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Thriving in a Time of Great Resignation

By Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp, CFP(R) – Oct 12, 2021 at 8:51PM

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And some retirement info.

Americans are quitting their jobs at record rates, and we discuss how to thrive amid this existential labor crisis. Motley Fool retirement expert Robert Brokamp explains the work-to-retirement ratio for saving enough and we answer a question about building up cash in a frothy market.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Oct. 5, 2021.

Alison Southwick: This is Motley Fool Answers. I'm Alison Southwick, joined as always by Robert Brokamp, Personal Finance expert, here at the Motley Fool. Hi, Bro.

Robert Brokamp: Greetings to one and all.

Alison Southwick: In this week's episode, we're going to learn how to thrive at work amid the great resignation. Bro, explains how the work-to-retirement ratio determines how much you need to save, and we'll answer a list of your questions about building up cash amid a frothy market. All that and, actually, that sounds like plenty, on this week's episode of Motley Fool Answers.

Robert Brokamp: You may have heard that many Americans haven't saved enough for retirement. Well, here are some recent evidence. Northwestern Mutual surveyed more than 2,000 Americans for the firm's 2021 planning and progress study, and here are the average amount of retirement savings according to generations: the Millennials, $63,000, Gen-X, about $99,000, and the Boomers, the people who are close to or in retirement, $139,000. Now many factors explained this lack of savings, but one is our declining work-to-retirement ratio. It's a concept described in a few articles by Alex Pollock, who's a resident fellow at the R Street Institute who has also worked at the Treasury Department, the American Enterprises Institute, and the Federal Reserve. As Pollock explained in a handful of articles dating back as far as 2005, the work-to-retirement ratio is essentially how many years someone works for each year of retirement.

To understand how much it's changed, you have to know a few things about the history of retirement. Let's start in 1889 when Otto von Bismarck, the Chancellor of Imperial Germany, created the very first government pension program, and the retirement age was set at 70. Here in America, one of the earliest corporate pension systems was created by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1900, and their retirement age was also 70, as was the case with many early state pension. Now back then, if you reached age 50, your life expectancy was 72. If a typical worker began a full-time career at age 16, works for 54 years to fund two years of retirement, you divide that 54 by two and you get a work-to-retirement ratio of 27. Essentially, someone worked 27 years to fund each year of retirement. Now by the 1950s, according to Pollock, people typically entered the workforce later at age 20, retired sooner at 67, and lived longer, dying at around age 79. They worked 47 years to fund 12 years of retirement, and now we're down to our work-to-retirement ratio below four. Fast-forward to today when a college graduate begins to work at age 22, retires at 63, and lives to 85, that's 22 years of retirement funded by only 41 years of work. The work-to-retirement ratio of less than two.

Basically, just working two years for every one year of retirement. Now according to Pollock's calculations, that ratio can almost work if you save more than 14 percent a year over year career, and that's in line with the general guidance from some of our recent guests, such as Wade Pfau from last week, and Roger Young of T. Rowe Price from our September 7th episode. The good news is that many workers are close to this target. According to Fidelity, the average total contribution rate the 401k is held at the firm, including the employer match was 13.9 percent as of June. The bad news is that this is an all-time high, which means that most workers have likely have been saving less throughout their careers. Also, many workers don't sign over the 401k as soon as they begin working, and consequently, don't begin saving until their 30s or later. Then there's a third of private employer workers who don't even have access to a retirement plan according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the calculus of retirement, you have three key variables: when you start working, how much you save, and when you retire. Slightly too late to do anything about that first one. As for the second, saving more always helps, but depending on your age, it may not be enough. That leaves the third, when you retire as the most significant variable for many Americans. Many studies have found that retiring just a few years later can significantly boost your retirement income. Increasing the age of retirement in America would also help the system as a whole, including alleviating some of the problems facing programs like Social Security and many government and private pensions. If you've already retired, it's possible to go back to work. A study from the Rand Corporation found that 40 percent of workers over the age of 65 had been retired, but then rejoined the workforce. Even part-time work will boost your retirement security. Plus, since wages often rise with inflation, earning even a modest paycheck will build some protection against rising prices into your retirement plan. However, working longer doesn't just have financial benefits. Dr. Laura Carstensen, the Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, was a guest on Morningstar's Longview podcast and she said, "We find that people who are in the workforce do better cognitively as they age than people who retire early." Close to segment with a personal note. In the past few weeks, my wife Elizabeth and I have celebrated two milestones: 22 years of marriage and Elizabeth earning her PhD after three years of work. At age 51, Elizabeth is beginning a brand new career as a college professor.

