Tag Archives: Denise Foster

Unintended consequences of using your defined benefit plan to assist with workforce management

In just a few months, COVID-19 has changed our businesses and organizations dramatically—in the United States and around the world. Many employers have taken immediate action by increasing staff or staff hours, transitioning to remote workforces, reducing staff or staff hours, or even closing their doors completely.

If you are considering major changes in your workforce and think your defined benefit (DB) plan can help ease the pain of this transition, you will want to proceed carefully. With every action, there’s a reaction—often a good one but not always. Keep this in mind if you are increasing staff and are exploring:

  • In-service distributions: Amending the DB plan to allow for in-service distributions as early as 59½ can help retain key talent but it can also make the ongoing administration quite complicated as well as removing the component of orderly retirement, which is an important factor in DB plans. This added complexity is less of an issue if you have a frozen plan, and are looking to terminate it in the near future or de-risk it with an annuity purchase. In this case, more in-pay participants could result in better annuity pricing. You can also include employees over 59½ in frozen plan lump sum window offerings to save on Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) headcount premiums.
  • Waiving suspension of benefits for rehired retirees: Rehiring retired professionals can be easier if you allow them to continue to collect their pension benefits while they work. But be aware that rehires who are subsequently laid off may be entitled to some form of paid leave. And this “double dipping” could increase plan costs due to the additional service earned.
  • Increasing Normal Retirement Age: Amending the plan to increase the Normal Retirement Age from 65 to, for example, 67 could help retain more experienced, needed talent at work. But as the talent pipeline starts to fill up again, you could risk suppressing personal growth. Young talent will go elsewhere if they see older workers blocking their career paths. And keeping more expensive talent around long-term could result in more expensive benefits at retirement from longer accrual periods.

If you are decreasing staff and are exploring:

  • An early retirement window: During a designated period, an early retirement window with enhanced benefits—often including temporary continuation of health insurance—can encourage retirement. The upside is that you can reduce active participant cost; the downside is that it can increase the plan cost over time if the plan is not well funded. Nondiscrimination and liquidity requirements also must be carefully considered when offering an early retirement window. Use projections to ensure you won’t trigger special accounting events (like settlements, curtailments, and special termination benefits, in both the pension plan and the post-retirement medical plan if applicable) or a partial plan termination if the plan is not frozen.
  • Lower Normal Retirement Age: Amending the plan to decrease the Normal Retirement Age would allow employees to collect full retirement benefits earlier while working elsewhere so workers may leave on their own accord. There could be a few downsides: Some may be entitled to full benefits as they retire early and increase the cost of the plan. Or you also risk losing high-quality workers to competitors.

It’s important to note that all of the above defined benefit plan changes could open collective bargaining agreements in place and may affect your nonqualified plan arrangements. Short-term and long-term impacts should be carefully considered.

To discuss the benefits and possible consequences of leveraging your defined benefit plan as you increase or decrease staff, contact your Milliman consultant today.

This blog post is the third of a three-part series on workforce management during the coronavirus pandemic.

Reducing staff? Your defined benefit plan can help ease the pain

The effect of COVID-19 has been devastating for some businesses. In a relatively short amount of time, we’ve seen thriving businesses brought to their knees—some closing temporarily or for good. Others, anticipating a longer recovery period, are considering some difficult changes such as laying off workers.

If your company is being forced to downsize or temporarily close, don’t forget that you can leverage your defined benefit plan during these difficult times. You can make the transition for your employees more palatable by:

  • Offering an early retirement window:During an early retirement window, you are able to offer enhanced benefits to encourage retirement. Consider offering medical benefits to bridge the gap and to make the offer even more worthwhile. Although an early retirement window reduces active participant cost, it can increase the cost of pensions paid over time (but is less problematic with well-funded plans).
  • Lowering Normal Retirement Age:Amending the plan to lower the Normal Retirement Age would allow employees to collect full retirement benefits earlier while working elsewhere. This should be carefully considered as you could risk losing high-quality workers to competitors, and a lower Normal Retirement Age becomes a permanent feature of the plan.

It’s possible you will need to consider more drastic action and close your doors permanently. If you are unable to fund, manage, or administer the plan, a plan termination is the likely scenario. In these unprecedented times, remember your defined benefit plan can ease the pain as you make difficult decisions such as workforce reductions.

As you consider taking action and want to discuss how you could leverage your defined benefit plan, contact your Milliman consultant.

This blog post is the second of a three-part series on workforce management during the coronavirus pandemic.

Leverage your defined benefit plan to retain essential talent

The coronavirus pandemic has completely changed the way Americans work and live. Some employers have been on the front lines fighting the virus head-on, while others have been forced to close their doors temporarily or perhaps permanently.

