How to Deal with the New 401k ‘Retirementality’

Visualization exercises can help

Have your plan participants visualize the role the 401(k) plays in retirement.Have your plan participants visualize the role the 401(k) plays in retirement.

Fewer than half of Americans have calculated how much they need to save for retirement, and in 2014, 30 percent of private industry workers with access to a defined contribution plan (such as a 401(k) plan) did not participate, according to research from the U.S. Department of Labor.

For those still in the workforce, managing the economics of life is a full-time job with housing, health care, transportation and child care as some of the expenses required to run a household. This means many working Americans work so hard that they are unable to think about 401(k) planning and saving for retirement – or even to imagine themselves retired.

Finding the best approach to educating employees about the importance of 401(k) planning, investing and saving enough for a comfortable retirement is a continual challenge for defined contribution plan sponsors. While there are many types of approaches, tactics that are based in fear often backfire when trying to encourage employees to focus on retirement and create a plan for their time, income and well-being.  Instead, visualization exercises are a good tool to use, beginning with this critical question people typically ask themselves as they look ahead: What will my retirement look like? That’s both a very simple and very profound question.

Visualization exercises can help employees clarify what role work may play in their later years. Incentivizing employees to save and plan for retirement should start with a vision. Here are two ideas 401(k) plan sponsors can adapt when conducting employee education meetings or creating retirement education communications.

Visualization idea 1: Filling a week in retirement

When we’ve asked employees to visualize their retirement, we often hear “gardening,” “time with grandchildren” or “lots of golf.” We then ask them to put in writing how long they plan to garden, golf or host grandchildren in any given week. Doing so helps them more clearly visualize what a 16-hour day, plus eight hours of sleep, in retirement might look like.

After seeing their plans in writing, most employees realize not only how much time is available in retirement, but also that hobbies and grandchildren can fill only so much of the day.  As a result, many are more receptive to exploring other opportunities that having all that time affords.

Visualization idea 2: Earning a ‘playcheck’

“The New Retirementality” is about helping employees identify aptitudes and passions and find a way to pursue them, ideally while also getting paid. In essence, the program’s goal is to help employees focus on collecting a “playcheck” — instead of a paycheck — for doing something so enjoyable that it almost feels like getting paid for play. Because 84% of baby boomers expect work to be part of their future, this idea can help them envision a retirement plan that may include work they want to do.

This visualization begins with an anecdote. Here’s an example we use, which plan sponsors can adapt to their industries.  Bruce, 72 years old, is on his third career. After 20 years as a military pilot, he retired from the Air Force, but not the workforce. Instead, he went back to school in his 40s, got a PhD in psychology, and worked as a clinical psychologist until he retired again at 65. But he wanted to find another challenge he could sink his teeth into.  Interestingly, he found financial planning. He loves what he does — meeting with friends, talking about what’s important to them, and helping them identify solutions to their financial challenges. At 72, he intends to keep doing this as long as possible.

We then ask: What exactly does the term playcheck mean to you?

To help employees jump-start their thinking about creating their personal playcheck, we ask them to contemplate these questions:

  1. What do you like best about the work you do?
  2. What do you like least about your work?
  3. What would the ideal working scenario look like?
  4. What sort of work are you most passionate about and could do forever?

Bottom line

We have a mission: Plan sponsors can help employees shift their focus from money exclusively to envisioning what to do in retirement.  If they can visualize their future and be inspired by it, they’re more likely to commit to it.

Lisa Kueng is a national speaker and keynote presenter at industry conferences, develops many of Invesco Consulting’s programs.

“The New Retirementality” is based on The New Retirementality: Planning Your Life and Living Your Dreams at Any Age You Want, Second Edition by Mitch Anthony (©2006) published by Kaplan Business. Used with permission. Invesco Distributors, Inc. is not affiliated with Mitch Anthony.

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