Given that Americans are chronically short on retirement savings, with nearly 1/3 of Americans having no retirement account and nearly half having less than one year’s cost of living in retirement saved, the need to connect to the future, retired self is crucial.
Motivating employees to save for future events may be one of the most frustrating topics for Plan Sponsors. While we’ve written about a variety of motivational options here before, including using the retirement party of others to inspire younger employees and encouraging retirement saving mentoring, a new motivational tool popping up in behavioral science and coaching environments could be a fresh option for Plan Sponsors.
Behavioral science researchers have long reported that events that are more distant (e.g., are farther away in time) are harder include in current judgment calls. In studies with children and school work, behavioral scientists in 1995 realized that by eliminating the sense of distance by making the future feel closer, children made decisions about school work differently. Those researchers found that the motivation involved linking the children to their future selves more concretely. They refer to this as “identity-based motivation.” The idea behind this scientific research is that an older future self will influence current decisions and judgment if the future self is on the mind of the decision maker or experienced as relevant. At a basic level, current you must feel like future you is relevant.
How can you help an employee bridge the gap from their current self who works hard and saves for retirement instead of eating out more often and their future, older retired self who gets to play with grandchildren? One method may be simply to communicate with the future self. In fact, a newer favorite of the behavioral science and coaching groups is to have the future self communicate with the present self!
A letter from a future self discussing how the current self helped contribute to their quality of life is often used for developing better health routines. Celebrity Wil Wheaton jokes about how he scolds his present self from Future Wil about the need to take care of his anxiety or mental health. The trick behind having a future self comment on a present self may also be that the future self could create more self-compassion to the employee’s current situation. Saving for retirement requires a series of trade-offs on a repeated basis. For most employees those trade-offs can feel uncomfortable or at times even stressful. A future self’s gratitude could be a motivational trick to encourage continued consistency in making good choices.
Research by UCLA’s Hal Herschfield has shown that this method of working backwards from an older version of ourselves improved current behavior. That study intimated that all manner of healthy behaviors could be enhanced through this motivational device.
In another study, participants were encouraged to explore how their health might be in 20 years and to dig into the details of that experience. They were then asked to write to their current selves from that 20 year older version of themselves. The researchers found a significant increase in healthy behavior, specifically, exercising more than those who were more focused on shorter time horizons.
Given that Americans are chronically short on retirement savings, with nearly 1/3 of Americans having no retirement account and nearly half having less than one year’s cost of living in retirement saved, the need to connect to the future, retired self is crucial. Researchers aren’t sure whether the positive or negative future identity has more impact to motivate action, but they have repeated the health studies mentioned above with saving behavior and found them to be useful.
Whichever way may be useful, employees may find a letter to or from their future self to help motivate them into making better retirement readiness decisions. For examples of letters to a future self, Plan Sponsors can direct employees to a large project found at https://www.futureme.org/.
Before leaping into the unknown, we recommend a thorough examination of your plan. Because we are experts in the field, we know the marketplace and know what your existing vendor is capable of offering. Through this examination, we can help you optimize the service you receive.get xpress proposal