NASHVILLE — Engaging employees is important in ensuring their success in retirement planning and saving. So how do you encourage participant plan engagement? At the NAPA Summit this week, I was intrigued by these three strategies:

1. Simplify plan offerings: Rather than offering many diverse asset classes, plan sponsors are simplifying plan menus, a survey from SEIC says. As any psychologist could tell you, having a plethora of options can make people feel helpless and overwhelmed, rather than empowered.

2. Communicate wherever employees are: Mobile is predicted to be the top tool for engaging plan participants, according to a Transamerica study. Obviously a must-have is online accessibility to enrollment and the ability for plan participants to check their savings progress online. Additionally, it makes sense to employ actual human beings, to help those personality types who prefer that method of advice seeking as well.

3. Know what type of decision makers your employees are: How do they approach retirement planning decision-making? Are they confident about retirement choices or insecure?

I found an interesting study Lincoln Financial Group did of retirement plan participants. When it asked participants about their emotions when thinking about their retirement plans, the top two were complete opposites: “optimistic” (45 percent) and “anxious” (41 percent).

To better learn about employee engagement, the firm looked at decision-making styles of plan participants and classified them into four groups:

The advice-seeker: 

A more proactive type, actually seeks out advice from a financial professional, uses resources, is more optimistic and confident.

The fact-finder:

Prefers to do research rather than ask for personal advice; appreciates facts and numbers. Optimism as well as some anxiety characterizes this type.

The decision-avoider:

Perhaps in part because of their anxiety over decision making, this type tends to avoid it by taking longer to make decisions, although they may also do a lot of research. Whether it’s a result of information overload or not, this type feels overwhelmed and anxious.

The instinct-follower:

Relying perhaps on gut instincts, this type doesn’t research or rely on advice from others, and yet still feels optimism and confidence.

Which is the group most likely to be represented by your plan participants? Lincoln Financial says the “decision avoiders” are the largest group, with “instinct-followers” and “fact-finders” tying for next largest. The smallest group is that of “advice-seekers.”

So you see what you’ve got to work with there.

The DOL delineates what you must provide to participants. But it’s up to plan sponsors and providers to use the knowledge of their particular employee population to do the best job at reaching out and engaging employees.

See also:

DOL rule: Expect changes to products, distribution & compensation