Plan Design Enhancements Can Confuse Instead of Engage Employees
Question: Our company has made a commitment to innovations around plan design - auto enrollment, auto escalation, introducing managed accounts, etc. We are always trying to stay ahead of the curve with investment options and plan design, but our employees are becoming more and more confused instead of engaged.
What can we do on the education side to positively impact employees with changes?
The efforts you are putting into improving your plan may be bumping into three major obstacles: skepticism of financial institutions, the diminishing return of too many choices, and a discomfort with change, especially if you have had to make changes that weren't positive such as passing health care cost increases on to employees or delaying raises. Here are some things to consider:
Adding additional options doesn't necessarily provide results. Barry Schwartz, the author of The Paradox of Choice, talks about how our western culture is deeply embedded in the notion that having more freedom-by way of having more choices-is the best way to "maximize welfare," but more choice actually creates confusion, and employees may end up delaying decisions or avoiding them all together. This has a direct impact on 401k plans, namely that more investment choices have been found to actually decrease participation-the opposite of what employers are looking for. A research study by Sheena Iyengar, Wei Jiang, and Gur Huberman, in partnership with Vanguard Investments, found that for every 10 investment choices offered to employees, plan participation went down about 2%. In effect, employees may be simply throwing their hands up when provided with too many choices.
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