Getting degrees later in life runs in her family. Her mother earned a masters degree at age 72 while also operating her own used book shop in a Virginia Beach town. Does the idea of going back to school, beginning a new career or starting a business excite you? Do you like your current job but would value doing it less as you get older? Maybe you like your job, but you just need a break and could take a sabbatical and get a measure of rejuvenation. Have you already retired but miss working? Do you have other ideas for replacing the benefits, financial and otherwise that a career provides? These are all crucial questions really that should be a part of any financial plan. As Alex Pollock wrote in one of his articles, "How many years can you afford to play without working, to consume without producing?" If you retire at 63 and live to 85, you'll have been retired for a quarter of your life. Should you live to 95 instead, you will have been retired for a third of your life. On average, that cannot work financially. [MUSIC]

Alison Southwick: That was from an award winning monster.com ad from 1999, do you remember it? I do. As we grow, probably nothing will ever match that kids fierce proclamation, "I want to claw my way up to middle management." As someone just starting out in my career when it aired in 1999, I remember thinking, "Wait, am I just like that kid ruthlessly clawing my way to middle management?" More than 20 years and one pandemic later, what has changed? Are we all still clawing our way to middle management to be a yes man or yes woman? Or is the great resignation changing all that? Joining me today to answer that question is Kara Chambers. She's the Head of People Development at The Motley Fool. Hey, Kara, it's been a while.

Kara Chambers: Hello, Alison, how're you?

Alison Southwick: I'm good. Well, these are exciting times.

Kara Chambers: Yes, they are.

Alison Southwick: [LAUGHTER] Not just for us but also exciting times but in the labor market here in the US. Some going so far as to call it an existential crisis as record rates of Americans are quitting their job. In fact, according to an August poll by PWC, 65 percent of employees said they are looking for a new job, and nearly nine in 10 executives surveyed said that their company is experiencing higher turnover than normal, and it's being called the great resignation. Kara, what's behind it?

Kara Chambers: Well, it's a lot. It's a lot of uncertainty being lifted just a little bit right now. People taking stock, they're finding they have more flexibility about where they can live. You strip away the trappings of an office, and you've broken your habits and your patterns and you're starting to look around and change your mind. A lot of us had a lot of time on our hands in the past year to think about things. I think all of those things are just coming together and there's more opportunity out in the world for everybody. Companies that aren't paying enough attention to the social connection between their employees that are remote, you don't feel that bond as closely as you would in a job where you would be in the office.

Alison Southwick: We've seen companies react in different ways here. Some companies, and again, we're largely talking about companies where employees can work at a desk, they're embracing change and giving employees more freedom. Whereas, other companies are calling employees back saying they aren't as productive as they are in the office.

Kara Chambers: Right. That's what we're hearing or seeing in the bigger brands like Apple and Google, they're getting pushed back from their employees, they're being very strict to you. You have to come in three days a week and we want you back in the office. These are companies that have invested in big campuses for their employees. They want them on site. They believe in that in-person collision. Meeting with each other is very valuable to innovation at work. They're going all-in even though they're allowing flexibility, it's still going to meet a very structured way, three days a week. That means you still need to live near the office, you still need to follow their guidelines. It changes every day, what they're actually doing with the Delta-variant and everything like that. But again, the message I'm hearing is we want our employees back in the office and we've invested in that sense. They're getting some pushback, which is why the headlines are talking a lot about the great resignation, now that I've had all these flexibility I don't want to give it up. It's more nuanced than that in real life but that's generally the message I'm seeing in the headlines.

Alison Southwick: But then there are other companies that are saying, "Okay, yes. Let's go fully remote. Let's do this, complete distributed workforce."

