Financial turmoil impacts retirement

by 14 Oct 2008

RECENT FINANCIAL market turmoil has left employees uncertain bout whether they can afford to retire and, while they are looking to their employers for advice and assistance, many employers are failing to deliver, recent research has found.

“For many baby boomers, the impact of recent stock market declines on their superannuation savings means that traditional retirement is not an option – they just can’t afford to stop working altogether,”said David Anderson, Asia Pacific business leader of the outsourcing business for Mercer, which conducted the research.

“Instead, they’re looking to their employer for practical help in preparing for and transitioning to retirement – and for employers that means facilitating financial advice and education as well as flexible working arrangements. It’s no longer enough for employers to just pay a salary and provide traditional benefits.”

The research, which took in 600 working Australians and 150 employers, found that more than 40 per cent of employees aged 50 and over are unsure how much they will need in retirement, and one in four expect to delay retirement until their 70s.

Furthermore, nearly 50 per cent of employees aged 50 and over were dissatisfied with the benefits on offer to them, making them the most unhappy employee demographic.

When these employees were asked how their employers could best help them prepare for retirement, financial advice, guidance and education topped the list. Illustrating the value of these benefits, 74 per cent of those who had seen a financial adviser had an idea how much they would need in retirement but only 48 per cent who hadn’t seen an adviser said the same.

While employers recognise the value of helping employees prepare for and transition to retirement, Anderson said that less than one in three (28 per cent) are actually doing anything about it.

Another major disconnect identified in the research is the lack of discussion between employees and employers on succession planning.

“Employees are looking for ways to reduce the number of hours they work while continuing to receive an income,”Anderson said.

“At the same time, employers are competing for talented people in a tight labour market. However, the two drivers have not yet converged in the workplace with the vast majority (86 per cent) of employees aged 50 and over having not yet discussed succession planning with their employer.”

In a tight labour market, Anderson said that the right mix of benefits can help attract and retain talented people.

Communicating in times of crisis

Be a leader. Leaders don’t have to have all the answers. Tell employees what you know and what you don’t. Explain the steps the organisation is taking to identify issues and resolve problems. Knowing senior executives are there to lead through uncertain economic times is crucial to your people.

Show your strengths. Reinforce the core competencies and values that make your organisation successful. Talk about how they will help the organisation thrive in the future.

Be visible. Credibility, conviction and passion are important messages that only actual presence can convey. Employees can benefit from seeing engaged and informed senior leaders through webcasts or other interactive vehicles.

Use your team. Make sure the management team knows how and what to communicate, and that no-one is a bystander. Limit potential damage from leaders’ informal conversations that are overheard and ripple through every organisation.

Be co-ordinated. Co-ordinate your internal and external messages. Employees should hear company news from the company first.

Share responsibility. Be clear about what you want your managers and your workforce to do. People want to help – tell them how. It’s never a bad time to reinforce customer focus.

Give up the myth of message control. Find ways to listen to what is on employees’ minds. Monitor the press and social media for what is being said about your company and your industry. Have a process for quickly developing and distributing answers to rumours and for clarifying inaccurate statements, such as possible layoffs.

Be humane. Some employees are experiencing personal trauma from falling account balances and home prices. Acknowledge their pain and make them aware of the resources at their disposal, such as the company’s Employee Assistance Plan.

Source: Richard Guinn, senior communication consultant, Watson Wyatt

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