingents. In other words, if you have two primary beneficiaries listed at receiving 50% of the account each and one of those primaries has also passed. The surviving primary beneficiary would receive the entire value of the account. The contingent beneficiaries would receive nothing.
That’s why it’s so important that your paperwork is up to date. Let’s say, for instance, you have two siblings listed as primary beneficiaries at 50% each, and four nieces and nephews listed as contingents at 25% each. Both of your siblings would need to be deceased for any of your nieces and nephews to receive any proceeds from that account.
Take a minute right now to check all your beneficiaries. Part of the reason you got that term life policy or maxed out that IRA was to take care of your loved ones when you pass on. Why not make absolutely sure those assets will go where you intended them?
It seems there’s a big elephant in nearly every room these days. We live in strange times, when even close family members are divided over certain issues. When good friends might not want to bring up certain subjects.
While this can be painful in our personal lives, it can be downright dangerous in the workplace. You never know when a seemingly innocuous comment will ignite a co-worker’s—or superior’s, or client’s—unconscious bias, and lead us to places no one wants to go.
Naturally, it’s best to avoid bringing up these subjects in the workplace. But what if someone else brings it up? Or worse, what if you’re asked a direct question by someone you can’t just easily dismiss?
Those are tricky situations. However, there are strategies you can use to gracefully, even elegantly, defuse a situation that could easily get out of hand. Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Change the subject without looking like you’re changing the subject. This is one of my favorites. Of course you’d just like to say, “How about them [insert local football team here],” but that’s not always practical. Instead, use a kernel of the imminent conversation to bring the subject around to something that’s more comfortable for everyone. Something like:
Potential conversation destroyer: “Anyone who voted for that loser is basically a traitor. Did you vote for [him/her]?”
You: “You know, speaking of treason, I went to see Hamilton the other night, and besides being a FANTASTIC musical, I learned a lot about the birth of the country and our founding fathers. Anyone else see it?”
If you’re in a group, hopefully you’ll gain an ally with this who will come to the rescue (even if they haven’t seen the show), and now you’ll be talking about something completely different.
2. Be politely direct. “You know, I’ve always had a personal rule to never discuss politics or religion at work. Is that all right with you?”
This might not always work, but you’re making it clear where you stand and drawing a boundary that the other person must now consciously choose to cross.
3. Invent a distraction. In this case, your smartphone might be your best friend. If your phone is in your pocket, make believe its vibrating, pull it out, and say, “Excuse me, I need to take this, my [brother/aunt/dog] is in the hospital and we’re waiting for word.” Then leave the room to have your make-believe conversation.
Yes, it might not be the most elegant solution, but desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures. When you return, make sure you have a topic of conversation ready that you can immediately launch into, so as to avoid the previous topic.
These are good places to start, but I’m sure you can think of even better ways to defuse a potentially explosive situation. In fact, this might be a good exercise for a team-building situation: “How would you avoid a direct question about religion or politics?” Sounds like a good brainstorm subject to me!