Forty percent of employers surveyed by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans said they believe the worst of the economic crisis is over. Twenty-seven percent said they did not think we are out of the woods, and 33% were neutral.

However, an overwhelming majority, 87%, agreed that the recovery will be slower than in previous recessions.

To deal with the crisis, 52% of the employers said they have laid off employees over the past 18 months, 49% have imposed a hiring freeze, 42% have frozen wages, and 16% have reduced wages.

Looking forward, however, their employment outlook is much improved, with only 3% planning layoffs in the next six months, 2% expecting a hiring freeze, 4% a wage freeze and 3% a reduction in salaries. Once again, however, this less-bearish outlook was tempered with other news, with 90% not expecting to hire new staff in the next six months.

Employers are also taking a much closer look at their 401(k) or pension plan, with 28% of defined contribution plan sponsors reviewing their fund lineup, 26% adding more low-risk investment choices and 24% increasing diversification.

“The results indicate that employers believe the economy is now working its way towards recovery and that the long-term effects of the financial crisis are not as severe as originally thought,” said Sally Natcheck, senior director of research at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. “At the same time, employers and employees have stepped up their efforts to reduce risk exposure in their retirement plans in hopes of a secure future.”

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