Kara Chambers: Yes. We've seen Dropbox and Shopify virtual first or digital by design, it's very intentional. We don't want you coming into the office unless it's for a very specific reason. Maybe it's to brainstorm, it's to meet, but generally you're supposed to be at home otherwise. You've got flexibility. You can travel in. There's no expectation for you to come to the office. These happened early in the pandemic, I want to say, May 2020. Those were decisions that were clearly made early on of how the office would do a 180 and change and still up in the air about whether they'll work or not. But they're appealing. They've got again, that nice mix of both coming together and working in a distributor way, having that flexibility. Then finally on the flipside, there's companies like Automattic that have been virtual all along. They take a lot of pride being a virtual company where you can live anywhere and work anywhere. They really build a lot of their employment brands around that. They've never had an office. You've got three different buckets and the pandemic just force everybody into one bucket this past year. We're looking to see how things change over the next year, if it will start returning a little bit more to normal.

Alison Southwick: What does a great resignation mean for someone who does have a desk job, who maybe now has a few more opportunities about what they can do and where they do it from?

Kara Chambers: We think if you are listening to this podcast we're guessing you're someone who invest in your career capital. You want to be out there being competitive for the types of jobs that will be valuable to you. You'll have some choices and the choices are going to be different. There's different calculus about where you work. I'll talk about three different buckets. One is where, I've heard the term Zoom town. You want to move out of your really expensive city and then do a cheaper one so you can work remotely.

That's not uncommon. But thinking about what that really means for you, are you going to be the only remote worker on your team if accompany allows that? Where are you going to spending your time, if you're investing in new space, you probably don't want to like four roommates or on the kitchen table. Then start thinking about how you do your work during the day is just going to be a different calculation for everybody now. I think it's slower than people think everybody is not going to flee all at once. People have children and spouses, have schools and different jobs. You're just watching a slow shift over time. But if you're out in the world, you are going to be looking for companies that could offer you that flexibility, but there's some trade-offs to go with it. The other trade-off I think about is when you work there in terms called synchronous and asynchronous work. That means how much you're going to have to be on meetings, are they going to be in your time zone?

Are they going to be at weird hours? You'll have to put some extra effort in the thinking about that when you're collaborating with people around the world. It's a different way of working than being in the office. A lot of companies, we went into the pandemic. We took our workday approach, which is meetings during 9-5-ish, and then we just did those remotely, regardless of where everybody started living and the how their life changed overtime. But that probably doesn't work in the long-term and people are starting to learn that. Paying attention when you're out there looking for a new job, you're trying to optimize your own job is you don't want to be doing the exact same job you'd be doing in an office the same way. This really is not going to be helpful. Then finally, really all knowledge work jobs are a mixture of heads-down work and collaborative work.

The mix is different for everybody. A lot of advice I guess, Fools that I coach is, even pre-pandemic people would come to me and say, "Working remotely is so productive for me." We'll say, "Well, yes, but you work with other people." Just working on your collaboration skills, writing skills are going to be some really important. Your ability to communicate with other people, document your work, all the stuff that seems less exciting, to you now, that's just getting more and more important as a skill to build. Your technical skills will also become more important using Zoom and all the collaborative software that's out there. I think there's just going to be different things to look at. You'll have more choice because our jobs varies so widely. Everyone's living situation is going to vary widely. You're going to be throwing in a lot more variables and none of them are going to be perfect.

Alison Southwick: If everyone's resigning then I imagine as a manager, the best thing you can do is try to figure out how you can retain the best people that you love on your team. What's your advice for managers?

Kara Chambers: I would say the first thing is, we talked about trust in management. We think about how a lot of the headlines are saying managers are demanding employees to come back to the office to see them working. That didn't work pre-pandemic. That was probably a bad idea even if they did require you to come to the office. If you're that type of managers, that want to physically see someone in their cubical, or at their desk, you probably weren't very effective before. Again, if you're listening, you probably want to be better. Just leaning into that over communication, documenting things, again, that sounds super boring, but there's not that side of your desk reading your facial expressions, dropping by conversations. Giving people flexibility, being super clear, that's the number one training we're looking out for managers this year, being super clear about things because it's a lower bandwidth style of communication. Your highest bandwidth is in-person, one-on-one talking.

