Much has been said and written about the differences between generations. Indeed, two separate studies recently highlighted retirement planning trends among two different cohorts. Baby Boomers were the subject of a December 2014 report issued by the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS), “Baby Boomers Are Revolutionizing Retirement: Are They and Their Employers Ready?” and a younger generation got the spotlight in the Principal Financial Group’s 2015 Millennial Research Study.
The people of the Baby Boom generation have been trailblazers in many ways and it seems their retirement plans are no different. According to the TCRS report, Baby Boomers are changing the traditional idea of what the golden years should look like, out of necessity if for no other reason. A somewhat grim statistic from the report is that 41% of Baby Boomers expect their standard of living to decrease when they retire. With longer life expectancies, the rising cost of healthcare, and a lack of adequate savings, it’s no surprise that many people in this generation expect to work beyond the traditional retirement age of 65. Some expect to never stop working completely. Many call working in retirement the “fourth leg” of the traditional “three-legged” stool.
TCRS’s research found that there is a strong desire among Baby Boomers for phased retirement options, but in reality less than half of employers have practices in place—such as the ability to move to a part-time position while drawing retirement benefits—that allow employees to transition into retirement slowly. TCRS’s report discusses ways Baby Boomers can positively change their retirement outlook, such as keeping job skills up to date and seeking advice from a financial advisor. In addition, the report mentions ways employers can help employees transition into retirement, such as providing phased retirement options and educating employees on Social Security and Medicare.
What about the Millennials? While the Principal Financial Group’s report summarized results regarding all aspects of Millennials’ finances, the research included trends in retirement savings. Here are some encouraging statistics in Principal’s report:
• 82% of Millennials feel it is important to save for retirement
• 63% of them started saving for retirement at or before age 25
• 59% of them plan to maximize the amount of pretax contributions allowed in their accounts
Principal’s study also indicates that most Millennials believe they should be contributing more of their pretax pay to their employer-sponsored retirement plans than they currently are, but at least a majority of them have made the crucial step to start saving, no matter how small the contribution.
One notable difference in the generations is technology preferences and usage. Millennials are used to communication through employer websites, email, texting, and even social media sites such as Facebook. While these concepts certainly aren’t foreign to older generations, Millennials are more likely to expect their employers to communicate with them electronically rather than through traditional methods such as regular mail.
Another difference between the two groups is whether or not they expect to be able to rely on Social Security. While many Baby Boomers have already started receiving Social Security, the Principal report states that only 22% of Millennials include Social Security in their retirement planning, presumably because the system’s purported problems have been well covered in the media.
But let’s not pretend that different generations have nothing in common. It’s safe to say that the majority of American workers, regardless of age, know that retirement planning is important, but find it intimidating at times and can benefit from employer assistance. While Principal’s study states that 60% of Millennials expect to be better off financially than their parents, younger people may still find themselves in need of options such as phased retirement and can reap the benefits of an older generation paving the way for change.
As is always the case, the optimal retirement scenario occurs when both the employee and employer contribute to the success of the employee’s retirement goals. Employers can benefit from creating a workplace that supports workers of all ages. Recognizing the differences between generations, developing retirement planning resources that help employees at every stage of their lives, having a broad employee communication and education approach, and supporting phased retirement options can help achieve this goal.