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Rewriting the Future of Work and Retirement

Generational Expert Talks Impact of Shifting Attitudes on Workplace Benefits

(Los Angeles, CA) – 15 August 2016 – With the latest in his series of “401(k) Fridays” podcasts, host and Lockton Retirement Consultant Rick Unser spoke with Dr. Joe Coughlin, Founder and Director of MIT’s AgeLab about the dramatic change the generational shifts in workplace attitudes will have on the future of employee benefits.

Unser described a shift to a “gig economy,” one where both younger and near-retirement aged workers would trade long-term careers with a single employer for a series of shorter-term employment options. Dr. Coughlin agreed that this transition was underway.

“Our horizons are no longer a commitment of a lifetime,” he said, “but a commitment of as long as it’s interesting, pays well and I’m contributing to something I believe in.”

“A lot of the clients I talk to and the experts I meet think the gig economy will completely change benefits,” Unser said. “I see the emergence of an exchange platform where employees pick and choose the benefits that are most important to them.”

Dr. Coughlin agreed and suggested this flexibility would come with risks. “It’s going to be very difficult to put on the shoulders of employees the knowledge of what to choose, how to allocate their resources,” he said. “While I see that flexibility probably becoming the new normal, I see a lot of room for individual error. And we will not see the mistakes that were made until 10-, 20-, 30-years out, when it’s too late to fix.”

The need to adapt also creates challenges for employers. “Right now we are administering a 1950s retirement plan in a 2020 economy,” said Dr. Coughlin. “Having to adapt to this entirely new environment of rapid change, we are going to need to re--invent how we engage our employees around retirement savings.”

“Cost will be a huge factor,” said Unser. “Already employers are struggling with rising benefits expense. Add into that the high cost of turnover and training new employees on new technology, and clearly something has to change.”

Dr. Coughlin likened the challenge facing benefits plan sponsors to the Red Queen Effect, named after the character from Alice in Wonderland who had to run faster and faster simply to stay in place.

“It’s a huge challenge and cost for employers,” Dr. Coughlin said. “And as HR professionals meet with their CEOs to try and lighten the cost, they need to make sure they don’t lighten the knowledge of their enterprise… But the struggle to maintain good workers, talented workers, knowledgeable workers should provide the incentive to do that.”

According to Dr. Coughlin, more sophisticated communications will be the key to helping employees successfully navigate increasingly complex benefits. “All the generations are looking for bites, not breakfasts,” he said. “They want the meeting around the corner by the water cooler. They want a text, if it’s urgent. They want an email, if they need to park it. They want the face time, as well, for those things that are truly urgent and vital.

“You have many generations that are short on time, short on attention and short on patience. So we need to have very short communications, across all modes, to allow the employees to choose what they need and when they need it.”

Unser agreed that changing the way employers communicate was important, but he felt the messages themselves needed to change, as well.

“If you want an agile and flexible workforce, and new blood coming through the doors every year,” he said, “The way you position your retirement plan has to support that.

“As an industry, we talk about retirement readiness. But people live so much longer and Gen X’ers work past retirement not just for the money but for the social aspects.

The measure can’t just be about dollars. We have to help employees envision what their lifestyle will be. What will they do for leisure? Where will they live? What will they do after they retire? I think helping employees create their own vision could motivate them to take better care of their health and save more so they can enjoy that vision.”

Unser’s discussion with Dr. Coughlin is but one in a series of interviews with retirement and benefits experts across the country. All of the “401k Fridays” podcasts can be downloaded at Listeners can learn more about Dr. Coughlin and his colleagues’ work at


Joseph F. Coughlin, Ph.D., is founder and Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab. He teaches in MIT's Department of Urban Studies & Planning and the Sloan School’s Advanced Management Program. His research focuses on how demographic change, technology, social trends and consumer behavior drive innovations in business and government. He was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of “12 pioneers inventing the future of retirement…,” and by Fast Company Magazine as one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business.” Dr. Coughlin was appointed by President George W. Bush to the White House Conference on Aging Advisory Committee and has advised non-profits, governments and corporations worldwide.

Rick Unser oversees the ERISA Risk Management practice in Lockton Investment Advisors’ three Southern California offices. He specializes in identifying, managing, and mitigating ERISA-related risk in qualified retirement plans and has earned several advanced retirement plan designations, including Qualified Plan Financial Consultant, Charter Retirement Plan Specialist and American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries. Mr. Unser has authored articles on various retirement plan topics including fiduciary issues, plan compliance, legislative, regulatory and judicial updates and participant education. In addition, he has spoken about many of these topics at conferences sponsored by Plan Sponsor, Profit Sharing Council of America, LIMRA and others.

About Lockton
More than 6,000 professionals at Lockton provide 50,000+ clients around the world with risk management, insurance, employee benefits consulting, and retirement services that improve their businesses. From its founding in 1966 in Kansas City, Missouri, Lockton has attracted entrepreneurial professionals who have driven its growth to become the largest privately held, independent insurance broker in the world and 10th largest overall. For seven consecutive years, Business Insurance magazine has recognized Lockton as a "Best Place to Work in Insurance." To see the latest insights from Lockton's retirement experts, check our website.

About 401k Fridays Podcast
Each of the now more than 30 episodes of the 401k Fridays podcast features a unique topical interview with an industry expert to help employers who sponsor retirement plans learn with strategies to improve the retirement readiness of their employees, streamline plan operations or enhance fiduciary protection. Developed and hosted by ERISA Risk Management Consultant, Rick Unser, there is a new episode posted each Friday so be sure to subscribe on iTunes or on your favorite podcast app by searching “401(k) Fridays” to stay current.

Media Contact
Donn Hess
Lockton Companies
Kansas City, MO, USA
+1 816 751-2303 (office)

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