Commentary: In an earlier post, we discussed how workplace financial wellness programs are gaining popularity as employers seek to help employees with financial issues beyond retirement savings. In this post, we examine more closely each generation’s financial needs and challenges, and offer some practical tips for employers who want to provide the benefit of a financial wellness program.

Also see: Bridging the generational financial wellness divide

Millennials

Millennials do not have to be convinced about the importance of retirement savings; 83% believe it is important to save for retirement, and are confident in their ability to provide for themselves, according to the 2015 Millennial Research Study from Principal Financial Group.  Seventy-four percent think they need to be saving 10% or more through their employer’s retirement plan, but only 30% are doing so. Additionally, 60% of millennials expect they will be better off financially than their parents.

Despite their optimism, millennials are concerned about their ability to weather a financial crisis, with 68% finding it difficult to pay an extra $1,000 for an unexpected expense, and 43% without an emergency savings fund, finds the Principal Financial Group study. Sixty-five percent of millennials have withdrawn from a retirement account to pay for another expense. Millennials are also burdened with student loan debt not faced by previous generations; 70% believe they’ve taken on too much of this debt, according to the T. Rowe Price 2015 Family Financial Trade-Offs Survey.

Also see: 7 tips to better recruit, engage millennials

Generation X

Members of Generation X are likely to be in the “sandwich” generation, caught between demands of their own financially dependent children and aging parents. Members of Generation X know that they need to save for retirement, and they are less likely than millennials to use their retirement accounts to pay for other expenses. However, 44% are saving less for retirement in order to save for their children’s college education, according to the T. Rowe Price research. This generation may need help balancing the competing needs of children and aging parents.

Also see: The retirement readiness battle: Boomers vs. Gen X

Boomers

According to USA News, 10,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next 17 years. They want to work (or have to) during retirement, but would prefer to work in less stressful jobs and work fewer hours per week. Namely, this cohort:

  • Prefers to do personally fulfilling work
  • Wants to start their own businesses
  • Can expect to live longer than their parents
  • Prefers to stay in their homes and out of long-term care institutions

Boomers have big plans for their retirement years, but even the best plan can be derailed by health events, the death of a spouse, earlier-than-expected job loss, the inability to find suitable work, the financial failure of a startup, or the financial needs of family members. Forty percent of retired boomers were forced to stop working earlier than anticipated due to illness, disability, or other personal reasons, according to a Society of Actuaries survey. Housing, including “aging in place,” includes costs that most boomers have not calculated. They may still be in the sandwich generation themselves, and providing financial support to an aging parent, an adult child, or both.
Solutions and best practices

Accounting for the needs of multiple generations in a financial wellness program can seem overwhelming. Millennials clearly understand the importance of saving for retirement, but may need help planning for emergency expenses and understanding cash flow. Access to personal financial planners may be most useful to boomers who may retire in 10 to 15 years. For Generation X, debt and credit management assistance, to help them juggle multiple financial obligations (saving for retirement and college tuition, etc.), may be highest on their radar. All three generations can benefit from assistance with planning for health care costs.

Some tips for employers:

Start where you are. Many employers already offer some basic financial wellness programs that may be under-utilized.

Take an inventory of current offerings. Do employees know about these resources? Have the programs been promoted to show their value? Make them accessible and promote them regularly.

Tap your advisers. Your retirement and health plan advisers are great sources of education for employees. Collaborate with health plan consultants and employee assistance program providers, retirement plan advisers, and recordkeepers to tailor programs for specific needs.

Ask your employees. An employee survey may reveal some surprises. Sixty-one percent of employees surveyed by State Street Global Advisors were “moderately or very likely” to use an automatic savings program to help fund a savings account for emergencies, yet this is not a widely offered benefit. Sixty percent would like access to one-on-one financial planning assistance, but only 13% of employers offer this service, according to the March 2015 DC Investor Survey from SSgA.

Changing employee expectations are altering the benefits landscape significantly. Plan sponsors must adapt to the changing environment in order to help meet the plans’ goals and ensure plan success.

Cindy Lapoff, J.D., is a Legal and Regulatory Consultant for Manning & Napier. She provides guidance on ERISA, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and other legal and regulatory developments affecting single and multiemployer plans, including Supreme Court and legislative/regulatory activity.

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