We write about—and conduct—a lot of research here at PLANSPONSOR, both in our issues and on our website. In fact, it is rare that a week goes by that we
don’t receive a press release or two, or an interview opportunity,
notifying us of some firm’s recent research about a particular
topic of interest.
In editing the story about Millennials that appears in this
issue, I read through multiple studies about this group—and
was, maybe I’ll say, confused about how to reconcile them all.
Now, in full disclosure, depending on what generational definition you adhere to, I may or may not be a Millennial. If you use
the Census Bureau definition (born 1982 through 2000), I am
not, but per Pew (born 1981 through 1997), I am. So, I may take
such research a bit more to heart.
Millennials are an overly studied group—and there are
many opinions on what this generation is or how they behave.
I’m sure everyone is familiar with the notion that Millennials
are overly entitled—that they’ve grown up with the “anyone
can be anything” mentality and the “everyone gets a medal”
guarantee. And, being part of that group—or not—makes me
quite aware that such notions aren’t true of a large swath of its
But what struck me as it related to the research I was
reading was not how Millennials were portrayed. Instead, I was
struck by how much the findings contradicted each other. One
survey found that Millennials don’t plan on Social Security
existing when they retire, while another showed that the group
was increasingly counting on Social Security to be a retirement
Another set of competing studies said Millennials either
are conservative investors, because they lived through the
Great Recession and are risk-averse—or they make risky invest-
ment decisions. Further surveys showed that Millennials are:
a) saving for retirement early; b) saving for vacation and not
focused on retirement; or c) saddled with student debt and,
therefore, aren’t saving at all. This is just a representative
As I read all of these, I understood how there could be
such different takes. I’ve written before about the flaws with
research and the need to be cautious about reporting a study
that examines a topic the survey sponsor represents. However,
that wasn’t the case with many of these studies, which were not
product- or provider-driven.
So first, I thought about similar groups answering the
same questions at different times. There are so many factors
that affect how someone answers a survey question. I some-
times wonder, if I were to take the same survey twice, with a
week or a month in between, would my answers be the same?
So then I go back to the fact that how one answers a ques-
tion is about more than age, which is all it takes to be labeled a
Millennial. As any plan sponsor knows when assessing its work
force, factors such as income level, education, location, family
and marital status all affect someone’s financial wellness and
retirement preparedness. It doesn’t mean the research is wrong,
it just means that, in the case of Millennials, it represents only
a small part of the more than 74 million people in the group.
So what does this mean for a plan sponsor? It means that,
as valuable as research can be to give you directional guidelines
about the challenges your employee group is facing, you know
your workplace best and, therefore, the best way to engage your
employees. You can understand their pain points by noting
human resource (HR)’s challenges or by checking participant
savings rates or by seeing what programs people request. All
of these can shape your approach to helping tiny segments of
each of the generations you employ. After all, something nearly
every survey agrees on is their desire for help in making the
right financial decisions.
—Alison Cooke Mintzer, Editor-in-Chief
It means that, as valuable as research can
be to give you directional guidelines about
the challenges your employee group is facing,
you know your workplace best and, therefore,
the best way to engage your employees.