Then a little bit below that is maybe your phone, your Zoom and a little bit below that is a Slack conversation. You just start losing a signal each time you go. Your job as a manager is to figure out what to use for what. Also it helps to get to know people with their hours or what stresses them out. Spending some time. I love this phrase, small talk isn't small. So joining your Zoom calls early and making some small talk and checking them with people as humans. We tried this on our team once where everybody who joined the call, you had to great the next person by name, so you weren't just a bunch of non-human Zoom squares. Each person that joined, you greeted them by name. It just adds to the humanities you don't feel like you're speaking to and living in a screen every day.

The best advice to give everybody is don't transplant everything you did in an office to Zoom. It doesn't work that way. We're all just going to navigate in new ways of working. What helped us is that we had the all tolerate it because it was forced on us via pandemics. Now that we have a little more choice, we'll all start learning a little bit about what works better for us and what works better for other people. It'll start cleaning up I think overtime.

Alison Southwick: We talked a lot about work that can actually be done remotely because you would largely sitting in front of a computer. But much of the great resignation is happening with people who are in service industries, something you can't do in Zoom town. The highest quits rates in June, for example, we're in accommodation, food service, leisure, hospitality, and retail. Some people say that these jobs are at risk of being automated, with self-checkout lines. I saw an article about a restaurant here in DC. They couldn't hire enough servers to wait tables, so they just got rid of all their servers. Now if you go to the restaurant, you find a table you order from your phone and then someone just drops off your order. How much do you see automation is being a threat?

Kara Chambers: We've been automating all along. One of my colleagues went to a conference and they talked about 50 years ago, everybody sitting at a desk is basically one cell in a spreadsheet, 50 years ago with a pencil and a calculator, maybe not even. It's just weren't getting more and more efficient. It isn't suddenly replaced overnight as long as you're developing your skills and you're getting better as you go, someone is going to have to teach the robots, that's what's I keep saying. Teach the machines what to do. There's a book I really liked 15 years ago by Dan Pink that the talks about this. There are six things robots can't do as far as we know right now. I know Alexa's listening me. But one is empathy. Any job requiring empathy is not going to be replaced by a robot because we're humans and we're social creatures and you need that, whatever you are working with. We'll always be better. Second is beautiful design. People always appreciate beautiful design and that can't quite be done by robots just yet. There's that. Humans like a sense of play, that sense of play in management. [NOISE] I'm so sorry.

Alison Southwick: That's OK. We got dogs in Zoom town [LAUGHTER]

Kara Chambers: We got dogs in Zoom town. Someone wants to play, you can put that in there. Then story, building a narrative is not something a robot can really do right now. Those are some things. Then finally, creating a sense of meaning and symphony of bringing two separate things together. Those are some things again, the book is called a Whole New Mind. It was written 15 years ago, but I picked it up last night and and I was like, "This was correct." Those are skills I think you want to be building in your own career. They're not going away anytime soon. Again, I think about those desks of people with a calculator turning into one little cell in Excel and it's just getting more and more efficient. Jobs didn't go away. As long as you're developing your skills, they're not going to go away overnight, unless you really just didn't pick your head over time. I'm less worried. I think we're just going to get more and more efficient.

Alison Southwick: That's one thing I've noticed over and over again is that the pandemic's effects on industries and now labor even here we're seeing this is largely the pandemic just sped up those trends that were already happening. We're seeing it here with this great resignation. The quits rates have actually been rising for the last decade. In fact, when you look at the sheer numbers, way more people quit their job in August of 2019 than in April of 2021, right before the phrase the great resignation was even coined. The great resignation, it makes for a wonderful headline that we're all clicking on, but ultimately is it here to say? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Kara, bring us home.

Kara Chambers: I think it's a good thing. I think anything that encourages companies to compete for better talent, is better for everybody. At The Motley Fool, we always believe treating your employees well is good business. It is not a trade-off. Those companies, we can imagine the companies that stay ahead, they're treating their employees well, they're carrying, they're looking ahead, they're going to be able to attract the best talent and run the best business so that to me is good for all of us.

Alison Southwick: Kara, thank you so much for joining us. I can't wait to have you back whenever we have another workplace trend to talk about.

