Insights | Published in June 2017

Informed Decisions

You know the best way to engage your employees

By Alison Cooke Mintzer | June 2017

PS-Portrait-Article-Insights.jpgWe write about—and conduct—a lot of research here at PLANSPONSOR, both in our issues and on our website. In fact, it is rare that a week goes by that we don’t receive a press release or two, or an interview opportunity, notifying us of some firm’s recent research about a particular topic of interest.
In editing the story about Millennials that appears in this issue, I read through multiple studies about this group—and was, maybe I’ll say, confused about how to reconcile them all. Now, in full disclosure, depending on what generational definition you adhere to, I may or may not be a Millennial. If you use the Census Bureau definition (born 1982 through 2000), I am not, but per Pew (born 1981 through 1997), I am. So, I may take such research a bit more to heart.
Millennials are an overly studied group—and there are many opinions on what this generation is or how they behave. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the notion that Millennials are overly entitled—that they’ve grown up with the “anyone can be anything” mentality and the “everyone gets a medal” guarantee. And, being part of that group—or not—makes me quite aware that such notions aren’t true of a large swath of its members.
But what struck me as it related to the research I was reading was not how Millennials were portrayed. Instead, I was struck by how much the findings contradicted each other. One survey found that Millennials don’t plan on Social Security existing when they retire, while another showed that the group was increasingly counting on Social Security to be a retirement income component.
Another set of competing studies said Millennials either are conservative investors, because they lived through the Great Recession and are risk-averse—or they make risky investment decisions. Further surveys showed that Millennials are: a) saving for retirement early; b) saving for vacation and not focused on retirement; or c) saddled with student debt and, therefore, aren’t saving at all. This is just a representative sample.
As I read all of these, I understood how there could be such different takes. I’ve written before about the flaws with research and the need to be cautious about reporting a study that examines a topic the survey sponsor represents. However, that wasn’t the case with many of these studies, which were not product- or provider-driven.
So first, I thought about similar groups answering the same questions at different times. There are so many factors that affect how someone answers a survey question. I sometimes wonder, if I were to take the same survey twice, with a week or a month in between, would my answers be the same?
So then I go back to the fact that how one answers a question is about more than age, which is all it takes to be labeled a Millennial. As any plan sponsor knows when assessing its work force, factors such as income level, education, location, family and marital status all affect someone’s financial wellness and retirement preparedness. It doesn’t mean the research is wrong, it just means that, in the case of Millennials, it represents only a small part of the more than 74 million people in the group.
So what does this mean for a plan sponsor? It means that, as valuable as research can be to give you directional guidelines about the challenges your employee group is facing, you know your workplace best and, therefore, the best way to engage your employees. You can understand their pain points by noting human resource (HR)’s challenges or by checking participant savings rates or by seeing what programs people request. All of these can shape your approach to helping tiny segments of each of the generations you employ. After all, something nearly every survey agrees on is their desire for help in making the right financial decisions.

 —Alison Cooke Mintzer, Editor-in-Chief