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Fisher 401(k) Viewpoint – 401(k) Wellness in the Workplace Survey

With millions of Americans expecting to rely on their 401(k) as a primary source of income during retirement, there are certain details every plan participant should know. We believe this year’s 401(k) Wellness in the Workplace Survey indicates that a greater commitment to participant education and financial literacy is required of 401(k) plan providers and employers alike. Unfortunately, many employees seem to know little more than the basics about their 401(k)—and feel far less positively about the benefit than their employers believe.

That’s not to say employees don’t value the 401(k). In our survey, we learned over three-quarters of employees (77%) believe that employers show care for their workers by offering a plan. And, 66% of employees say that strong plans help bolster their loyalty to a company. A smaller majority say the plan serves to motivate them in their jobs (53%).

But employees need more information, a point underscored by the finding that more than half of employees failed a retirement plan knowledge quiz. While generally aware of the broad functions of a plan, a large majority of participants still failed the quiz because they didn’t know specifics like the age at which they can withdraw funds without penalties, or even how much they need to contribute to meet their retirement goals.

For participants, the lack of retirement knowledge carries immediate emotional consequences; more than 80% are concerned about running out of money in retirement. And, employers risk staff turnover and possibly hurt their ability to recruit talent when workers are not confident about their retirement plan.

The survey results point to the greater role 401(k) plan providers, like Fisher Investments, can and should play in educating employees about the benefits of their plan, and about retirement planning in general.

Learn more about the detailed findings of our 401(k) Wellness in the Workplace survey, and see if you can pass the 401(k) Knowledge Quiz yourself, in the report that follows.


In our second Financial Wellness in the Workplace Study, Fisher Investments surveyed over 1,000 employees about their 401k knowledge, sense of retirement preparedness, and how 401k education influences their likelihood of leaving their current employer for a new job. One key finding consistent with our first survey conducted in 2017 is: employee’s 401(k) education impacts how much they value a 401k plan, how financially confident they are, and how loyal they are to an employer.

People know they need a retirement plan, but don’t always understand how their unique plan features or personal investment choices make a difference. Our study also found factors like age and gender can signify even greater need for support.

What’s the impact if employees don’t feel confident about their 401(k)?

  • Employees might miss key opportunities to invest the right amount to achieve their retirement goals.
  • Employee participation rates and deferral rates might be low, which can cause regulatory issues with “top heavy” plans, therefore creating a higher risk for audit.
  • Business owners and other highly-compensated employees won’t be able to save as much as they need or want if enough other employees aren’t participating.

Research Methodology: Fisher Investments 401(k) Solutions fielded an online survey in between December 11 and December 21, 2018 among 401(k) and 403(b) retirement plan sponsors and participants at small businesses (5 to 350 employees). The survey aimed to learn what influences the plan sponsor when offering a retirement plan. When conducting this survey, Fisher investments interviewed a total of 1,001 plan participants and 500 plan sponsors.

The 401(k) Education Gap

Employees often learn the basics of 401(k) as they mature in the workforce, but key groups are left out until it may be too late.

69% of Employees Failed Our 401(k) Knowledge Quiz

Many participants have a basic understanding of their retirement plan, but nearly 70% still didn’t pass the quiz. While generally aware of broad plan functions, they were much less certain about specifics. When employees don’t have a good grasp of the details behind their 401(k), they may not take advantage of it as much as they should, leading to less money and security in retirement. They may even end up suffering penalties due to their lack of education.

  • Only one out of four respondents could correctly identify what is a mutual fund.
  • Almost 50% didn’t know how much they need to save for retirement.
  • 70% don’t know when they can use their 401k savings without paying fees.

We found that most employees didn’t pass this knowledge quiz regardless of the size of the company they worked at. In the survey, employees also shared that they don’t prioritize 401(k) education or retirement planning in general.

Gen Z and Millennials Stand to Benefit Greatly from 401(k) Education

The 401(k) Education Gap By Generation
  Gen Z / Millennials Gen X Baby Boomers Total
% of Employees who didn’t pass the Knowledge Quiz 84% 70% 55% 69%

Individuals who have spent longer in the work force are more likely to pass the 401(k) quiz.

On average, employees under the age of 34 had a significantly larger 401(k) knowledge gap. Women also evidenced a higher knowledge gap than men.

Fear of Lacking Retirement Funds is Common

81% of participants are concerned about running out of money in retirement.

While the depth of worry varies by individual, the vast majority are concerned about lacking funds in retirement.

Overall, many employees don’t have the information they need and don’t know where to turn to for help, so they end up either not saving—or not saving enough—for retirement.

Participants can fall behind in their retirement savings simply because they don’t know how much to save, and because they don’t understand the impacts of choosing an investment mix or how compound interest works to their benefit. Employees shared that when employers had a 401k provider who offered ongoing financial education and guidance, they felt 66% more likely to stay with the employer.

