Money & Policy

Why Firms Will Help the 50+ Plan for Retirement

A survey says they'll soon start, but not because they're kind

Lately, I’ve been blog-moaning about employers not doing much to help their older workers transition into retirement. But a leading consulting firm says this may all be about to change.
In the recent Towers Watson survey of 457 U.S. large- and mid-size employers with retirement plans (Ready, Set, Retire), 84 percent of firms said they expect to increase efforts to educate employees on saving and investing over the next two or three years.
More Tech Tools for Retirement Planning

In addition, more than three quarters of the companies (78 percent) said they’ll increase their use of technology to deliver retirement information to employees over that same period. That could be a huge help, I think, and might prevent some employees from tossing their paper benefits statements.
(MORE: Workers and Firms Must Step Up)

So what’s leading firms to be more helpful — or at least to say they will? They want to get more of their older workers to leave.
Sounds harsh, but Robyn Credico, Towers Watson’s Defined Contribution Practice Leader, North America and author of the report says it’s so.
“In the last few years, employers have recognized that their employees aren’t retiring when they want them to,” she told me. Indeed, the survey found that 53 percent of employers are concerned about their older workers “deferring” retirement and 82 percent said they believe retirement readiness “will be an issue.”
As a result, “it’s a pretty big cost [to employers] if people don’t move through the workforce as they should,” Credico said.
It’s also bad for business.

(MORE: Sorry State of Small Business Retirement Plans)
Less Engaged Employees

If older workers stay not because they want to but because they have to, said Credico, they can end up being less engaged and less productive. In fact, a recent survey of HR professionals by the Society for Human Resources Management found that 83 percent of them said workers’ money issues were having a negative impact on productivity.
Also, Credico said, employees in their 50s and 60s who stick around due to retirement fears often have health and benefit costs that are higher than those of their younger colleagues.
In short, she added, “there’s a fairly large financial incentive — besides a moral incentive.”

(MORE: No. 1 Flaw in 401(k) Plans)
Time to Move the Needle

Whatever the reason, helping pre-retirees prepare for retirement is long overdue. “Most employers have not yet moved the needle in preparing their workers for a financially secure retirement,” said Credico.
One question (aside from whether employers will really do what they say) is whether the new tech tools to help employees prepare for retirement will actually be useful. As the Towers Watson report said, “using technology without a strategy for implementation, measuring results and refining the process does not guarantee it will result in participant engagement and behavior change.” 
Credico believes employers need to do two things: Ask their employees to learn what motivates their retirement-planning behavior (or lack of it) and offer targeted, segmented communications.
Not many are doing either. A November 2014 survey from Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies discovered that 95 percent of employers with 401(k)s or similar plans believe their employees are satisfied with their plans but, in reality, just 80 percent of workers offered the plans said they are. One reason: just 23 percent of firms have surveyed employees about their retirement benefits, according to Transamerica.
In the Towers Watson report, only 16 percent of employers said they use group meetings extensively to communicate with employees about retirement and just 14 percent have one-on-one meetings.
“We would suggest employers measure where people are [for retirement preparedness] by looking at how ready each individual is,” said Credico. “If the vast majority say they won’t be able to retire until 75, I think you have a problem.”
Here’s hoping the needle is about to move.

RIchard Eisenberg, editor at Next Avenue wearing a suit jacket in front of a teal background.
By Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Follow him on Twitter.

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