The relatively few employees who use the advisory services offered to them through their 401(k) plans are far more at ease about their retirement than those who do not, according to the 2012 Mercer Workplace Survey.

The survey found that the 18% of participants who use their plans’ online or in-person investment advice have a decidedly better retirement outlook.  For example, almost half of those who engage with in-plan advice (49%) believe that they will have enough money to pay for health care, and 40% expect to live as well or better than they did when they were working.  That compares with 35% and 29%, respectively, for all respondents.

The typical in-plan advice user tended to be younger, better-educated and have higher incomes, balances and deferral rates than non-users, the survey found.

Suzanne Nolan, Mercer’s administration marketing and communications leader, urged plan sponsors to reach out to those on the lower end of the income spectrum, where she said, “every dollar counts.” The typical in-plan advice user, she noted, may in fact need the advice the least, “given that they often have longer retirement savings horizons, tend to utilize outside vendors and potentially have both more financial and educational resources at their disposal.”

On a more positive note, the availability of in-plan investment advice appears to have increased. Almost eight in 10 participants (79%) said that their plans offer online, telephonic or in-person advice, up from 72% in 2011.

“This is great news for plan sponsors who offer advisory services in their 401(k) plan, as there is a clear correlation between positive retirement sentiment and engagement with these services,” Dave Tolve, Mercer’s administration product leader, said in a statement. “Yet, with relatively low usage among participants—especially when you start to look at the demographics—there is still work to be done.”

The online survey canvassed 1,656 401(k) participants nationwide between June 6 – June 21, 2012.

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