If your company is one of the “essential” businesses with “essential” personnel—for example, in the healthcare industry—you may be immediately looking to increase the workforce to address the demand. Your older, more experienced employees, who may now be more critical than ever to your workforce, may struggle with the need to access retirement income and remain employed if hardship withdrawals from a defined contribution (DC) plan are not enough. Leverage your defined benefit (DB) plan to retain essential talent. Consider these strategies:

  • Offer in-service distributionsThe Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act recently allowed for in-service distributions as early as age 59½. Amending the DB plan to allow for this could help retain key talent who might be tempted to leave just to get their pension benefits.
  • Waive suspension of benefits for rehired retireesRehiring retired professionals can be easier if you allow them to continue to collect their pension benefits. Amending the plan to temporarily waive the suspension of their benefits during reemployment could make returning to work very attractive.
  • Increase Normal Retirement AgeAmending the plan to increase Normal Retirement Age from 65 to 67 could help retain more experienced, needed talent at work. This change would be consistent with moves in other retirement ages to reflect longer life expectancies (Social Security Retirement Age and, more recently, the Minimum Required Distribution Age).

Your DB plan can be an important tool in your kit as you respond to this crisis and work to retain key talent. Don’t forget to emphasize the advantages to your employees as you communicate the improvements. Working longer will increase DB plans for people who are accruing longer. And, if overtime, shift pay, or other forms of pay that are not base pay are included in pensionable compensation, pension benefits will reflect this additional pay.

For more details on how you can leverage your DB plan to even more effectively manage your workforce, contact your Milliman consultant.

This blog post is the first of a three-part series on workforce management during the coronavirus pandemic.

Can a targeted retirement communications strategy hit the bullseye?

A targeted approach is the most effective communications strategy an employer can implement to help employees understand their retirement plans. Milliman’s Denise Foster and Genny Sedgwick offer perspective on the benefits such a tailored communications approach can have on plan participants in this Business Insurance article (subscription required).

Here is an excerpt:

Most American workers aren’t saving enough toward retirement because they are struggling financially — often living paycheck to paycheck — and do not have the discretionary cash needed to build a retirement nest egg, experts say.

A good retirement communications and education program recognizes this and offers plan members help with such financial fundamentals as budgeting and saving.

The most effective way to communicate these lessons is with a targeted approach that takes into consideration plan members’ ages and other demographic characteristics. The messaging also should be continuous, occurring throughout the year, experts advise.

…“One of the best approaches is a real targeted one,” said Denise Foster, a principal and communications consultant at Milliman Inc. in Seattle. “It’s a lot about tailoring the message to the particular employee group…”

“In financial services, we use a lot of terms that don’t resonate with participants, and they shut down and stop learning,” said Genny Sedgwick, a principal and practice leader for defined contribution plan record-keeping at Milliman Inc. in Seattle. “People feel like they need to be the expert, and they realize they’re not. At the end of the day, participants just want you to guide them.”

To learn more about effective employer-to-employee communication strategies, read this article by Denise Foster, Sharon Stocker, and Heidi tenBroek.

When effective employee communication matters most

Denise Foster, Sharon Stocker, and Heidi tenBroek highlight circumstances when their employer-to-employee communication strategies can help prevent misunderstandings.

Here is an excerpt from their article on effective employee communication:

Communicating difficult or sensitive changes
Clients often seek out the experience and expertise of Milliman’s growing communication consulting team when they are making difficult decisions that result in a negative impact (for example, benefits reduction) or that present additional challenges for employees (such as a new tool or system). We help employers explain why they are making changes—without obscuring the truth.

Sharing good news
Effective communication matters even when an employer is improving its benefits package. One client—without our help—introduced an improvement to their benefits plan. Years later, many employees still think negatively about the change because the communication wasn’t clear. Good communication is especially important when there’s a lack of trust—in such an environment, employees are more likely to create their own version of what happened.

When “nothing changes”
Sometimes a client will change medical carriers and the employer wants to say they are not changing the benefits. But different carriers administer plans differently with real-world consequences for employees. We know the questions to ask and can help employers figure out all the smaller but important changes that may affect their employees, or, if those details are unknown, advise them on how to best communicate with employees that there may be some differences between the two plans.

In addition, what may seem like a minor change to an employer can be perceived as a major change by the employee. For instance, when you’re converting a vacation/sick leave program to a PTO program, it’s important to communicate all transition details. Is it clear what’s happening with the sick bank an employee has saved up? In such a situation, it’s best to create a personalized piece: Here’s what you have and where it goes.

To read the entire article, click here.

Effective employee communication matters

Communicating is key to the success of any business. This new article by Milliman consultants Denise Foster, Sharon Stocker, and Heidi tenBroek offers employers strategies for sharing important information with employees.

This excerpt outlines five best practices:

1. Plan before you launch. Before you get started, define objectives, identify key stakeholders, and create a strategy and plan of action.

2. Don’t sugarcoat bad news. Employees see through and resent attempts at hiding benefit changes that can be perceived negatively.

3. Stick to your message. Determine key messages at the beginning and communicate them consistently.

4. Make sure the managers and supervisors are on board. This is an underestimated group—they have influence over employees and can be advocates or barriers depending on how you treat them.

5. Rinse and repeat. Reinforce key messages multiple times and across a variety of media in a coordinated way to avoid overwhelming the intended audience. People are affected differently by different formats and messages need time to sink in.