With more and more of our generation’s college graduates joining the ranks of the service industry, there has never been a stronger need for employers to offer 401k retirement plans. A few pioneering corporations have answered the call and are beginning to offer great benefits.
Perhaps it would be helpful to those just entering the job market to explain exactly what 401k plans are. Having a 401k means employees can choose to put a certain percentage of their wages into an account before income tax applies and will not pay any taxes until they access the account after retirement. It’s essentially a tax break that helps people save money to support themselves when they eventually retire. Until now, it has been most closely associated with professional, full-time careers, rather than part-time and other jobs which do not require a college degree. Another important aspect of the arrangement is that employers often agree to match a certain amount of what employees choose to save, which can double the savings in best case scenarios.
The company that first comes to mind when thinking about service industry employers with 401k plans is Starbucks. In their system, benefits are available to what they call “benefits-eligible partners” (I.e. those who work more than 20 hours a week). The benefits include bonuses, health insurance, and discounted stock purchasing options. Their 401k options allow for a range of 25 to 125 per cent matching of employee contributions up to 4 per cent of total salary. That, in combination with the free pound of coffee to which Starbucks employees are entitled, likely makes for some very happy employees.
Whole Foods, another forward-thinking corporation, not only has a reputation for paying its customers more than competing grocers, but offers more than 30 options for 401k retirement plans. The fund, which is set up through Fidelity NetBenefits has over 4,500 participants and contains $379,087,293, according to Future Advisor. The average 401k balance for those who choose to participate is about $8,000.
For today’s workforce, it is definitely a good thing that more employers are participating in retirement funds. However, things aren’t perfect. One employer, Darden Restaurant, that already has a reputation for its terrible 401k plan, made headlines by making changes to the retirement plants to make them even worse. The company owns several nationwide high volume restaurant chains including Olive Garden, Long Horn Steakhouse, and Red Lobster, so perhaps it’s not surprising that they provide less than the most personal care to their employees. Only around 13 per cent of Darden employees participate in the unpopular program, and with stock prices falling, the options to invest retirement savings aren’t great.
For now, it seems the options vary from great plans like Starbucks offers to not-so-enticing offerings from Darden Restaurant. Only time will tell if the examples set by progressive employers will gain a majority following.