Gen Y Workers, Under Financial Stress, Value Their Benefits

Frids Kowmbon 30 January 2010

Young working Americans are worried about their financial situation and thus less likely to ”job hop” than before the recession, and to more highly value health care and other employer-provided benefits, new research shows. But despite their financial concerns, work/life balance and paid time off remain high priorities for them, outpacing retirement security.

The 2009 Fidelity Generation Y study, which looked at the attitudes and behaviors of more than 1,000 employed Americans ranging in age from 22 to 33 years old, was conducted Aug. 19-26, 2009. The survey is a follow-up to research that financial management firm Fidelity Investments conducted in early 2008.

Among the key findings about Gen Y workers from the 2009 survey:

• 75 percent indicated that work/life balance drives their career choices.

• 62 percent said that the quality of benefits packages influences their choice of employer, with slightly more (64 percent) stating it impacts their job loyalty.

• 44 percent believe that the value of the benefits they receive should be tied to their workplace performance, with nearly half (49 percent) describing the current benefits approach as a one-size-fits-all system where everyone gets the same package.

When asked which benefits are a “must have,” Gen Y individuals ranked health insurance first (82 percent), followed by paid vacation time (68 percent) and access to a retirement savings plan (57 percent).

Many young workers (41 percent) say the economic crisis has made their generation more conservative in their employment choices, including a greater reluctance to look for a new job. And while three out of four Gen Y workers feel secure in their current employment, over 70 percent remain ”very concerned” about their finances.

“Their attitudes and views toward their employer and finances are now more conservative and reflective of their parents’ generation,” comments Brad Kimler, executive vice president of Fidelity’s consulting services business. “Yet this generation will be faced with different challenges, including higher debt, greater responsibility for costs associated with benefits and less access to traditional pensions.”

Financial Fears

In addition, the survey looked at attitudes toward financial security and retirement benefits:

• The majority of Gen Y employees (57 percent) believe that workplace savings plans are the best way to save for retirement.

• Nevertheless, nearly half (47 percent) of those with an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan said that managing everyday finances, such as paying the mortgage or credit card debt, is a more crucial obligation than saving for retirement.

• Still, more (18 percent) now consider saving for retirement to be their “most crucial goal,” vs. just 13 percent in 2008.

“Many Gen Yers have become more engaged with their finances through this economic downturn and are recognizing how critical it is to save early for retirement,” says Philippe Mauldin, executive vice president of workplace investing at Fidelity. “However, this is the life stage when retirement is competing with an ever-growing list of financial priorities.”

Roll Over Savings or Cash Out?

Like many Americans, Gen Y-ers believe that rising unemployment is one of the most important issues their generation faces. Whether a Gen Y worker loses his or her job through voluntary or involuntary termination, many find themselves faced with the decision of whether to roll over their workplace savings, cash out or remain in the plan.

Fidelity’s study found that guidance provided during this time might play a crucial role in that decision:

• Overall, 35 percent of Gen Y job changers with funds in a plan stated that they had cashed out of their 401(k) or 403(b) plans during their most recent job change.

• Information on the negative long-term effects of cashing out retirement savings changed their behavior. Job changers who had funds in an employer-sponsored retirement plan and sought guidance cashed out 29 percent of the time vs. 49 percent for those who didn’t receive guidance.

The most common reasons Gen Y workers gave for cashing out their retirement savings were:

• A small balance perceived to be not worth rolling over (30 percent).

• Job loss led to a greater need for the money (24 percent).

• Money was needed for a major purchase (20 percent).

• Money was needed for everyday expenses (19 percent).

Tech Savvy, and in Debt

Among other findings, most Gen Y individuals are using mobile technology to stay updated on their cash-flow situations, the survey found, with 64 percent reporting that they check their balances online typically before making a purchase of $300 or more.

On average, this younger generation holds more than three credit cards, with 20 percent carrying a balance greater than $10,000 and 25 percent believing they will never be free of credit card debt.

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