Ask Benny: What can be done to help older workers prepare for retirement?

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Ask Benny is a regular column where experts pose and answer questions that should be top of mind for HR and benefits professionals. Please share your comments with our guest experts and readers using #AskBenny to respond. If you’d like to contribute to future columns, please email column editor Amanda Schiavo at

We know from our Willis Towers Watson research that large numbers of older workers would like to retire as soon as they can afford to. For many, however, reaching that goal could be delayed for financial reasons, leaving them feeling stuck in their jobs.

Employers, therefore, are concerned about both employees retiring and those delaying retirement.

Many of our clients are taking steps to help their workers prepare for retirement. From an employee perspective, a successful transition may mean flexibility and pacing the transition to retirement, structured knowledge and skill transfer, and confidence and security in their financial plan.

Retirement planning and support has largely been focused on accumulating assets. However, many financial decisions about retirement are not about saving, but rather spending and debt. Unless employers are delivering trustworthy support for those big spending decisions, retirement planning may stall.

By sponsoring programs with decision support technology, financial advisers, and value-added financial products, employers can help employees feel secure in their long-term financial well-being, extend lifetime income, and make informed decisions about spending and investing.

Replacing talent when older, valuable workers retire creates another set of challenges.

One way employers can address this problem is by offering flexible working arrangements — allowing employees to change positions from a manager to an individual contributor, work on a part-time or part-year basis, or participate in mentoring or professional development programs. These programs retain the knowledge of older employees while facilitating knowledge transfer, growing co-workers, and improving processes.

These programs can also help support the transition into retirement and facilitate an integrated wellbeing approach. Retirement decisions are often as much about physical health and social and emotional wellbeing as they are financial.

Ideally, organizations should connect and deliver financial wellbeing support to employees earlier in their career. Behavioral economics is a powerful tool for convincing younger employees to start planning earlier. For example, humans are loss-averse: we feel two times or more remorse for a loss than we would feel satisfaction for the same sized gain. Therefore, it may increase participation to provide tangible and personal examples to employees who aren’t saving for retirement about what they’re losing out on — for example free money in the form of an employer match and tax savings — instead of what they could gain.

A potential first step for employers is to follow a logical and structured strategy project. This could mean establishing your organization’s objectives, inventorying current programs and utilization, performing retirement readiness and workforce planning analytics, and gathering the employee perspective through surveys and focus groups to ultimately provide recommendations and the business case for any changes. This approach ensures employers are tackling the right problems, using thoughtful solutions, establishing a benchmark against which to assess progress, and continuously evolving along with their workforce.

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Retirement planning Retirement benefits Retirement income Retirement readiness Workforce management Workplace management Workplace culture Recruiting Ask Benny