Kara Chambers: Thanks, Fools. [MUSIC]

Robert Brokamp: It's time for Answers answers. Well normally on our Answers answers, I always raise a question, and then I do the answer. But this time I'm going to read the question and I'm going to get some help with the answer from Ron Gross, former hedge fund manager and now as Senior Advisor and the Director of Operations for US Investing here at The Motley Fool. Ron, thanks for joining us.

Ron Gross: Thanks for having me bro, Answers answers, does that mean I have to be twice as good as if it was just the answers?

Robert Brokamp: We asked you on because we knew you would be twice as good Ron. [LAUGHTER]

Ron Gross: That's a lot of stress, it's a lot of pressure. I'm up for it. Let's do it.

Robert Brokamp: Our question this week comes from Pat. Pat asks, ''If we can assume that the market is currently overvalued, what are your thoughts on taking some money out of the market and setting this cash aside for investing during a downswing? If you're in favor of doing this, I have a few questions. [LAUGHTER] How frequently would you do it? Is there a percentage of your portfolio you'd recommend pulling out at one time? How do you decide which holdings to sell?'' Ron, what do you think?

Ron Gross: Bro, here's how I typically do things which may be a bit different than some, by no means is the only way to think about cash in your portfolio, so don't say, this is it, that Ron says this and this is the way it has got to be because it doesn't have to be this way, but this is how I do it. Each year I accumulate cash. That's just what I do every single year. I do it as a portion of my 401K contribution. I put all of my wife's 401K contributions into cash, and then sometimes if I have excess cash in the savings account, I'll move that over into a personal brokerage account, so year-in and year-out each year, I accumulate cash.

When I can find things I want to buy, I put that cash to work. Sometimes I can put it all to work in a given time periods, sometimes I'd put a portion of it to work. It just depends how readily the ideas are flowing, how good stocks look, and that's not really a market timing comment, it's an individual company comment. Sometimes there's lots of things I want to buy, other times not so much. There were times when I accumulate cash for quite a while and don't buy anything. I mean sometimes there's been years, I want to say, where I've done that and then the cash just builds up and builds up, and it makes me a little nervous because I bet statistically if someone ran the numbers, I would probably be better off being fully invested at all times but I don't feel comfortable at certain times putting money into the market, so I sit tight, a relatively conservative way to look at things perhaps, but it helps me sleep at night, so I'm fine with it. Times like right now where we are in the market, I want to usually sit tight with my cash.

Things are a bit frothy right now. We've seen a bit of a pullback from the highest, maybe four or five percent, but we see rising interest rates to the 10-year around 1.5 percent. I think there's probably going to go higher, we have inflation concerns, we have supply chain concerns. I'm not in any really urgent mood to put money to work, so I'm happy to sit with my cash, cash is a friend of mine. I'm a big fan of my cash. The one thing I might do or a couple of things I might do during times like this is rather than sell stocks to de-risk my portfolio, to take risk out of my portfolio. I might de-growth it, and by that I mean add to something that is other than innovative growth which I'm heavily invested in as I would imagine most Fools are. A few months back, I added some industrial stocks, some infrastructure stocks to my portfolio. Certainly not the sexiest of stocks in the world but it probably, again, if somebody ran the actual numbers for me, it probably de-risk my portfolio, so I wasn't as heavily invested in high-growth stocks.

These are some of the things I do. I'll just quickly mention, I usually do this anyway but especially during times when I think maybe the markets frothy again, PE ratio, forward PE ratio right now about 22 times pretty historically high, and I mentioned a lot of the other factors such as interest rates and inflation concerns. I look at my portfolio, and I'll make sure that I'm happy with every stock in that portfolio. I also want ETFs like largely ignore those. I'm not going to say whether I'm happy with the S&P 500 or the Russell 2000, that would be more of a market timing concept which I'm not really going to do. But I will look and say, I see it on Facebook. There's a lot going on with Facebook right now. Maybe I'm not so happy with what's going on with Facebook right now, maybe I don't want to be an owner anymore. Now, that's not a recommendation for or against, it just something that I'm highlighting that's going on in the news right now as an example of, maybe I'm going to take a look at my portfolio and see, am I happy with everything that I own. Then finally, times like these where the market is a little bit frothy, I will make sure that I don't have any money in the market that I will need for the next three years. Sometimes we say 3-5, I lean toward the three for me personally. A real-life example is recently, I realized I did not have the final 1.5 years of my son's college tuition out of the market. I simply sold stocks and raised cash. Now I couldn't feel better that if the market continues to go down four or five, six, 10 percent, I don't have to worry about his college.

