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Activision offers paid leave for life's tough times

New benefit trend: Compassionate leave

Most of us know Activision Blizzard for its addictive video games that push the envelope like "Call of Duty." But the tech firm's HR team is also gaining a reputation for breaking new ground when it comes to benefits.

"We have a culture of delivering rich entertainment experiences and we do it with a lot of fun," said Milt Ezzard, senior director of global benefits for the gaming company. "We need to make sure we are supportive with benefits."

Like many tech firms competing for a younger work force, Activision has generous parental leave benefits that offer new parents eight weeks leave to care for their child. This year, the company decided to provide workers access to eight weeks of paid compassionate leave, for dealing with life's more difficult moments.

"I wanted to make sure that we could recognize and support people in other important events, such as the other end of life, when people pass away," Ezzard explained. "If my spouse or my child were terminally ill, I would be gone. I would be taking months off from work — paid or not. So I know that's important to people."

While it's standard for most firms to provide workers time off after the death of a family member, benefits specialists say more companies are beginning to offer support to workers who find themselves as caregivers to older parents and loved ones through a prolonged illness.

"Activision is one of the most innovative companies in terms of benefits… they're really leading the way," said David Kaplan, global leader at benefits firm Mercer. "Facebook has also done some incredible things around dealing with family loss, and providing support."

Milt Ezzard, senior director of Global Benefits at Activision Blizzard

In addition to emotional support and time off, a number of companies are increasingly providing workers with access to services to cope with the aftermath of a family death.

"We're seeing people provide financial counseling, if you have a spouse die, or a parent die… someone to help you sort out the finances," Kaplan said.

Activision's Ezzard feels it's just the right thing to do, which is why it didn't take much to get his boss to sign off on the new program.

"It's not going to happen that often, we hope, but when it does, we can feel good about it," he said.