There are happy studies and not-so-happy studies. A good one recently found that chocolate can thin the blood and protect the heart, just like aspirin can. But here's a not-so-good one: According to a Harris Interactive survey conducted for ShareBuilder (which has a berth in our Broker Center), small businesses are rarely the source of comfortable retirements.

That's a big deal, since according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, companies employing fewer than 500 employees make up about 52% of American workers. Roughly 20 million Americans work for companies with fewer than 20 employees, while nearly as many work for companies with 20 to 99 employees. That's almost 40 million people -- and they may find themselves in dire straits as they get older.

Survey says.
Let's review some of the survey's findings:

  • 63% of small businesses offer no retirement benefits.
  • Just 14% of small businesses offer 401(k) plans.
  • Only 17% of small business owners said they feel a strong obligation to offer retirement benefits (while more than twice as many, 46%, said they feel no obligation).
  • 47% of small business owners themselves are not confident they're saving enough for retirement. Women are more likely to be less confident about this (59%).
  • Only 40% of small business owners say they have talked to their employees about retirement benefit plans; six in 10 have never done so.
  • Primary barriers to offering a 401k plan include: feeling there aren't enough employees to make it worthwhile, not being able to afford a company match, and business instability

These statistics made me sad -- especially the one showing how few of the business owners have talked to their employees about retirement benefit plans. A similar talk served as my own personal wake-up call nearly two decades ago. I had been working at a university and socking all my savings in my checking account, unaware of other options. A short presentation at my workplace introduced the option of the 401(k) plan (well, for me it was a 403(b) plan, which is largely the same thing), and I suddenly saw the light. Participating in the plan would help me save more effectively for my future. I immediately signed up, and I'm very glad I did.

What to do.
So what should the many small business workers out there do about this? Well, here are several options:

  • Urge your employer to look into retirement savings plans for employees. One possibility is the Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) plan. As our own Dave Braze has explained: "Established by the Small Business Protection Act of 1996, a SIMPLE may be set up by employers who have no other retirement plans and who have 100 or fewer employees with at least $5,000 in compensation for the previous year. A SIMPLE may be structured as an IRA or as a 401(k) plan." Learn more.
  • Urge your employer to at least offer some informational presentations to help workers learn about their options.
  • Don't assume you're doomed if your employer offers no plans. You can still tend to your retirement on your own. For starters, look into IRAs. (At our IRA Center, you can learn all about traditional and Roth IRAs and figure out which is best for you.) IRAs actually boast some advantages over 401(k)s. With the latter, for example, you're typically forced to invest your money in one or more of a relatively small number of mutual funds, many of which may be very lackluster. (In many cases, a simple S&P 500-based index fund is your best bet.) With IRAs, you can decide exactly where to invest your money, spreading it out among any stocks and funds that you wish (among some other options).
  • Take the time to learn more about retirement planning issues, so that you don't end up learning at age 65 about something you wish you'd acted on at age 45. You might want to find a financial advisor to guide you. (Here's how to find a good one.)

You might also want to tap our expertise -- we'd love to steer you toward a comfy future. The retirement reference resource I refer to most often is our own Rule Your Retirement newsletter service. You can (and should!) try it for free for a whole month. Doing so will give you access to all the past issues, including investing advice, planning tips, and a host of "Success Stories" profiling people who retired early and are willing to share their strategies. Editor Robert Brokamp also recently published the anniversary issue, "8 Steps to Ruling Your Retirement," in which he spells it all out for you -- start to finish.

Appreciate the payoff
A recent issue of Rule Your Retirement recommended a mutual fund that has a five-year average annual return of about 15%. That's enough to double your money in just five years, and to increase it 16-fold over 20 years. The fund's recent holdings include Bio-Rad Labs (AMEX:BIO), Claire's Stores (NYSE:CLE), and InsteelIndustries (NASDAQ:IIIN).

Don't put off planning for your retirement. Every year that your money is left to grow will likely translate to a bigger eventual nest egg for you.

Here's to a happier tomorrow!

Longtime contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written: The Motley Fool Money Guide and The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens . The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.