Robert Brokamp: Because he's in college right now.

Ron Gross: He's in college right now, 1.5 years left. I don't have to worry about raising the cash to pay that tuition. I've got cash on the sidelines for investing purposes because as I said, I accumulated just naturally so if the market goes down five, 10 percent I can then probably put some money to work more readily than what I see available to me now. That works for me. I will say there probably is nothing wrong with being fully invested at all times. If you don't want to play games, you don't want to have to say, how much cash do I want to have, what's appropriate, if you don't even want to be accused of market timing, you probably would be fine to just stay the course. Right now I'm about five percent cash, I'm fine with that. I would not typically ever be 20, 25 percent cash, that would probably be too conservative, but five percent is good for me right now in this environment.

Robert Brokamp: I do something somewhat similar, whereas I determine what I'm going to do with my dividends based on overall market valuations. Back in 2017 or so 18, I start reinvesting dividends letting them accumulate in cash, and then I also developed a watch list of stocks. I would like to buy if they became cheaper. During March of 2020, when everything went down, I bought some stocks at Disney, a stock that I had long lived down, I finally bought that. When I was thinking about how to answer Pat's question, I would think, a lot would obviously determine how close he or she is to retirement. Pat doesn't say but you and I have the same age, early '50s, these are the time of life when people start thinking, maybe it's time to start thinking of de-risking a little bit. Have you thought about when you're going to start setting your portfolio for retirement?

Ron Gross: I have actually recently started thinking quite a bit about it, so it's an opportune time to ask me that question. I don't think personally until I'm closer to 60. I think I will remain 100 percent stocks minus whatever cash I have up until around 60, and then I will probably start to get more conservative and put in something other than equities, bonds, or the typical thing that's other than equities, we'll see where interest rates are at the time. I will start to bleed in some non-equity investments into my portfolio. But I think I've got a good five years of being all equities for now.

Robert Brokamp: Another thing I would suggest that people think about it as tax-loss harvesting as you think about maybe taking some money out of stocks, put it into cash. People often don't think of tax-loss harvesting until the end of the year, but actually now is a good time. Market was down five percent last year. About 100 of the S&P 500 stocks are actually down for the year and some stocks are down big. Zoom is down, I think 40 percent, Teladoc 50 percent, Clorox is down 30 percent from its high.

Ron Gross: Sure.

Robert Brokamp: That would also be another place to look if you want to de-risk a little bit and add a little bit more to your cash.

Ron Gross: That's a good point. I will say if I sell a stock for whatever reason I would prefer to sell it in a retirement account so there's no capital gains tax consequences. But using my Facebook example, if I own Facebook in a non-retirement account and I think it's time to let it go, then so be it. I will take my lumps, I'll pay my capital gains taxes. Hopefully, I have capital gains taxes, and it's been a profitable investment. Sometimes you just got to pay your lumps, pay the government, take your lumps, pay the government, and move on. But of course, I'd rather sell in a retirement account.

Robert Brokamp: Got it. Excellent advice, Ron, thanks for joining us.

Ron Gross: My pleasure, Robert.

Alison Southwick: Before I say, well, that's the show. I need to take a few more Fools who heard my please for help. Thank you, Brian, Scott, Jacob, Kevin, Anthony, Sam, Zachary, Rick, Peter Brand, and Jake, Paul, Kyle, Jason, Amal, Irina, Aaron, Joey, and Donald. We have the best listeners. I've said it before, I will keep saying it, don't we bro?

Robert Brokamp: We do. Absolutely.

Alison Southwick: Now that's the show. It's edited sweater weatheringly by Rick Engdahl. Our email is [email protected] For Robert Brokamp, I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish, everybody.

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