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Employee Benefits

Businesses Tackling End-of-Life Issues

Company initiatives dealing with terminal illness can ease employees’ minds and lower health costs.

More companies are helping employees deal with end-of-life issues. As the population ages, workers are more likely to struggle with terminal illnesses -- either their own or one affecting a family member. Pitney Bowes, General Electric, IBM, PepsiCo and Tyco International are among employers that offer support of various kinds, including flexible work hours, access to legal and financial advice, and information on hospice care, grief counseling and caregiver support groups.

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The goal of employers with such programs is to help workers plan ahead and make informed decisions about the future, says Pam Kalen of the National Business Group on Health, which is developing a tool kit for employers interested in setting up a program.

Employers benefit from increased productivity and lower health costs. A MetLife study puts the loss of productivity stemming from employees burdened by end-of-life caregiving at as much as $33 billion a year, while a retention study by Pitney Bowes and Tufts University notes that one in five caregivers seriously consider permanently leaving the workforce to deal with health matters.

Still, though end-of-life programs can save companies money, “this is more about doing the right thing for workers,” says Dr. Brent Pawlecki, corporate medical director at Pitney Bowes.

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Pitney Bowes, for example, offers the benefits as part of the firm’s wellness program. Workers get information on end-of-life issues such as hospice and palliative care and the importance of planning for what Pawlecki calls “a normal part of life.” The company also has support groups for caregivers and flexible working arrangements that allow employees to work at home.

The initiative helps to “get rid of the stigma” associated with end-of-life issues, Pawlecki says. “We introduced it as part of our wellness program and to make the point that just as one plans for retirement, it’s important to plan for this,” he adds.

General Electric provides counseling and financial planning to employees who are diagnosed with a terminal illness. Counselors meet with employees to develop an action plan, covering such areas as estate planning, advanced directives, insurance needs and educational funding, among others.

About 70% of GE employees who are offered the service decide to participate. “Most people tell us what a relief it is to them to have this resource,” says GE’s Carolyn Smith.

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