In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, there are even more challenges to communicating about benefits. Communication budgets have been cut, employees are working remotely, and attention is understandably focused elsewhere.
In uncertain times, clear and consistent communication is more important than ever. Now is not the time to go radio silent ― even if you don’t have all the answers. Frequent touchpoints can help decrease stress and provide reassurance during challenging times.
Try these tips to stay in touch with your employees.
Be open and honest. If there was ever a time for direct and down-to-earth messaging, it’s now. Provide answers if you have them, and be honest if you don’t.
Update often. Sometimes less is more, but right now employees want―and need―to hear from leadership on a regular basis. Don’t wait until you have all the answers. Give updates as soon as you have them.
Step outside your communication comfort zone. Your tried-and-true communication channels may not work. Look for new ways to reach employees.
Podcasts: People like to consume information or entertainment in short bursts. According to the New York Times, about one in three Americans listens to podcasts. Podcasts can be produced quickly, which allows you to respond nimbly to changing conditions. For example, Milliman released a podcast to retirement plan participants in response to recent market volatility.
Virtual meetings: With restrictions on group face-to-face gatherings and travel, people are turning to virtual meetings―especially those with a video component―as a replacement. When Milliman clients needed to cancel in-person group meetings and one-on-one consultations with our Retirement Educators, our Meeting Services team provided a virtual solution.
Move quickly. In a rapidly changing situation, your communication needs to keep up the pace. Podcasts and websites are efficient ways to provide updated information. For example, Milliman added a COVID-19 resource page on our financial wellness website, which included:
Tips to settle nerves, stay informed, and make wise financial decisions
A link to download the “What To Do When … The Market Declines” podcast
A video that covered what to remember when the market takes a downturn
Note the date and time. It’s a good idea to date- and time-stamp your materials. When things are changing on an hour-to-hour basis, people need to know what information is the most timely.
Provide resources. Reassure employees that help is available. Direct them to resources like your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), mental health benefits, and financial education. Consider posting Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) updates, such as:
Are telemedicine visits covered?
How do I change my prescription to mail order?
Where can I get help to manage my child’s anxiety?
How do I change my 401(k) contributions?
Change course if you need to. You may need to interrupt your regularly scheduled programming. Are the messages timely and do they still make sense in the current environment? Or do employees need to hear something else? In response to the market declines, we replaced the March retirement plan participant email with an email about market volatility.
Cut through the clutter. Make your communication easy to understand and avoid business jargon. Break down complicated concepts by using bullets, charts, and infographics. For example, we helped retirement plan participants understand the impact of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act with a chart that organized the details into logical components―what you need to know, the deadline to request relief, and how to apply for help.
Should I make a change? That’s the No. 1 question 401(k) plan participants are asking Milliman Retirement Educators during the COVID-19 market downturn.
Other frequent questions we are hearing in participant one-on-one
virtual consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic include:
Should I move my account to the stable value
fund until this COVID-19 pandemic is over?
I’m 60―will I ever be able to recover from
this market fall?
I was going to retire at the end of this year. Now
what should I do?
So how do Milliman Retirement Educators—and how can you as a
plan sponsor—respond to these questions without giving advice?
Very carefully. Sometimes answering a question with a question prompts participants to come to their own conclusions. The question to any of these questions is, “Have your retirement goals changed?” The answer is typically, “No.” We find that most people have the same time horizon and the same savings goal. So what do you do?
How to respond
Here are three tips to use when responding to participants’ questions.
Have them think through these factors and answer these questions:
Review your time horizon. At what age do you plan to retire? When do you plan to start taking money from this plan? What should someone who is about to retire do? If you retire this year, or within the next five years, it doesn’t mean you’re going to take out all of your money at that time. For most, this money will be spent over the next 20 to 30 years in retirement. If you have 10 or more years until retirement, time is on your side. Over 10 years is considered long-term when it comes to investing. For many, staying put, staying calm, and not rushing to move money to cash can help recoup the loss when the market rebounds. Milliman produced a short video, Responding to Market Volatility, that may help restore confidence in the market.
Review your asset allocation. Based on your time horizon and risk tolerance, are you invested appropriately? If invested in a target date fund based on your anticipated retirement date, then you can take comfort in knowing the professionals are managing your money and making adjustments as needed as you near retirement. If you are a “do-it-yourselfer,” and are concerned that you are not in the right asset mix, then take a risk tolerance quiz or use an asset allocation tool on your 401(k) participant website. Make adjustments based on your results, not on emotion.
Think positive in a negative market. During a market decline, remember that if you continue to save and invest, you are buying investment shares at lower prices, which will put you in position for the greatest gains when the market rebounds. Milliman has a podcast, What To Do When. . . The Market Declines, that may help you navigate today’s complex financial decisions. Generally speaking, those who continue investing during market corrections are more likely to achieve long-term success.
Therefore, the basic answer to the question, “Should I make a change in my retirement account?” is, “Have your retirement goals changed?” If not, then experience tells us that you’ll be better off if you hold steady and wait for the market to rebound, or even consider saving more to take advantage of low investment share prices. For employees nearing retirement and seeking investment advice, several resources are available to help research and select a Certified Financial PlannerTM, including http://www.cfp.net/ and http://www.finra.org/.
Deciding what to do with your retirement account is an important financial decision. Milliman cannot offer financial, investment, or tax advice. You may want to consult with a personal financial advisor or tax advisor before making your decision.
While employees across all generations might share common goals
and challenges, priorities will vary depending on where they are in their lives
and careers. For example, research shows the goal of aligning employer and employee
values is particularly important to Millennials.
In today’s tight labor market, companies need to look beyond salary in order to attract and retain employees. Companies must also understand what employees really want from their jobs and be purposeful and creative with the benefits packages they offer. Designing such comprehensive, competitive benefits packages means looking beyond the old standards—health insurance, retirement, paid time off—and embracing forward-thinking options like nontraditional and voluntary benefits, and improvements to a company’s work environment and culture.
As with financial security, flexibility is also
an important goal for everyone. How that looks could vary significantly, from
telecommuting and remote work to phased retirement options. Employers who take
into account such differences in priorities are more likely to create an
inclusive benefits environment that meets the needs of all their employees.
What constitutes effective HR communication for Millennials, Gen-Xers, and Boomers today? In the latest episode of Critical Point, Milliman’s Heidi tenBroek and Jill Godschall discuss how generational differences, behavioral economics, and technology are driving change in the HR communications space.
To listen to the entire podcast, click here. Also, to hear past Critical Point episodes, click here.
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