This is my favorite time of year. The harvest is over, or is well on the way to being over, and summer and all its youthful energy will soon be a lingering memory. Things feel as though they’ve slowed down, as if the world is exhaling a sigh before giving in to winter. There’s a different kind of energy in that—expectant and eager. It’s the perfect time to take a leave to be in nature and breathe it in. Or, in my case, the perfect time to gather old friends for a hunting trip and a few scotches. Not at the same time, of course.

John Ludwig

It’s on these trips, usually somewhere between scotch numbers two and three that talk typically turns to the good ol’ days. We reminisce on the teenage calamities of the past and always with a sense of heroic grandiosity. Pep rallies, football, or pom-poms, you name it -- anything is game for self-inflation. Reality, however, was actually painfully boring. Did pep rallies actually excite us? Certainly not in the way that good friends sitting around a campfire could.

Which leads me to the subject of this month’s article: The open enrollment meeting. Here is the chance for plan sponsors to energize their participants, increase participation, and build momentum leading into the New Year. Sounds easy enough, right? But often, like pep rallies, these meetings fall flat and the results leave much to be desired. Participants leave bored and unenthusiastic. It’s up to us to rethink how we engage participants. And we don’t have cheerleaders to lead the charge.


When approaching this challenge, we first must step back to try and understand participant behavior. We must analyze what motivates them and adjust our approach to match their needs. From a behavior standpoint, we must realize that participants suffer from near-term biases. That is, they don’t want to delay gratification. Retirement is a far off and can seem to be a strange world. Let’s bring it back to today.

Most participants have near-term financial concerns. It can be anything in the lifecycle, from weddings to children to aging parents to housing or to other material items. These are tangible and immediate concerns. Perhaps participants are simply overwhelmed by their investment options in the plan or uneducated on the plan itself. Every group is different in their needs. We need to tap into the pulse of the participant population to understand what motivates them.

Also see: "How voluntary benefits are alleviating financial stress."


To realign participants thinking, we need to adjust our narrative. Instead of preaching doom and gloom in an unprepared retirement, we have to rally participants to empower themselves. Find their concerns and address them. Then, we must demonstrate how participating in the plan can help them and their loved ones today. Immediate relevancy allows participants to leave the meeting excited and resolved to improve. But we’re not done yet.

We must also capitalize on the post-meeting excitement and build on that momentum. Don’t be afraid to follow-up with wayward participants to see how you can be of assistance. Dust off the pom-poms and lead a cheer. You might be surprised by how many cheer along with you.

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