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Retirement Plan Education – It’s Time to Get Personal

Retirement Planning Education

Retirement Plan Education: It’s Time to Get Personal. For employee training to be impactful, it must be personalized to the learner. If the topics and presentation don’t resonate, the material is less likely to “stick.”

These pearls of wisdom came from a recent article in HR Dive, which liberally quoted training program provider Unboxed CEO Brian Leach, and noted that it’s not enough to simply offer training for employees — you have to meet them where they are, with engaging, relevant and useful information.

That got us to thinking, couldn’t the same principles be applied to retirement plan participant education and communication programs? Sure, they can. That said, we’re not all the way there yet. While the industry is consistently innovating on participant education and communication — moving to mobile platforms, creating easier-to-digest video content, and bringing financial wellness to the fore — we have gotten caught in a rather habitual, one-dimensional way of helping participants understand why and how to save for the future. Teach them about the importance of saving early and often, educate them on concepts like compounding and diversification, explain asset allocation and why investing in different asset classes is important, etc. It’s kind of a one-size-fits-all approach. As HR Dive points out, in employee training, one-size-fits-all is less effective than using an infant spoon as a fly swatter.

To be sure, these are all important concepts, but what if the topics and presentation are not relevant for every segment of your employee population? As an extreme example, you wouldn’t communicate to a Millennial employee about maximizing catch-up contributions and considering working past their retirement age, but these are topics that are extremely relevant to an older employee population that’s over 50 and less than two decades from retirement. Your Millennial employees are likely more concerned about paying down student loan debt and saving for their first homes, so teaching them how to manage these financial obligations while also planning for retirement would be far more resonant, and personal, for that population.

So the idea is to personalize retirement planning topics for different segments of your employee population rather than serving up a broad message to everyone. In fact, we have seen among the plan sponsors that we work with that customized, targeted education makes a difference.

Another thing we talk a lot about here at 401kTV is “just-in-time” education — the idea of delivering a useful, relevant piece of information exactly when it’s needed and helpful. To go back to our catch-up contributions example, it might be most impactful to provide this information to an employee around their 50th birthday, when they’ll become eligible to make these types of contributions. Educating older employees on how to maximize their catch-up contributions to beef up their savings as their runway to retirement shortens is another way to provide “just-in-time” messaging.

The HR Dive article also points out that accounting for individuals’ learning style is critical to training effectiveness. Everyone learns differently, so it’s important to tailor the training, when possible, to the learner. We have also seen that to be true with participant education. Sponsors who account for employees’ varied learning styles when structuring their education programs have had noteworthy success.

The HR dive article breaks down six key ways to make training content learner-centric, and again, we believe this is applicable to participant education programs as well:

  1. Know your audience: What is your employees’ comfort level with financial topics? What are your participant demographics? What keeps your employees up at night? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you create a more effective education program by tailoring it to your employees’ specific needs and goals.


  1. Explain what’s in it for them: Employees want to know how they’ll benefit from doing what you’re asking of them. The benefits of saving for their retirement should be a no-brainer, but “instant gratification” messages around the tax benefits of saving with the plan and saving enough to qualify for the employer match (if your plan offers one), may provide additional incentives.


  1. Offer self-directed learning opportunities: From HR Dive: “Training is relevant when the employee controls the learning experience. Accessing information as needed gives the ability to apply learning in real-time.” Make it easy for employees to access information when they need it. It should be well-organized, searchable and content-rich. Building in recommendations for related content to supplement their learning is also a good best practice.


  1. Give them options: A variety of options allows employees to access education in the way that’s most relevant and valuable for them, according to their learning style. Some learner-driven options Unboxed uses, according to HR Dive, are “… collaborative and social learning, integrated communication tools, and real-world gamification…”


  1. Keep the content fresh: Update the content on a regular basis to ensure employees’ needs are being met, and that the offerings aren’t getting stale. Learning is an ongoing process, and it helps to facilitate that by providing up-to-date information. Getting a lot of questions from employees about retirement plans loans? Consider posting a short video to the company’s intranet site that explains the pros and cons of taking a loan from your retirement savings, for example.


  1. Provide supplemental support: Is there a phone number employees can call for plan information or to get help with a question? How about an “open door” policy in the HR department? What other resources are available for employees to get a better handle on their retirement plan benefits? It’s important to offer additional resources for employees who need help making the most of their benefits.

Want to help boost your employees’ retirement readiness? Getting personal with your education and communication program offerings can make all the difference in helping employees learn about their retirement plan benefits and convincing them to save for their future.

Robyn Kurdek

Robyn Kurdek

Freelance writer with nearly 2 decades of financial industry experience, with niche expertise in the defined contribution (DC) industry. I also have defined benefit (DB) plan knowledge. I write all types of content for retirement plan participants, sponsors and advisors, including web copy, newsletters, white papers, fact sheets, blog posts, financial wellness articles, and more. "I speak DC."
Robyn Kurdek

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