Monday, August 22, 2005

A Hallmark Holiday?

I’ve always had a certain ambivalence about what are generally termed “Hallmark holidays.” You know the ones I’m talking about – the ones that seem crafted for the sole purpose of generating sales for greeting card sellers. Of course, after a while you no longer question their existence – and if one still struggles to remember exactly when “Grandparent’s Day” is, well, we’ve pretty much got Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Valentine’s Day down to a science.

Regardless, I’ve never really been comfortable with ones like Secretary’s Day (now Administrative Professionals Day) and Bosses’ Day. I remember once, years ago, when I was part of a large department that had many “admins,” all with overlapping coverage responsibilities. The fact was, none of them could remotely have been considered to be anything like a “secretary” to me, or any one manager in particular. To me, they were simply part of the team that, like the rest of us, had a job to do, and did it. That didn’t mean we could ignore Administrative Professionals Day, of course. But since there were so many of them, and since we didn’t want to upset the apple cart, the department decided to get everyone the same, relatively innocuous IMHO, “gift.” All of which led me, in a moment of frustration with the process, to wonder aloud why we even had to bother.

At that point, a good friend and co-manager reminded me, “Because, even if we should be thinking about it every day of the year, it gives us an opportunity on that one day, anyway, to pay attention to people we often take for granted.” A point that was driven home to me again on Administrative Professionals Day that year when three separate admins sought me out to thank me for that gift that I had thought was “relatively innocuous.”

For the past several years, the day after Labor Day has been designated 401(k) Day (aside from the traditional association of the day with labor/workers, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was signed into law by then-President Ford on the day after Labor Day, 1974). For much of my professional career, 401(k) Day has seemed like one of those “Hallmark holidays.” Not that you’ll find greeting cards for the occasion at the mall this weekend – you might have seen a note from the Profit-Sharing 401(k) Council about it but, ultimately, your mind was on other things (like planning what you were going to do on the long Labor Day weekend).

Readers of this publication are all too aware of the challenges that confront our nation’s retirement savings system. At times that familiarity perhaps makes it too easy to dismiss the opportunity that an occasion like 401(k) Day represents. Sure, we’re talking about these issues every day – but as that friend reminded me long ago, even a Hallmark holiday can provide an opportunity to pay attention to the people – and things – we often take for granted. Let’s take advantage of the “occasion.”

- Nevin Adams

Thanks to the Profit-Sharing 401(k) Council (and a number of sponsoring organizations), we have access to some special materials to accompany the event. You can find them online at


  1. A rant about 401(k) plans, etc.:

    Why are the rules for 401(k), 403(b), 457, IRA, etc., different? This makes no sense.

  2. Well, they aren't ALL different, and over the years (certainly in 2001 when EGTRRA was passed), many of the nonsensical differences in things like how much you could save on a tax-deferred basis have been reconciled.

    Differences remain, however, although the Bush Administration has proposed bringing them all under a common regulatory schematic termed Employer Retirement Savings Accounts, or ERSAs. This proposal has met with some resistance by those who still apppreciate some of the unique characteristics of each program (see Little New, But Bush Offers Change in Pension, Health-Care Proposals at

    As for why they are different, I would say simply that the needs of different employers - private sector, not-for-profit, and government - have been attended to differently over time for reasons both logical and (apparently) irrational.