How the coronavirus pandemic has upended retirement plans

A survey revealed that over half of Americans plan to continue working in retirement amid financial uncertainty

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to deal with difficult changes in their everyday lives, particularly on a professional level.

Retirement is typically a time when people can focus on just about everything aside from work. Yet according to recently released survey results, that won’t be the case for the majority of Americans thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Voya Financial poll outcomes, which were announced in September, show 54% of working Americans currently have plans to be employed in retirement. As for the reason, 40% have said they want to have a safety net for unexpected costs and plan for market volatility.

“We’re in a time period where the definition of retirement is evolving and will continue to evolve as a result of COVID-19,” Charlie Nelson, chief executive officer of retirement and employee benefits at Voya Financial told AARP. “However, retirement for many individuals means more than just financial needs and could include concerns of health, but sometimes it means a desire for a mental well-being.”

The poll was conducted in five waves — occurring on select dates in March, April, May, June and July — among 1,005 U.S. adults ages 18 and older in the early part of the pandemic.

Data revealed that even though financial uncertainty abounds, many continue to make saving for retirement a priority. It’s preferred by 55% of respondents to have enough saved to last through retirement instead of getting out of debt altogether. Plus, saving for retirement wasn’t only limited to one generation. The pandemic influenced all adults from baby boomers to millennials.

Among baby boomers who are presently employed, 59% plan to work in retirement because of the pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak also led 60% of Generation X and 49% of millennials to plan the same.

“We’re encouraged to see this understanding of needing to take a ‘long-term view’ exists across age groups, in particular those with a longer retirement horizon,” Nelson said in a press release. “While the majority of generations have seen challenging times and volatile markets before, the findings of our survey and our own data show an even greater opportunity for employers to help their employees address both short- and long-term needs.

“Employers should maintain communications around their workplace benefit offerings to ensure employees understand how the right tools and guidance can help them achieve their retirement savings and broader financial wellness goals,” he continued. "And with open enrollment season about to begin, this is an opportune time to consider ways to ensure employees are taking advantage of all their benefit offerings.”

Speaking to AARP, Nelson said finances were not the only factor in continuing to work in retirement. The website reported 56% of survey takers said they’d elect to remain employed to keep up their cognitive function.

“It’s clear people are thinking about retirement in a more holistic fashion,” Nelson said.