Engaging Gen Y in Retirement Saving

August 17, 2012 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – For Generation Y employees, honest and practical education, social media communications and proper incentives will result in an increase in retirement plan participation.

If sponsors understand how Gen Y operates, they can better engage this group of employees, said Farnoosh Torabi, author and Gen Y money coach, during MassMutual’s Retirement Services Division’s first PlanSmart online seminar for plan sponsors, “Who Is Gen Y and Why It’s Important to Know.” She describes Gen Y, those born between the late 1970s and the 1990s, as having a strong sense of entitlement, being technology savvy and desiring to see outcomes right away.  

They have also been through the financial crisis and saw the tech bubble burst, and many are graduating with debt and no jobs, so they are aware of the value of being financially secure. However, Torabi contends, the road map for financial security is lacking for Gen Y.  

One of best strategies for providing honest and practical education is to establish a mentor program, according to Torabi. HR may inform you and give you all pamphlets and resources, but having a resource in the company who is a few years ahead to encourage you to save and talk about what they wish they had done differently is more relatable, she said. Volunteers who have been participating in the retirement plan and can talk about what their account is doing can help the younger workforce see it and believe it.   

Torabi pointed out this is something free that every company can provide. Sponsors may want to offer incentives for mentoring, but many people just want to help.

Gen Y has a very short-term view, so sponsors should focus communication efforts on short-term benefits. Even though it may be true investing today will result in $1 million at age 65, Gen Y employees are not sure they are going to work for their current employers for many years. Torabi said sponsors should relay to Gen Y that even though it may not be their final stop, they are building a career and establishing roots and relationships. They can also start building retirement that they can take with them. She added that sponsors should tell the younger workforce that if they do it now, they will be years ahead of peers. “If you tell them they’ll be $50,000 ahead of their best friend, that will get their attention,” she said.  

Gen Y is used to being rewarded, so retirement plan education should focus on the incentives, such as the company match contribution, according to Torabi. Companies can also offer breakfast or lunch during education meetings. “A free meal goes a long way when you’re young and struggling to pay bills,” she said.  

Participation on projects is important to this generation, so sponsors could include them in benefit communications. In addition, sponsors should acknowledge their efforts and praise them.  

Social engagement may be tricky, but social networks and texting are the preferred way for Gen Y to communicate, so retirement plan sponsors should use Facebook, Twitter and texts to communicate about retirement benefits. However, Torabi noted, the message should be customized to them. “The minute they see or read something that doesn’t apply to them, they click it off, but show them something that will make them laugh or provide a picture of their life, and they’ll pay attention,” she said.  

Employers should talk to Gen Y employees with understanding about their debt and not knowing how to organize financially, and give them the option to choose how they want to communicate, she added.  

Sponsors should understand that Gen Y generally is commitment-phobic, according to Torabi, so they may think that opening a defined contribution (DC) plan balance is too much of a commitment. Again, this is why sponsors should emphasize that they have total ownership of their accounts and they are portable. Relay the message that “when you leave, it won’t be with just a box of books and a plant; you will leave with huge assets,” she said.  

Finally, Torabi suggested plan sponsors just make it happen for Gen Y. Automate participation and do not make it too conservative. She said sponsors should start with a higher deferral rate than 3%, because many assume since you start with this, it is the recommended savings rate. Let them know saving more is the key.  

A replay of the MassMutual seminar can be accessed here.