Financial advice and guidance isn’t just essential to employee loyalty, it’s also the backbone of retirement readiness. In fact:

  • 31% of those who are satisfied with their plan allow a profes- sional to choose their investments, compared with only 14% of those who are not satisfied.
  • 58% of participants agree that the information they have used makes them feel confident in retirement planning, while 35% feel completely overwhelmed.
  • Just 14% of participants strongly agree they are provided the resources they need to make good investment decisions.

Only 50% of Employees Are Satisfied With The 401(k) Service They Receive

Employees specifically identify a lack of educational support from 401(k) providers. That’s knowledge employees need and want in order to use their 401(k) effectively.

While 70% of employees are generally satisfied with the investment options in their 401(k) plans, they don’t feel confident their retirement plan stacks up against the competition. In general, the survey found employees are looking for better information and retirement planning education from their 401(k) provider.

Employees With Investment Support are More Satisfied

Those who receive professional advice on their investment decisions are more likely to be satisfied with their 401(k) benefit.

By providing the investment help employees need and want, employers prove they care about their workers, and make it more likely they and their employees will stick together long-term.

Bridging the Gaps with Trusted Partners

The high rate of employees failing the 401(k) Knowledge Quiz, across demographics, is likely due to a lack of personalized education and individual support for plan participants. The opportunity to ask questions, as well as see first-hand how individual financial choices make a difference, is an essential step to put employees in control of their own future, including retirement. Educational service is part of every 401(k), so ask your provider how a more robust employee education strategy could start to benefit you.

Employees want to be able to retire and are interested in saving. But they don’t know how much to save, how to choose their investments, or when they can start using their retirement savings. 401(k) providers should be helping employees achieve this knowledge to get on track and stay on track for a dignified retirement. But the reality is most Americans are missing that vital support from their 401(k) providers. That’s why employee financial education and support is such an important component of the Fisher 401(k) service model. We host tailored enrollment meetings for employees, to get them started on saving, and regularly touch base both in person and on the phone to keep individuals on track, too. Our on-call help desk is staffed by 401(k) specialists who provide answers to employee questions about investing, the market, loans, planning and more. Because it matters.

401(k) IQ Workplace Quiz

Fisher Investments 401(k) Solutions is dedicated to helping small and mid-sized businesses with their plans while helping their employees reach their retirement goals. We seek to offer comprehensive 401(k) plan services that are designed to help employees optimize their retirement savings while easing the company’s administrative risk and burden.

  1. Do You Know What a Retirement Plan Match Is?
    Correct Answer: Yes
    87% of respondents answered correctly
  2. True or false: People that take money from their retirement plan before retirement age will face income tax penalties on the withdrawal amount.
    Correct Answer: True
    90% of respondents answered correctly
  3. Do you know how much you need to contribute to your retirement plan to achieve your retirement goals?
    Correct Answer: Yes, I know exactly how much to contribute
    30% of respondents answered correctly
  4. Based on rules defined by the Internal Revenue Service at what age can you withdraw money from your retirement plan without a tax penalty?
    Correct Answer: 59.5 years
    27% of respondents answered correctly
  5. True or False: In most cases, people can combine a retirement plan from their previous employer with a retirement plan with their current employer.
    Correct Answer: True
    70% of respondents answered correctly
  6. True or False: In most cases, people cannot borrow from their retirement plan.
    Correct Answer: False
    67% of respondents answered correctly
  7. True or false: In most cases, once a retirement plan is set up, people are not allowed to change their investment options.
    Correct Answer: False
    87% of respondents answered correctly
  8. True or False: The money I invest in a traditional retirement plan reduces my taxable income.
    Correct Answer: True
    72% of respondents answered correctly
  9. Select all the statements below that describe what a mutual fund is. You can select all of the statements or a mix of some of the statements to answer this question. If you are not sure what a mutual fund is you can select “I’m not sure what a mutual fund is.”
    Correct answer: 23% of respondents only selected the correct two definitions.
    1. “A mutual fund is an investment vehicle that is made up of a pool of funds collected from many investors.”
    2. “The decisions to buy and sell securities in a mutual fund are made by one or more portfolio managers.”

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About Us

Fisher Investments 401(k) Solutions is dedicated to helping small and mid-size businesses deliver successful ‭retirement plan services. Our success is defined by each business achieving its custom 401(k) plan goals and by ‭empowering employees with the dedicated support and resources necessary to achieve a dignified retirement. Our ‭solutions are built on the core principles of providing employers and employees ready access to dedicated 401(k) ‭specialists, flexible investment options, and fee transparency.

The Fisher Investments Resource Library is designed to support 401(k) Plan Sponsors with insights, tools and ‭answers without obligation.

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Camas, WA 98607


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