Retirement Planning Education for Employees: Track and Stack

Humans are creatures of habit, which explains why starting a new habit is so hard. Habit stacking helps overcome the hurdle to starting a new habit by adding it to one already existing.

As Quarter 4 draws near, Plan Sponsors may be wondering how they can help employees capture the end of the year energy to plan for retirement. One of our new favorite ways is to combine a well-known method with a newer system: track and stack. Tracking habits and progress towards goals is a method known to help motivate employees towards goals. But habit stacking is a new method that is stirring up a lot of interest for its impact.

Before you can track or stack a goal, making sure you’ve set a goal appropriately can ensure success. We’ve covered goal setting before in articles for Plan Sponsors as well as Financial Advisors. This includes making sure you’ve set a goal with an appropriate expectation and one that has clear milestones. Part of this process is also to make the unknown known. Knowing expectations as well as sitting with how to make goals quantifiable. That may include identifying knowledge gaps. Plan sponsors can help employees set appropriate goals, ones that can be measured, by asking employees to identify their own gaps and providing education in those identified areas.

But setting goals with metrics does not mean setting goals based on what you can compare to others. Doing so will short-sight important differences. That is, comparison-based tracking will ignore inherent skills or talents of the goal-setter. Comparison should focus on apples to apples: you to previous you, not you to someone else. That means setting individual-based benchmarks to use for tracking.

When you are ready to get cracking on goal tracking, the key to highlight is not to have one method of tracking but instead to emphasize how often those goals are tracked. Some employees may want to track via spreadsheet, others in more visual ways with posters or stacking rings. Plan Sponsors can help employees by providing templates for tracking goals. Sponsors can also help employees with this goal tracking process by helping them identify common surprises or unplanned events. By noting those common surprises, employees may be able to identify potential problems ahead of time. Plan Sponsors can also help employees stick with goals by encouraging employees to use their goal tracking systems as a way to communicate their goals with others.

The next step beyond goal tracking is to look at the habits needed to accomplish those goals. Tracking habits is essential. Plan sponsors may want to offer the same templates and suggestions for tracking habits as for measuring goals. Plan sponsors may help employees to identify habits needed for specific goals. For example, if an employee’s goal is to save up for an emergency fund, tracking the amount in the emergency fund is essential. The habit needed for saving that emergency fund may be budgeting weekly. Tracking that habit can help increase the habit by the employee. And to go a step further, for employees who struggle to start habits, a new trend may be right on time.

Humans are creatures of habit, which explains why starting a new habit is so hard. Habit stacking helps overcome the hurdle to starting a new habit by adding it to one already existing. “The concept of habit stacking was pioneered by James Clear, author of the New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits, and it is designed to help individuals incorporate more healthy behaviors into their lives without disrupting their normal routine.”[1] Which habits can be stacked? Experts suggest starting with those with the following characteristics: the habit is short, simple, and complete in itself; stacking the new habit is logical and can follow a checklist; and easily fits into your life.[2] Plan Sponsors may even be able to help employees stack at work. Can employees check their retirement accounts on their secure accounts via an ap? Why not remind them of that at the coffee station? Does your human resources office offer wellness programs like group walking, mindfulness, or wellness days? Ask if habit stacking can be included in those days. The best way to know what will benefit your employees the most is to ask them! Employees may have suggestions for how Plan Sponsors can help them celebrate habits.



These articles are prepared for general purposes and are not intended to provide advice or encourage specific behavior. Before taking any action, Advisors and Plan Sponsors should consult with their compliance, finance and legal teams.

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