Investors appear to have switched gears from focusing on replenishing their balances from 2008’s market downturn to taking all of the responsible steps to prepare for retirement, according to Principal Financial Group’s analysis of retirement plan participants’ behavior in 2010.

“We’re seeing participants shift their focus from getting back to where they were to taking steps to get to where they need to be to reach their financial dreams,” said Barrie Christman, vice president of individual investor services at The Principal. “That’s why we’ve built this year’s report, ‘The Total View 2011,’ around best practices for retirement readiness—enhancing participant engagement to help influence more successful outcomes.”

Principal found that plans with automatic enrollment and automatic escalation had average participation rates of 78%, 19 percentage points above those that did not.

When employers offered a match of 6%, 61% of participants had a total savings rate above 11%, roughly twice the 31% of participants who had a savings rate above that level when the match was only 3%.

Plans that included Principal’s one-on-one planning sessions through its Principal Retire Secure offering, had participation rates of 71% and deferral rates averaging 7%. Those plans that did not offer these one-on-one sessions had participation rates of 59.6% and deferrals averaging 6.8%.

Group meetings also have a positive impact, with 64.5% of employees at plans offering group meetings contributing to their 401(k), compared to a participation rate of 59% for those plans that did not.

Principal Financial advocates deferral rates of 11% to 15% throughout a career to prepare for retirement, Christman said.

-- This article first appeared on Money Management Executive.