The late Rick Majerus, a college basketball coach known for his sense of humor, told the story of calling a team meeting to address his team’s poor performance. According to Majerus, his players were ignorant and apathetic and he needed to shake things up. He started his discussion with his players by asking, ”Do you know what your problem is?” One of the players responded by saying, “Coach, we don’t know and we don’t care!”
Those responsible for helping employees take advantage of workplace benefit plans may feel the same way! Particularly when it comes to your retirement plan. Many employers struggle to engage their employees in the process of taking advantage of this important benefit. You try different things, hire different service providers, come up with new angles, but you can’t get the success you want. It can be easy to attribute much of this to employee apathy.
So how far should you go to help your employees prepare for their future? Many employer’s grapple with this issue and it just came up in one of our clients.
As a part of our service, we enroll all the staff one-on-one during an in-person, phone, or video conference session. To get them started, we initiate contact with each employee up to five times! The first three by email, the fourth by phone call, and the final by email again. Typically we never get to the phone call. The relatively brief appointment we offer can be done during day, evening, or weekend hours. Almost all employees sign up without a problem.
However, some don’t! They never respond – at all!! This happened with a few new employees at one of our clients. This employer has not had much of this problem in the past – their employees have always been responsive – so we discussed how to deal with it. After confirming how rigorous, thorough and documented their process is they decided it wasn’t an issue.
In many cases, there is only so much you can do. While it is smart and helpful to do what you can, you can’t make your employees save (you can kind of with auto enrollment – even though they can still opt out), learn about their investments, and plan for their retirement. So is it apathy or is there something else going on?
People have a wide range of attitudes and experiences that will affect how they plan and save for their future. And this is key: sometimes your employees are just not in a position to invest much energy and concentration in preparing for their future, or even in enrolling in your plan. I am not providing a cop out – there are those that are just apathetic about it. But others have issues in their life that prevent them from investing much time in the process.
I am a perfect example! In the last six years I have gotten married, sold two homes, moved twice, had one child naturally, adopted another child through foster care (which is quite a process), quit my job to start PlanVision, and had my wife change her career and start her own business. The point is not that I couldn’t have planned for my retirement – that is easy for me. My point is that if I had really wanted to invest the time and energy to take on something else, like investing in an adult education program, or a new exercise plan, I am not sure I would have had the energy.
Many of your employees might be interested in planning for their future, but they are just not in the place to do it. They could be overwhelmed with personal issues and uncertainties that are far greater priorities than putting together a retirement plan. Maybe they are trying to manage personal relationships that are getting out of control, maybe they are working two jobs; maybe they have health issues, maybe they are pursing additional education after work; etc. There could be a whole host of circumstances that affect their ability and willingness to start the process.
Of course, people should not delay planning forever. But many will get to it when they can. They need to be in the right place mentally to focus on how to plan for their future. It seems silly to point this out – it shouldn’t be that hard and it is clearly beneficial to have a plan. However, most people can only take on so many personal projects at one time. You might offer some nice services, but your employees will not fit their need for additional education or planning assistance into your retirement plan communication schedule!
It is not your responsibility to ensure a secure retirement for your employees! You have no control over how they spend money, how much they save, the lifestyle they lead, and all of the other decisions and factors which have a huge impact on how prepared they are for their future. You have limited control over how engaged they get in the process. Do what you can to help and periodically let your employees know what is available, but be careful to generalize about their attitudes. Sure, some might not be interested. But others are just waiting for the right time in their life to start the process. Hopefully it won’t be too late!
What has been your experience with this?