Remember the death panel conversations? Well, a more sensitive term for this is an End of Life Planning Discussion. These are great things and everyone should be having them-not just the elderly. We never know when we're going to get in an accident, be diagnosed with a terminal illness, or have a heart attack that lands us in ICU.
We also know that doctors tend to choose a less intensive end of life care than non-medical people. They know more than the lay person, so it makes sense that we should listen to them and learn more so that we can make informed decisions.
However, these conversations do not belong at the office. The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company just announced their partnership with The Conversation Project, which provides kits and guidance for having these critical end of life conversations. Last April Goodyear distributed 24,000 of these kits to their employees and retirees.
Now, I think the Conversation Project is an excellent idea. I wish more people would talk about these things. I've reviewed their starter kit and I think it is excellent. However, I don't think your company should be initiating these conversations. Not at all. At most, they should have it listed as a resource on the company intranet, but they should not be sending these packages out. Why? Here's why.
It's all about the money.
Okay, end of life conversations aren't all about the money, but they appear that way when the person initiating the conversation is paying the bills and has no emotional attachment to the person facing death. When the source of your health insurance (your company) says, "Hey, let's talk about end of life care!" it sounds an awful lot like, "Hey! We're concerned about costs!"
It makes you look insensitive.
Right now, everyone in my family is healthy. My parents walk 5 miles a day and eat cracked wheat mush for breakfast. My inlaws are healthy. My husband and I are healthy as are our children. So, it's easy for me to have an end of life conversation because no one appears to be close to the end of life. If I got one of these packets in the mail, I'd say, "hmm, interesting."
But, what if your spouse is currently dying? While the conversation is more critical then, bringing it up makes you look awful. Imagine being emotionally devastated about your own cancer diagnosis and then finding an end of life care booklet from your employer? Sending out a mass mailing could hit people hard.
The people who should be handing these out are doctors and clinics, social workers and priests. Not HR departments and managers.
It could lead to a violation of federal law.
Take the case of Phillis Dewitt, a nurse whose husband suffered from terminal cancer. When her boss brought up the idea of hospice, everything went south in their relationship. Dewitt was fired for insubordination. She sued saying they were trying to illegally cut costs by getting rid of an expensive cancer patient. Talk about a nightmare. Bosses should stay out of all such conversations-even bosses who are medical professionals.
Trying to jump in and have a conversation with someone who is currently considered disabled, or who is caring for a spouse, child, or parent who is considered disabled can easily lead towards a perception of discrimination against disabled people. While this is not the intent, it can be the perception, and you could find yourself trying to prove that in court.
Likewise, if someone needs time off under FMLA, and the boss starts talking about making decisions and end of life care, it could be seen as FMLA interference. You don't want an employee thinking, "My boss wants me to do X." Decisions about life and death should not involve your boss. The thing is, the boss doesn't have to actually say anything to put pressure on an employee.
You can get caught up in religious messes.
While these packets don't give actual advice and don't say what you should do because life and death are so critical to religion, you can get caught up in that. You don't want your employees feeling like you'll judge them for making decisions differently than they would. Some religions require different actions at life end than others. No pressure should be coming from a manager.
Goodyear is trying to do the right thing.
End of life care conversations are critical. Goodyear is trying hard. Good for them, but perhaps they should stop and think about the problems it can cause when a boss tries to jump into a conversation where she doesn't belong.