More than four decades separate young people joining the workforce and older employees looking toward Medicare, Social Security, and retirement.
So much happens in the middle – promotions at work, child rearing at home, health crises, vacations, home-buying. It may seem that the two ends of life have little in common.
But, increasingly, employers, including many 2019 Top Workplaces, see connections among younger employees’ college debt, older workers’ retirement readiness, and recruitment and retention. Saddled with student loans, young workers don’t contribute enough, early enough, to save for retirement. That means they are less likely to retire.
Meanwhile, retirees’ not retiring “on time” costs companies. In a 2017 study, Prudential Financial Inc. estimated that for an employer with 3,000 employees and workforce costs of $200 million, a one-year retirement delay may cost $2 million to $3 million.
In Pennsylvania, 67 percent of graduates carry an average of $36,854 in student loans – the second-largest amount of average debt nationally. Delaware ranks fifth, with 62 percent carrying an average debt of $34,144, and New Jersey is just behind at $32,247 average debt for 61 percent of its graduates, according to an analysis of 2017 debt by the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit that tracks debt.
College-debt burden weighed on Joe McMahon’s mind at McMahon Associates, the Fort Washington engineering company he founded in 1976.
“He very much has the pulse of what this next generation is experiencing, as far as educational costs and not being able to pay for retirement,” said Lindsay Sienkiewicz, McMahon’s human resources manager.
In August, McMahon inaugurated a program that directly pays loan agencies $50 monthly toward each employee’s student debt, while encouraging employees to roll the $50 saved into McMahon’s 401(k) plan. McMahon provides a partial match.
“This was a two-pronged approach,” said Casey Moore, executive vice president, corporate operations. “We found they weren’t investing in their future. They had too much debt.”
Philadelphia law firm Duane Morris LLP “has partnered with various lending institutions to help with refinancing student loan debt,” wrote Andrea Bernotavicius, human resource specialist, in response to a Top Workplaces survey question.
Lori Lucas, president of Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, said “employers are getting more and more creative” in addressing financial issues.
“It’s an interesting development,” she said. “In part, it’s because of a growing awareness that solving for the retirement part of the equation is just part of [employees’] overall financial well-being. Part of it is altruistic – they don’t want their workers to be stressed.”
But, she said, it’s also practical. Companies “hire and invest in young employees, only to have them leave for slightly more pay,” to pay off loans. Companies “don’t want to lose people they’ve already invested in.”
Companies are redoubling efforts to educate about finances. At Graham Co., a Philadelphia insurance company, employees can attend basic budgeting sessions. “That’s really important for 20-somethings who haven’t learned about budgeting and why credit card debt is bad,” said Karen Boyle, vice president of human resources. “It’s pizza, salads. People come; it’s an hour.”
Lunch-and-learns are common among this year’s Top Workplaces. Brinker Capital’s series “helps our employees to better understand ways to invest their money and save for retirement, a new car, new home, or college tuition,” wrote Michele Steinmetz, spokeswoman for the Berwyn financial firm.
Many firms consider financial education as part of wellness programs, joining nutrition and exercise. They’ve also expanded the reach of traditional Employee Assistance Programs to include more resources for financial issues.
“We include financial assistance in our wellness program in recognition of the impact financial stress and uncertainty have on the health, morale and happiness of our employees,” wrote Jacqueline Poquette, manager of human resources at Westlake Plastics Co. in Middletown Township.
So far, these kinds of programs are working out for engineer Christopher Savo, 25, who graduated from Villanova University with $30,000 in college debt.
As soon as McMahon Associates offered its student loan payment program, Savo enrolled, the company’s $50 contribution augmenting the $200 he pays monthly. He already contributes generously to his 401(k).