U.S. benefits managers may be more aware these days of the need to help workers plan for old age.

Researchers at Prudential Financial Inc., Newark, N.J., have published figures supporting that conclusion in a summary of results of a February survey of 1,218 benefits decisionmakers at U.S. employers with 50 or more full-time employees who are eligible for benefits.

The researchers also conducted a survey of 400 consumers age 18 and older who work full-time at companies with at least 50 employees.

The survey team asked employees about their top financial concerns, and they asked employers about their perceptions of the importance of various concerns to employees.

Participating benefits managers said they believe that retirement income concerns are very important to employees and are trying to address those concerns.

About 60% of the benefits managers called education on retirement a top employee priority, and 58% identified saving for retirement as a top employee priority.

Employees also identified retirement issues as top priorities, with 72% rating retirement education as a top priority and 86% rating actually saving for retirement as a top priority.

About 48% of the benefits managers said they expect their companies to take concrete steps to improve retirement education programs by 2010.

But the researchers found that benefits managers may not recognize how hungry employees are for help with protecting themselves and their families against death and disability today and long term care expenses in the future.

The proportion of benefits managers rating top employee priorities was only 52% for disability insurance, 46% for life insurance and 39% for long term care insurance, Prudential researchers report.

But 83% of employees rated disability insurance as a top priority, while 79% cited life insurance and 77% LTC insurance.

“Employees express great interest in obtaining needed insurance at the workplace,” the researchers write in their analysis of the survey results. “However, the benefits priorities for many employers are elsewhere, and the gap in employers recognizing these employee needs/concerns is surprisingly large.”

In other survey results:

- About 83% of the employees surveyed said having a healthy lifestyle was highly important, but only 36% of the benefits managers surveyed said they thought having a healthy lifestyle was important to employees.

- Researchers identified a cluster of employers that think of themselves as progressive benefit plan sponsors.

About 98% of the progressive benefits managers surveyed rate programs that promote healthy lifestyles as highly important. Only 40% of all benefits managers surveyed rated promotion of healthy lifestyles as highly important.

About 80% of the progressive managers rated educating employees about the disability plan as highly important. Only 26% of all participating benefits managers rated disability benefits education as highly important.