Why Workie won’t work
As we move into the second phase of auto-enrolment (AE), with the arrival of the staging dates for small and micro-employers, we need to be very careful that our message isn’t getting lost. Both the government and the industry need to focus on getting the large number of people still without a pension enrolled in a scheme.
AE is an excellent start to this process and to date the take-up has been excellent. Reported opt-outs have been extremely low (c. 3%).
The AE campaign from the Department of Work and Pensions was until recently focused on getting people to join; the “I’m in” campaign was a good way to encouraging those that were getting auto-enrolled to stay in. It showed that it was a nationwide commitment being made by people in all walks of life to save for their own future.
However, the first phase covered the larger companies, all of which would have HR departments who would be expert in rolling out changes like this to the workforce. It is a particularly different affair when it comes to dealing with small, and indeed, micro-employers, micro meaning that they have less than 10 employees.
The focus by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) seems to be on making sure that employers engage and know their duties. The ‘Workie’ campaign on television, in which a giant purple monster called Workie represents a workplace pension, is very much to this end and it aims to nudge employers into providing the pension. However, its laid-back approach, and failed humour, means that no real message comes through from the adverts.
Rather than dragging employers to reluctantly follow government directives, wouldn’t it be easier if employers wanted to do it because it would make their employees happy? If employees were actively looking to get enrolled, it would both speed up and increase the level of take up. But to get that point, we need to reach out more to employees of smaller businesses rather than to the employers.
In the words of the late American comedian and wit, George Burns, – “I look to the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life”. Getting people to start to look to their own future is key to making them willing and eager to start saving for their pension. Given people’s false idea of their own longevity – study after study shows that people constantly under-estimate it – we need to make sure that it happens.
Workie should be making people realise that they need a workplace pension. Getting them to request information from their employers would push it higher up the employers’ list of priorities. With all the demands on a small business, gentle nudges from the TV ad-breaks are not going to achieve what a direct request from staff would.
The DWP should write-off the £8.5m they spent on this campaign, go back to the drawing board and focus on ways of getting employees of smaller businesses to want to save. After all, if the experts can’t convince the public it’s in their interest to be in a pension scheme, one would have to question if it truly is.
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