You and Your Employer Aren't on the Same Page About Retirement

Workers may see their employer-based retirement plan as a team effort, but it's taking plan managers some time to see it that way.

That's changing, but employees are no less stressed about it.

According to a survey by Merrill Lynch, 56% of employees are stressed about their financial situation, with 53% saying it interferes with their ability to focus and be productive at work. However, among employees who participate in a retirement savings plan, 67% say their employer was influential in getting them to save for retirement. Financial advisory firm Franklin Templeton, meanwhile, found that Americans are almost equally as concerned about short-term market volatility (47%) as they are about not achieving their long-term retirement investment goals (53%).

"Stress over personal finances extends into the workplace, impacting employees' productivity, health and overall well-being," says Lorna Sabbia, head of retirement and personal wealth solutions at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "This confirms our dedication to working with employers to help employees navigate financial concerns and improve their financial wellness."

As financial firm T. Rowe Price notes, more than ten years after the passage of the Pension Protection Act (PPA), 401(k) plan objectives now reach beyond the savings phase. Roughly 41% of employer retirement plan managers say helping retirees manage income from their 401(k) is a major strategic goal for their plan. That's great, since employees can't emphasize enough how worried they are and how much help they need.

Roughly 64% are worried about running out of money in retirement. About 43% of employees spend an average of three or more working hours per week on personal finances, while 21% spend five hours or more. Nearly three in five employees say financial stress has a negative effect on their physical health. Though the majority of majority of employees are optimistic about their finances, 29% of employees who were not prepared for the financial consequences of big life events like getting married and finding a home and 47% who underestimated the financial impact.

It's why half of employees need help with saving for their retirement and nearly half say they would take a more active role in managing their finances if they had a regularly scheduled financial review (50%) or a personalized action plan (49%). That's where you come in, employers. The overwhelming majority of your employees (86%) would participate in a financial education program provided by their employer, even if just 40% would like their employers to take a more active role in supporting their financial lives by bringing in financial professionals and providing access to a personalized financial plan.

"Employees are looking to their employers as a resource in helping them manage a broad range of financial matters," says Sylvie Feist, director of financial guidance services at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "Employers can best meet this call for help by offering programs that address a wide range of financial needs, such as education on building better money habits and access to financial advisors who can offer personalized guidance and more holistic services."

What employers are offering now just isn't working. According to T. Rowe Price, matching contributions are offered by 89% of plan sponsors. Of that 89%, 51% offer a traditional matching formula and 38% offer a stretch match to encourage higher contribution rates. Target date funds are widely offered (83% of plan sponsors) to great effect: 96% to 98% are satisfied with the various types of target date funds, with about 60% rating their satisfaction as very satisfied. However, despite those offerings, 70% of plan managers say they're seeing employee assets dwindle due to defaults on plan loans, hardship withdrawals and cash-outs. However, only a small majority are addressing the situation with an employees financial wellness program to help them manage their day-to-day finances (58%) or education about the effects of those withdrawals (53%). Less than half (47%) of plan managers offer debt management tools and services.

That said, some companies are allowing their plan managers a little more leeway to help employees. Almost half (48%) of plan sponsors say they have a formal metric to track the retirement preparedness of their employees. Those who are include auto-escalation (63%) and periodic enrollment of non-participating employees (55%) to get everyone on board. Almost two-thirds (64%) feel better about 401(k) their employees' retirement preparedness compared with two years ago, withe 64% committed to enabling employees to retire at their preferred date.

"Plan sponsors' behaviors and attitudes clearly indicate the seriousness with which they take responsibility for the retirement security of their plan participants," says Anne Coveney, senior manager of retirement thought leadership at T. Rowe Price. "More than a savings plan during working years, the 401(k) is increasingly seen as a plan that needs to serve employees during their retirement."

But there's still a big gap to fill. Just 40% of those surveyed by Franklin Templeton know, with a high degree of confidence, how much of their current income will be replaced by their retirement plan at work. At the same time, 41% of those who currently have a workplace retirement plan funded through salary deduction -- such as a 401(K) or IRA -- would like to have more (32%) or different (9%) investment options available. Though fewer workers are choosing this option than they did in 2014, 53% of workers still say they are willing to retiremlater if they are unable to retire as planned.

"When it comes to retirement planning, it's important to get the full picture," says Yaqub Ahmed, head of defined contribution-U.S. at Franklin Templeton Investments. "A successful retirement income strategy begins with making smart, strategic investment decisions that align with one's goals and risk tolerance — meaning it's not necessarily about the number of investments in a portfolio but knowing how to select the right ones and how they work together across multiple 401(k)s and investments."

Worried about how to pay for your golden years? Ken Fisher, founder of Fisher Investments, and TheStreet's Jim Cramer will tell you what you need to know in a June 21 webinar on the market trends that are shaping retirement planning today. Register here for the event, which starts at 11 a.m. ET.