Top tips on using workplace interventions to boost pensions engagement

Need to know: 

  • Workplace interventions can make pensions engaging, interesting and even fun for employees who might not have thought about them previously.
  • Combining group and one-to-one sessions, as well as open dialogue with the audience, can ensure a wide range of employees are catered for.
  • Marketing techniques, such as attention-grabbing events, free food and giveaways, will draw employees in, as well as reminding them of key lessons down the line.

With 72% of employees admitting that they are not actively engaged with their workplace pension, according to research by Atlas Master Trust, published in September 2019, and only 39% of HR professionals feeling very satisfied with their efforts to drive engagement, pension communications evidently need a boost.

However, the average employee receives an unwieldy number of digital communications, both personal and professional; complex, technical and often far-off subjects like pensions are likely to get lost in the noise.

Linda Whorlow, managing director at Aegon, says: “If we can make saving for retirement relevant, interesting, even fun, then that engagement means that what can be seen as a rather dry and complicated subject [can] get a greater understanding. It’s about creating that high level of energy and interest.”

Workplace interventions take time and effort to create, particularly when employees are spread across diverse locations and job types, but the payoff for both employer and employee can be substantial.

Think about timing

First of all, it is important to consider the placement of workplace events. Asking employees to give up their personal hours is likely to cause lower attendance, for example, but allowing them to take time out of their working day can have the added benefit of demonstrating the value the employer places on the issue.

Time of year is also important, says Lydia Fearn, head of defined contribution (DC) and financial wellbeing at Redington: “Try and get that conversation happening at the right moment, when they’ve got potentially less pressure on them, or they’re able to think more clearly about their future, which tends to be around the pay review time.”

Consider the delivery

As with many walks of life, different formats will appeal to different people. Some employees, for example, will respond better to the opportunity for a one-to-one chat, while others would prefer to attend a more general group seminar.

This might depend on their financial position or career history, says Fearn: “One-to-ones tend to help the people who have more complex problems. They’re the ones that tend to want a bit more specialist guidance. [Otherwise,] we find that workshop environments are more beneficial.”

One can lead into the other, and benefit employees in different ways, says Phil Farrell, partner at Quantum Advisory. Following a presentation for example, some employees would like a one-to-one as well. “People get some more benefit out of [group presentations] as well as having the opportunity to engage on a one-to-one level,” he says.

The consensus appears to be that group events, such as seminars, presentations and workshops, are a must. “There are a lot of misconceptions in the area of pensions that can really come out in the delivery of a group presentation,” says Farrell. “[Employers] wouldn’t get that if [they] were issuing a one-directional communication.”

Drilling down into this, there are some key recommendations for making these successful: presentations should be short, high-level and to-the-point, avoiding jargon and technicalities and providing the opportunity for back and forth.

“It can come down to the skill of the presenter, but there are always folk that will be apprehensive about asking questions,” explains Whorlow. “Some [organisations] have big notice boards where [employees] can put up anonymised questions, and we can answer them that way.

“It should be a blend of techniques to make sure we cover the whole population, not just the individuals who are asking the questions.”

Keep it relevant

Dividing the workforce into cohorts with different attitudes or needs can help to ensure the messages being relayed are as relevant as possible.

Fearn says: “Typically, [employers] have a new joiner presentation, but actually what [they] might want to do is talk to people who have never been in a pension scheme before, graduates or younger people, versus people who have had or are in pension schemes already. Separating those cohorts is quite powerful.

Employers could also gather feedback from employees themselves about their concerns and needs, to ensure the most pressing and relevant issues are being covered.

Create engaging promotions

Banners, posters, desk drops and other methods of promotion both digitally and around the physical workplace can be used to gain maximum attendance.

Workplace interventions can also be boosted for maximum effect using similar methods as might be employed when creating a consumer campaign. This might mean focusing an event around a free coffee cart or a fun event in a communal area. In addition, providers can include branded giveaways, leaving attendees with a visual reminder of the learnings from the day to keep in their workspace.

“It could well be a coffee cup, stress balls, [or] caricatures, [it is about] attracting attention and making it interesting,” says Whorlow. “It attracts people who ordinarily wouldn’t be interested, and perhaps that younger generation as well, who might see this as quite a dry area.”

Bring in the bigger picture

For many employees, pensions pale in comparison to other financial concerns. Employers should consider positioning this topic within a wider employee value proposition that takes into account broader concerns. Simply undertaking a pension engagement exercise during a larger benefits fair might be all it takes.

On a deeper level, employers could create a series of seminars placing retirement in the context of overall financial wellbeing; for example, educating staff about the knock-on effects of getting on the property ladder earlier on.

Farrell says: “The thing that we are seeing employers doing now is taking the opportunity to combine pensions communications with other elements of their benefits package, to give people a better, more rounded holistic view of what their employer is providing for them.”

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