Employee benefits have become a defining issue in the United States. Much media attention has been given to the new parental leave policies at Netflix and Facebook, and debates rage on about the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act. But behind the headlines, small business owners are simply striving to provide fair, attractive plans to their employees.
When most people hear the term “employee benefits,” their minds jump to medical insurance and family leave. But to retain top people, you also must help them establish and protect a certain quality of life through long-term financial planning.
Retirement is one of the most significant asset decisions people ever make, second only to buying a home. Unfortunately, without guidance from a financial advisor or an employer-sponsored program, many employees don’t accumulate enough wealth to see them comfortably through their golden years. The shortfall comes as a jarring surprise, especially when individuals learn that they can’t enjoy the lifestyles they had envisioned.
Although older employees tend to be more concerned than younger ones about retirement savings, this problem isn’t just for those anticipating retirement in the next 10 to 15 years. The choices Millennial employees make today will directly impact their lives — and their families’ lives — several decades from now. Business owners have responsibilities to support employees of all ages through these major financial planning decisions.
Here are four ways you can help your employees understand their benefits and make the most of the coverage your company provides.
1. Hold companywide personal finance trainings.
People often aren’t sure where to begin when it comes to insurance and financial planning, so bring in an advisor who can help you devise a financial literacy curriculum. Teach your employees fundamentals, such as how to assess their current situations, identify their desired retirement lifestyles, and manage risks related to their long-term savings.
Additionally, emphasize that their money must take them through retirement (and any medical needs in their later years), not just right up to the beginning of retirement.
2. Offer one-on-one financial planning.
Some people might still feel confused or overwhelmed, even after group sessions. Financial planning is challenging, and it easily falls down the priority list amid day-to-day pressures of work and family, but don’t let that happen. Give employees the opportunity to sit down with financial advisors, who can counsel them on their 401(k) packages and long-term strategies.
In my experience, the least understood topic in such consultations is financial security. Genuine security includes having not only money in the bank, but also disability insurance and other types of risk management tools in place. I’ve found that people often underestimate their needs or simply don’t know how to realistically calculate them.
For instance, many employees don’t realize how much life insurance they actually need. There is a rude awakening when people realize that their nominal policies would not be sufficient to secure their families’ futures. The same holds for disability coverage. Help your employees understand that insurance isn’t an either/or decision but a combination between accumulation and risk management.
When I’m working with clients, I typically explain the differences between wills and trusts so that they can work those into their planning strategies. I also educate people on long-term care. Anyone who has seen a parent or grandparent require extra care, either at home or at a nursing care facility, knows how expensive care can be, which is why I’m seeing younger clients take advantage of long-term care planning.
As an employer, you have the ability to impact the long-term financial security of your workforce by encouraging employees to take advantage of resources available to them. These resources include educational training on the retirement plan and one-on-one meetings with a financial advisor to assist them with their personal goals.
3. Enable employees to save a higher percentage of their incomes.
The Department of Labor notes that 30 percent of employees who have access to 401(k) plans don’t sign up. Employers could reduce that number significantly if new hires were automatically enrolled in retirement plans. Automatic enrollment forces people to opt out if they don’t want to participate, and that extra step could be enough to discourage employees from derailing their savings.
This is a proactive way to encourage people to build toward retirement and to start the financial planning conversation. I’ve talked with many employees who procrastinated before setting up their 401(k) plans and now wish they’d gotten started sooner.
4. Consider adding auto-escalators to retirement plans.
To save realistically for retirement, employees should save 10 percent of their incomes each year. However, most people earmark smaller amounts for long-term savings unless their employers facilitate a more aggressive approach.
You can enroll your team members at 3 percent of their salaries initially, with an automatic 1 percent increase scheduled annually. If they stay with the company long enough, they could be saving up to 11 percent of their salaries each year without even thinking about it. That reality is important because people often don’t feel comfortable consciously taking out chunks of their paychecks to put into savings accounts every month.
Many employees assume they’ll make more money each year, making it easier to increase their 401(k) contributions in the future. But they underestimate how difficult it is to part with their hard-earned cash, even when it’s for their own security. Currently, 56 percent of companies provide auto-enrollment services, but only 26 percent have auto-escalation. Automatic escalation helps people avoid becoming their own worst enemies.
Some business owners worry that automatic enrollment and escalation policies are paternalistic. However, I believe these practices nudge people out of complacency on important issues. Most employees openly acknowledge that they would put off the tasks if they weren’t automatically enrolled, and that mentality can prove disastrous to their futures.
If automatic escalation had been available in my former business, I would have implemented it for our 120 employees. I believe in taking action you know will ultimately benefit the people who support your business.
Most business owners want their employees to succeed professionally and personally. However, paying a good wage and offering a retirement savings option is not enough. Continual training and support help people make sense of their benefits and use them fully, and when you empower people to make smart financial decisions, you also generate loyalty and stability.
This article was written by Peter Racen from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.