Defined-contribution-plan participants can be forgiven for feeling abandoned during the recent economic crisis, when many corporations suspended 401(k) matching contributions. Employers that took this step at some point between 2007 and 2009 included American Express Co., Honeywell International, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Motorola and Starbucks Corp.

Although sponsors don’t have to report when they stop or resume matches, the Washington-based Pension Rights Center tracked suspensions as recently as 2011. “The 401(k) match is very important in that it provides employees with the incentive to contribute at least to the match level,” says legal director Rebecca Davis, who works closely with plan participants on contribution matters.

Combined with low returns from increasingly lower-risk portfolios, gaps in matching contributions have made it even harder for workers to meet their retirement goals. Sponsors need strong defined contribution plans to attract and keep talented employees, and some of them are trying to recover lost ground by offering better inducements to save. “While the vast majority of DC plans already offer some form of matching contribution, not all have structured those policies as strategically as possible to encourage savings,” says Donn Hess, Kansas City, Missouri–based head of product development for J.P. Morgan Retirement Plan Services.