Recognizing that a fluctuating stock market and rising gas prices are just a couple of the obstacles employees face in saving for retirement, many mayors are stepping up their efforts to encourage employees not to lose sight of the importance of saving in the current economy. “We want to remind people that in this $5-per-gallon world, you have to think about how much gas is going to cost 10 years from now,” says Stamford, Conn., Mayor Dan Malloy. “With inflation, you need to think about that.”

To help cities convey retirement information to employees, the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) has organized the 2008 Save for Retirement Initiative in cooperation with the Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Retirement Solutions. City officials that pledge to participate receive tools — including action plans, talking points, and pre-written e-mails to send to department heads and employees — to increase employee participation in 457 deferred compensation plans. USCM also is asking mayors to use National Retirement Week, Oct. 19 - 25, to draw additional public awareness to the issue.

In early July, 131 mayors from cities of all sizes pledged to participate. The new efforts under the initiative will build on what the cities already are doing to encourage retirement saving. “Employees need to hear the message more than once before they reach the comfort level to enroll,” says Steven Montagna, Los Angeles plan manager.

For instance, Los Angeles, which boasts a 61 percent contribution rate to its deferred compensation plans, redesigned its communication materials in May with a “Premiere” movie theme — a tribute to the city's relationship with the film industry. “It's important to periodically change the look and feel of the materials,” Montagna says. “With a mature plan, if you're using the same materials over and over, people tend to not be paying as much attention because they've gotten used to it.” Los Angeles last overhauled its communications in 2000.

Montagna says meeting with all new employees right away also has contributed to the city's high participation rate. As soon as new hires begin, the city arranges group meetings with advisors who explain the benefits and options. To further boost participation, Los Angeles is developing a strategy for targeting groups with low enrollment rates. If a specific location is falling behind, the city will direct a communications plan for employees who work there.

Malloy says that working closely with plan providers is key. Stamford makes its buildings available for advisor meetings and gives employees' addresses to advisors for continued communication. Oklahoma City, which has a 58 percent participation rate in its 457 plan, has started offering seminars that encourage employees to save more for retirement and explain available investment options.

Many providers also have calculators cities can place on their Web sites to help employees estimate how much they will need for retirement or how their contributions will affect their paychecks, and that makes investing more tangible for participants.

For National Save for Retirement Week, specifically, Stamford's providers will be on site to answer employee questions. Also that week, the Oklahoma City Human Resources department will meet with employees to discuss their investment options.

While right now is not the easiest time for employees to put money aside for retirement, “you have to prioritize,” says Oklahoma Mayor Mick Cornett. “Very few people save too much.”

Jennifer Grzeskowiak is a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.