For today's employees, employer-sponsored financial benefits are more important than ever, a new study finds.

The 2012 Workplace Benefits Report found that nine out of 10 employers believe that financial benefits — which include 401(k) plans, health savings accounts (HSA) and financial advice and education — are equally or more important to potential hires today than five years ago, with half believing such benefits are more important than ever.

In addition, nearly 80 percent of employees look at these benefits as a key factor when considering whether or not to accept a new position.

"A company culture known for making investments in their employees' financial wellness, in addition to their professional growth, will attract top talent and foster a more productive and loyal workforce, more deeply invested in the company's success," said Kevin Crain, head of Institutional Retirement and Benefit Services for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "Benefits should be viewed as one of the most important investments a company makes to optimize employee performance, provide opportunities for them to succeed financially and gain sustainable competitive advantage."

Losing current or potential employees over a poor financial benefits package can end up costing businesses in the long run. Potential consequences of not offering a competitive benefits package include high turnover and recruitment and training costs, as well as losses in productivity and sales, according to the research by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

The research found that the majority of employers now feel an increased sense of responsibility for the financial future of their employees, which has led a growing number of companies to start providing their staff with financial guidance.  More than half of the companies surveyed now offer access to professional financial advice in the workplace.

That gesture is paying off for a number of businesses. More than 40 percent of the employees surveyed said the availability of financial education and assistance services at work increases their company loyalty.

"Offering employees access to meaningful advice and education tailored to their life stage and personal situation can help them to take greater control of their financial lives," Steve Ulian, head of Institutional Relationship Management for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

The study was based on surveys of 1,000 employers that offer their employees an active 401(k) plan and 1,000 employees that are enrolled in a 401(k) plan.

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