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The tight labor market has contributed to wage gains of greater than 5% a year for the American workforce. But nearly half of employees (44%) say there's a perk they want even more than a bigger paycheck: solid retirement benefits.

Appreciation for company benefits is on the rise, according to the 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey from insurance advisory firm WTW. Three out of five say a good benefits package is a key reason to stick with an employer, a significant jump of 12 percentage points from the last survey, conducted three years ago.

This isn’t surprising, says Shane Bartling, senior director for retirement at WTW.

“Given the tumult we’ve seen in the world, people are looking for security,” he says. “We're seeing the importance of retirement benefits jump to levels I haven't seen before in my career.”

Inflation drives retirement decisions

Rampant inflation, currently running at 8.5% on an annualized basis, weighs on workers’ minds when it comes to retirement considerations, as highly visible reminders like gas station prices keep the issue front and center in Americans’ minds.

People are acutely worried about how higher prices will impact their ability to maintain their desired standard of living in retirement. Close to one-third of workers think they will have to remain in the labor pool past age 70 or doubt they will be able to retire at all, WTW found.

This crisis of confidence in retirement security comes as defined-contribution plans have all but replaced defined-benefit plans, or pensions, in the private sector. In 2020, 3% of private-sector workers had only a defined-benefit retirement plan, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (An additional 12% have access to a combination of defined-benefit and defined-contribution retirement plans.)

How to assess retirement benefits

For job seekers, finding out if a prospective employer has a decent retirement plan isn’t always simple. Many job applications mention a 401(k) or similar defined-contribution plan, but it might take some legwork to glean enough info to accurately evaluate a company’s benefit offering.

If you’re considering a new job and you’ve reached the interview stage, Glassdoor career trends expert Tyler Murphy advises asking a few questions about the retirement benefits. “While many companies outline these benefits in the job description, it’s important to ask benefits-related questions during the interview process,” he says.

Use online platforms to find out more: If you have connections to current or former employees through LinkedIn, reach out or ask a mutual acquaintance for an introduction. Search job-review sites like Glassdoor for reviews that mention retirement benefits by using keywords like “contribution,” “match” or “401(k).”

It’s also important to consider the retirement plan in the context of the entire compensation package, career experts say. “Employers are excited about talking about the types of benefit programs they offer,” Bartling says.

Along with the retirement plan, there might be other benefits such as health savings account contribution-matching, tuition reimbursement and other programs that can help you save for the future in other ways. When a company is is eager to have you on board, it will likely jump at the chance to enumerate.

“The interview process is always a courtship process,” Carvajal says.

Ask these 4 questions about a prospective retirement plan

Career and recruitment efforts say there are a few questions you can ask that will help you get a sense of how highly an employer prioritizes the retirement benefits it offers its workers.

How long before I can enroll in the plan?

“They might only enroll people at a certain point of the month or quarter,” says Dave Carvajal, CEO of recruitment firm Dave Partners. While probably not a dealbreaker, an extra-long waiting period (think several months) could be a sign that the plan is more bare-bones than others.

Is there a company match for contributions?

Ask for the percentage or formula for any contribution matches. “That’s an easy number that reveals a lot. That match is a good proxy for how generous the employer is,” says Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of Leet Resumes. Cenedella says a 2% or 3% match is the middle of the road, and 6% is “terrific,” especially if contributions are matched at 100%.

Is there a waiting period for the match?

“Sometimes it’s a whole year before you can start getting the match,” Carvajal notes. If you’re hoping to play catch-up on your retirement savings, make sure you account for that delay in your calculations.

Does your plan include ESG options?

“Job seekers can certainly ask if there are socially responsible funds available, what is the default fund strategy, and are there various tax options available within the benefits,” says Amy Polunsky, global benefits director at Indeed. The answer you get about ESG, in particular, is a window into how that company integrates its values into its operations.

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