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Is It Time to Retire Retirement or Just Redefine It?

Call it the “Longevity Boom.” As world poverty falls and wealth expands, our life expectancy has more than doubled in the course of a few generations. Half of the children born today in the developed world can reasonably be expected to surpass the age of 100.

Yes, there’s more time to enjoy life, fulfill goals and dreams, but we know that many individuals in the workforce are not going to be as financially prepared for a longer life as they should or could be. It falls to leadership to help promote financial security in these aging-boom times.

Organizations face real risk to employee productivity and engagement as a result of this financial unpreparedness. For example, in the U.S., people spend about 150 hours a year on average worrying about money. In addition, the broad shift to defined-contribution retirement plans is putting greater pressure on employees to ensure they save enough.

The stakes are high. A recent World Economic Forum study calculated that the gap between aggregate savings and expected annual retirement needs for eight of the largest nations stands at $70 trillion today and is expected to expand to $400 trillion by 2050.

Ensuring successful retirement demands a multi-stakeholder approach—a “triple play” of government—through changes to national pension and retirement systems; through our organizations’ commitment to employee savings; and through individual financial responsibility, supported by employee communication, education, tools, and technology.

What’s Happening to Retirement?

To help clarify what leadership faces in addressing the gap, Mercer recently undertook new research focused on financial security, surveying 7,000 adults and 600 senior organizational decision-makers across 11 countries and key industries. Across generations, geographies and gender, the study confirmed that many people feel financially insecure and stressed, shaking their confidence and ability to save. The top two stressors regarding financial security are nearly tied: general economic conditions at 41 percent and personal health at 40 percent. Following closely at 32 percent is not saving enough for retirement, which is greater for women (35 percent) than for men (29 percent).

Firms must foster awareness and education, and provide the tools and programs needed, for financial security.

The findings show that two-thirds of people don’t ever expect to retire or that they expect to keep working after retirement. Seventy percent of millennials expect to keep working later in life to maintain their desired quality of life. This raises some fundamental questions: Is work the savings plan for the future? Going further, is it time to retire retirement—or, as the findings indicate, at least redefine it?

Increasing official retirement ages and adjusting pension systems are part of the governmental solution, but a more holistic approach is needed to expand wealth and financial security. Since we rely on our health to be able to work as long as necessary, health is wealth when it comes to remaining in the workforce, enjoying our quality of life and not outliving our savings.

Role of the Employer

Therefore, this is the time that organizations need to stay fully involved with employee health care, professional development and financial security. Seventy-nine percent of adults we surveyed trust their employer to give sound, independent advice on planning, saving and investing. The workforce looks to organizations as a trusted source and provider of easy-to-use, secure, digital tools to help navigate the financial seas and choose benefits wisely.

Furthermore, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Whereas all ages and stages lack confidence that they are saving enough to retire from full-time work, confidence is lowest among women. Indeed, among the key factors affecting women’s ability to plan and save are income disparities. Compared to men, women are earning less, planning less, saving less, less able to save, contributing less to savings plans and are less confident in retiring well.

Financial security stress affects the entire workforce—no matter our age, the stage of our careers, or where we live. Acknowledging personal responsibility—that it is up to the individual to save enough income for later years—is widely accepted, but do we as leaders know what actions to take?

To recruit and retain key talent for long-term success, the power of the best benefit and retirement strategies is undeniable. Firms must foster awareness and education and provide the tools and programs for financial security. In a world that changes so rapidly while our lives lengthen, leaders must seize the opportunity to lead the employees who trust them—to help them help themselves.

Julio Portalatin

Vice Chairman of Marsh McLennan
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