Strengthening Workers’ Financial Wellness After the Pandemic

August 2021

BY

Beth GarnerPartner, Employee Benefit Plan Audits National Practice Leader

Wendy SchmitzAssurance Director

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, employers were becoming increasingly focused on helping their workforces prepare for retirement and address other areas of financial wellness. Unfortunately, the pandemic heightened the pressures that many workers face in multiple areas of their financial lives. In fact, more than a third of people surveyed by the Society of Actuaries said that they have changed or have considered changing when they will retire as a result of the pandemic.

As employers look for ways to strengthen the financial wellness tools they offer employees, employers should keep in mind that workers’ needs—and the ways workers may have been affected by the pandemic—likely vary by generation. We identify some of the issues the pandemic brought on for each generation and considerations for employers interested in creating or boosting financial wellness programs.
 

Post-Pandemic Financial Wellness Trends for Each Generation

Gen Z (Born 1997 or after): The pandemic forced many of today’s youngest workers to deal with a major financial disruption early in their careers. Many companies canceled internships and other entry-level positions. Layoffs and furloughs can be particularly damaging for young workers trying to get an early start paying off student loans or saving for a down payment on a home. As a result of these newfound pressures, 34% of Gen Zers say that their mental health has deteriorated over the past year, according to an American Psychological Association survey.

Millennials (Born 1981–1996): Nearly 40% of this segment believe that they will not be able to pay off debt without some kind of assistance, according to a Georgetown University survey. In addition, nearly three-quarters of millennials reported spending $5,000 or more from their retirement savings because of the pandemic, a Real Estate Witch study showed.

Gen X (Born 1965–1980): On average, this group has reduced retirement contributions by 11% because of the pandemic, the Real Estate Witch study noted. Even before the pandemic, 65% of this generation was stressed about money, a Brown & Brown Insurance white paper reported. The paper, however, also noted one area of improvement in financial wellness: a quarter of Gen Xers have increased emergency savings since the pandemic.

Baby boomers: (Born 1946–1964): The pandemic has caused many older workers to take a hard look at their retirement plans and timelines. According to a Pew Research Center report, the number of retired baby boomers increased 3.2 million in 2020; this figure had been growing at an average of 2.1 million from 2012 to 2019. Many baby boomers’ retirement savings were hit hard by the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, and the median 401(k) balance for baby boomers today is about $58,000, according to Fidelity.[1]
 

Financial Wellness Tools To Consider

There are a host of tools that employers may want to consider offering to strengthen their workers’ financial wellness, and many of these tools may have varying levels of impact for different generations:
  • Advisory services: With so many workers of all ages dipping into their savings during the pandemic, employers can offer additional tools and training to help workers across generations rebuild those reserves. Gen Z and millennials may benefit from basic educational training on topics such as buying a home or investing for retirement. Meanwhile, Gen Xers may seek more information about investment options, and baby boomers may need help with catch-up contributions. In addition, workers across generations may have different preferences for how they receive this education: Baby boomers may prefer in-person sessions, while younger generations may favor online and self-education options.
  • Side-car savings accounts: Some workers can’t even think about saving for retirement because they are living paycheck-to-paycheck. This is particularly true for younger workers who haven’t yet had time to build up a rainy-day fund. After-tax accounts may be a good solution to help workers create short-term savings for unexpected emergencies.
  • Student loan debt management: Today, 43.2 million people owe an average $39,351 in student loan debt, according to EducationData.org, and the strain of this debt is particularly acute for younger workers (e.g., Gen Zers and millennials). Employers now have more options for providing student loan benefit programs to help workers address this debt. It is important to realize that this benefit would most likely overwhelmingly benefit younger workers. As a result, older workers might resent that a similar benefit wasn’t available to them when they were paying off their student loans.

 
[1] Insider, Older Americans expect retirement to be blissful, but they may be way off the mark, October 2020.