New research from the Council for Disability Awareness indicates sizable gaps in the assessments of risk and protection between human resources professionals and the average employee. While both groups understand the randomness with which disability can occur and appreciate the importance of continued income, HR leaders don’t believe workers are taking adequate steps to protect themselves.

In an advance copy of Disability Divide: Employer Study provided to EBN, only 26% of HR professionals surveyed believe employees feel it’s very important to prepare for a disability; the same percentage thinks employees are, in fact, properly prepared to withstand a disabling event. More than half (53%) say that wage earners “had never really thought about preparing for a disability” and more than a third claim their workers “had never really thought about protecting their income.”

The odds of a working 20-year-old experiencing an accident or illness that lasts at least three months at some point in their career are about one in four, a possibility vastly underestimated by both workers and HR. Forty-four percent of employees and 37% of HR professionals put the odds of a three-month disability at one in 100; 20% of employees and 27% of HR say one in 50. This means a majority of both groups are off on the disability odds by a factor of more than 10.

Indeed employees’ understanding of typical disability is itself lacking. Sixty-eight percent, thinking of disabilities as catastrophic events, say that disability would keep someone out of work for a year or more and 71% think of serious accidents as the most likely cause of an income-disrupting disability. Benefits managers and HR, however, who are more involved with company claims, realize shorter disabilities are common and that illnesses and muscles strains are more likely than accidents.

“The findings highlighted in this report suggest the need for and significant opportunities for human resources professionals to assume a greater responsibility in educating employees about the risk of income loss from illnesses or accidents and help them better prepare to mitigate this loss…,” the CDA writes. “Although the survey showed that workers claim ‘disability can happen to anyone at any time,’ far too many haven’t taken any steps to prepare themselves financially. Take responsibility for preparing employees to take charge of their own health—both physical and financial.”

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