Investors in 401(k) accounts may be on the verge of losing patience with flat equity markets, becoming increasingly pessimistic about their financial outlook and shifting assets in their retirement portfolios to stabler vehicles, according to a survey conducted by Principal Financial Group.

The quarterly survey, known as the Principal Financial Well-Being Index, prompted the company to call for an increase in financial advice, urging advisors to remind their clients that investing is a long-term proposition.

Daniel Houston, senior VP at Principal said the protracted market doldrums are a ripe time for companies to provide "vigilant employee education."

Twenty-eight percent of workers said they had shifted a portion of their retirement assets to more-stable investments, the study showed, an increase from 14% three months ago. In addition, a majority of those surveyed said they are "very concerned" about their financial futures. The outlook varies between men and women, according to the study, with 54% of male participants agreeing that they are "extremely happy" with their financial situations. The number of women who maintained such an optimistic outlook was 39%.

Retirement planners, the study showed, are more patient with equity markets. Principal said 73% of its new 401(k) contributions this year have been directed to equity investments.

Meanwhile, the number of workers who have not yet planned for retirement increased to 34% from 27% during this year's first quarter. In addition, workers at smaller firms, those of 10 to 500 employees, are less likely to begin retirement planning than those at businesses of between 500 and 1,000 employees, the survey showed.

The study, which polls 1,200 U.S. employees about their perceptions of their financial health and their investing plans, is a joint effort of Principal and research company Harris Interactive.

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