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Pie chart with 1/3 piece highlighted with the letter 'T'When you focus your efforts on specific groups that share common traits, you can create tailored materials that yield greater results. In an ideal world, you could devise one communications campaign that answers everyone's questions, tames everyone's fears and resolves everyone's concerns simultaneously. The real world, however, is a bit more complex.

Older employees' concerns about retirement likely are very different from those of employees in their 20s, as are those of people with children still at home versus those without. Women and men have different attitudes about savings plans. Religion, ethnicity and other cultural factors can affect savings behaviors. Smaller initiatives targeting subgroups of employees will have a greater effect than a universal approach.

Choosing Your Target Groups

You may want to consider a number of factors for choosing your target population(s):

  • Is there a group that is significantly under-represented in your plan enrollment?
  • Is there a relatively small group that would be easier to work with in your first time applying the TLC approach?
  • Is there a group of employees that your management, board members or other stakeholders are especially concerned about?
  • Is there a group of employees for whom helping with savings might also help your organization in areas of public or community relations?
  • Is there a group of employees for whom you believe you'll see the most results, thus helping earn support for continuing with the TLC process with other groups?
  • Is there a group that would perform better at work (be more focused, for example) if they felt better about their savings for retirement?

Segmenting Populations within Your Organization

Here are some ideas for targeting employee groups:

  • Marital status
  • Status of dependents
  • Tenure
  • Younger employees who have longer to save
  • Older employees who will need their savings sooner
  • Lower-paid employees who may have less funds to save
  • Those not contributing the maximum company-match amount
  • Those not contributing the maximum IRS-allowed amount

TLC Timeline

  • Weeks 1-2: Review enrollment histories 
  • Weeks 3-5: Discuss your organization's goals and resources 
  • Weeks 6-7: Decide on target group(s) 

Principles at Work

No one-size-fits-all solution
One of the core ideas underlying all social marketing is the recognition that circumstances and concerns vary, and what motivates one person may not work for another.

The TLC approach applies that principle by targeting subsets of employees. Smaller initiatives tailored to specific groups based on some shared quality or circumstance often have a greater effect in sum than one initiative that seeks to encompass everyone.

Quick & Easy TLC

If you don't have other groups already in mind or don't have the time and/or resources to analyze plan participation at your organization, you may want to focus your initial cycle of the TLC approach on one or more of the three groups targeted in NEFE's research:

  • Lower-income employees (making less than $35,000/year in 2007 and 2008)
  • Younger employees
  • Recently-hired employees

Advanced TLC

While you always can compare enrollments year to year, a control group—that is, a group that is not given your TLC materials—offers the most diagnostic data for showing results of implementing the TLC approach.

This option works best with a large target group, allowing you to randomly divide the group in half and still have sufficient numbers for statistical analysis on both sides: a test group that receives materials and a control group that does not. Ideally, the groups should have very similar characteristics, and neither group should skew heavily in any relevant category (gender, age, tenure, etc.).

Implement the TLC approach as described in this guide, making sure to isolate your control group from exposure to program videos or other materials. After enrollment, use control group enrollments as your primary benchmark for tracking the effectiveness of this process.

For Companies with Auto-Enrollment

Many companies auto-enroll new employees in savings plans, signing them up at a nominal level.

If your organization does this, consider making auto-enrolled employees one of your target groups.

The TLC process remains the same, but your goal becomes educating employees on the benefits of participation to: a) keep them from opting out; and b) encourage them to increase withholdings to get maximum program benefits.

NEFE Research

The research funded by NEFE focused on three specific groups, based on recommendations from HR managers and company administrators: employees who were younger, more recently hired and had lower incomes.

While these groups were the focus for the organization involved in our research, numerous studies indicate that these three types of employees are less likely to participate in savings plans at organizations across the country.

New Employees and Stages of Change

The "stages of change" model originated by James O. Prochaska, Ph.D. and Carlo C. DiClemente, Ph.D. and cited in many areas of social and behavioral research suggests that people rarely make changes in a purely linear way.

Instead, people are more likely to think about making a change, move towards it somewhat, move back some, perhaps make the change and then undo it, etc. Change is a process with various stages that we move in and out of—sometimes repeatedly—before permanently adopting a new behavior.

New employees already are at an active-change point in the stages of change process and often are making decisions about other issues also, such as health care benefits, budgets and other factors that arise when changing jobs or getting a first job.

With that understanding, it makes sense that new employees often are more open to enrolling in a savings plan, even if they never before have participated in one.

New employees can be a key target for your TLC approach, either as a group unto themselves or as a defining characteristic within a larger target population, e.g. lower-income new employees or new employees under the age of 30.