It’s time to get workers on board with pensions

Engaging employees with your company scheme is a chance to give your most important benefit a boost, says David Boardman

Auto-enrolment has seen millions of people saving into pensions who otherwise wouldn’t have done so. Yet recent research suggests that more than 50 per cent of people don’t understand their own pension schemes, and one in eight don’t know for sure if they have a workplace pension or not. Of those who do know, only 14 per cent are aware of how much they pay in. Most surprising of all, only 10 per cent of those who are aware of their company pension scheme know roughly how much their pension pot is worth.

A good company pension scheme is undeniably one of the best benefits to offer employees. Yet with reactions to retirement and financial planning ranging from ‘boring’ to ‘complex’ to ‘frightening’, according to recent research, successfully engaging employees with a pension can seem a hard mountain to climb. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. The world of pensions offers huge scope for communications that are informative, vibrant and fun. The fact that pensions are typically perceived in such a negative light gives ample opportunity to think of some unusual and engaging ways to turn those perceptions on their heads.

Most important of all is to demystify the world of pensions to help your scheme members understand their own retirement plans. 

The best place to start is with the language itself as so much pension ‘jargon’ can seem impenetrable to those of us who aren’t experts. It’s the same as with Love Island – if you haven’t watched the programme and don’t know the language, it can be a hard vocabulary to get your head around. ‘Stop being a melt’, ‘she is peng’ and ‘I’m gonna chirpse that sort’ probably won’t mean anything to those who don’t watch the show, but learn the lingo and suddenly all makes sense. Those of us working in the pension industry have become adept at working with words of three or more syllables – actuarial reduction anyone? However, cutting through swathes of jargon is key to driving awareness and empowering employees to take control of their retirement planning.

Communications should be bold, eye-catching and fun. Tailor material around populist themes not usually associated with pensions – it could be a song, a musical or even a TV show. We’ve even been known to dress in full sequinned outfits and throw in the occasional dance move, all to successfully get our message across. A theme can spark the imagination and enable you to play with words, even providing you with a soundtrack with which you can literally bang that pension drum. 

More importantly, a strong theme creates a sense of theatre, which in turn can provide a powerful call to action. Using the tried and trusted marketing tool of AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action) is the key.

To maintain interest, it’s important to continue to refresh and reinvent your approach to engagement, and target engagement according to what your employees require. Quizzes can be a useful tool in determining someone’s level of pension knowledge and what information would be most appropriate for them. Also, someone at the start of their career will engage in a very different way to someone who may be thinking of taking early retirement. Frame information around typical ‘personas’ – for example, someone who has just got married or someone who wants to work part time but doesn’t know how this will affect retirement plans. Employees can then easily navigate their way to information that’s relevant to them. 

If you are to break through the predominantly negative preconceptions that come with retirement planning, it pays to be bold. We’ve seen thousands of employees engage with their pension schemes who otherwise wouldn’t have done so. 

David Boardman is director of communications and engagement at MyCSP