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The Journey: How companies can improve employees' retirement security

Janet Kidd Stewart, Tribune News Service on

Published in Home and Consumer News

There's a wide gulf between what employers think they are doing to help workers retire comfortably and what workers are actually experiencing, a new survey shows.

Seventy-five percent of employers consider their workplaces to be "aging friendly," but just 54% of workers say their employers are aging friendly, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, which surveyed 1,825 employers and 4,649 workers for its long-running retirement survey. And just 18% of employers offer a phased retirement program.

Among employers, 46% strongly agreed that their workplace is supportive of employees working beyond age 65, but just 31% of workers felt the same. Just 26% of employers said they have diversity policies that specifically mention age.

There is agreement on one issue, however, and it's grim. Just 17% of employers and 18% of workers are very confident in workers' ability to retire comfortably.

Employers could be doing much more to help workers achieve financial security in retirement, said Catherine Collinson, president and chief executive officer of the Transamerica Institute.

"Whether it be providing a retirement plan, extending benefits to part-time workers, becoming aging friendly, or implementing phased retirement, employers can update their business practices and enhance their benefits offerings, thereby improving retirement security among American workers," she said. "They're in a position to help employees even more than they currently are."

Currently, for example, many employers offer phased retirement programs -- which allow employees to work part-time schedules while beginning to draw retirement benefits -- only on a case-by-case basis, leaving workers fearful that if they bring up the idea and it is shot down, they will be marginalized in the future, Collinson said.

"It's a reality of our retirement system that some employers are much more engaged in helping employees achieve a secure retirement," she said. "Robust benefits and flexible work arrangements go hand in hand with attracting employees."

It's all about extending the number of years people spend in the workforce, which helps employers avoid worker shortages as baby boomers age and helps workers finance their ever increasing longevity, she said.


So, if proposing to work long hours over the holiday season in exchange for summers off sounds appealing, pitch it to the boss as a way to cover the seasonal rush as well as providing flexibility to workers. Just be ready to defend the idea: 27% of employers cited administrative complexity as a reason for not doing more with flexible scheduling.

Other retirement experts say automation is the best way to make those confidence numbers grow. The Employee Benefit Research Institute created a model predicting how various household groups, including single females and families, would benefit from having their old 401(k) plans automatically transferred to their new employer when they change jobs. They found significant improvement in retirement security simply due to the lack of "leakage" around those times of job transition.

"Employers can and do tremendously influence employees' ability to save," said Transamerica's Collinson.

Like the old investment saying about time in the market being more important than market timing, the same goes for time in the workforce. Creating opportunities to keep employees on the job longer may be even more important than the contribution dollars flowing into their retirement plans.

About The Writer

Janet Kidd Stewart writes The Journey for Tribune Content Agency. Share your journey to or through retirement or pose a question at

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