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“Crisis” Management: Uncertainty and the Workplace

August 2014 EBRI Issue Brief #403 Paperback, 20 pp. Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2014

Executive Summary: “While the nation is now a few years removed from the financial turmoil that led to the so-called Great Recession, “crisis” is a word still much bandied about. Crisis is, after all, something that cries out for swift and decisive action—and the industry of employee benefits has had its fair share of crises. Whether it’s the looming retirement crisis some see (or see for some) on the horizon, the crippling impact of college debt on the finances (and future financial security) of younger Americans, or the health care crisis that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) was designed to forestall (or that some say is destined to create), those at nearly every point of the political spectrum are challenged with the urgency of the need to address the “crisis.” But do current circumstances actually constitute a “crisis”? A review of the dictionary definitions of crisis reveals the following perspectives: “A crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point”; an “unstable condition, as in political, social, or economic affairs, involving an impending, abrupt or decisive change”; a “sudden change in the course of a disease or fever, toward either improvement or deterioration.” With that background in mind, each year, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) holds two policy forums that bring together a cross-section of national experts in the benefits field, congressional and executive branch staff, and representatives from academia, interest groups, and labor to examine public policy issues affecting health and retirement benefits. This Issue Brief summarizes the presentations and discussions at EBRI’s 74th Policy Forum held in Washington, DC, on May 15, 2014. Titled “‘Crisis’ Management: Uncertainty and the Workplace,” the symposium featured expert panelists who, along with about a hundred in attendance, examined the current and projected future state of retirement readiness, employment-based health care, and the role that approaches like financial wellness can play in alleviating the strains of uncertainty. Topics included:

  • Never Let a (Retirement) Crisis Go to Waste: What’s Broken, What’s Not, and What to Do About It (or Not).
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The Impact of the ACA on Employment?Based Health Benefits.
  • Healthy, Wealthy, and Why—In the Midst of Uncertainty—Can Financial Wellness Work?

More information on this, and previous EBRI policy forums, including presentation materials, agendas, and links to webcast recordings are available online at 

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