“If you want to retain top performers, you need to make sure you honestly and consistently acknowledge their contributions. Your top performers are easy to recognize: they are the ones who always go above and beyond to help your client families and your funeral home business. Acknowledging their efforts and thanking them for their extraordinary commitment lessens the risk of losing them to an employer who does a better job validating their talent.”

According to the United States Department of Labor, the average American worker switches jobs every 4.6 years. Considering that most people will work for 40 years or more before retirement, today’s nine-to-fivers can expect to be employed by at least eight different companies throughout their lifetime. Most experts attribute this troubling trend to the preferences of younger workers, particularly millennials who now make up one third of the American workforce.

Fortunately, this trend doesn’t seem to have affected funeral professionals as profoundly as those in corporate America, but it should still be a concern for today’s funeral home owners. The NFDA estimates that the average funeral home will care for 113 decedents this year while supporting three full-time and four part-time employees. With seven people on the payroll and a 4 1/2-year turnover, funeral home owners can expect to spend a significant portion of their time recruiting, interviewing, hiring and training new staff members.

In addition to being time-consuming and frustrating, replacing existing staff members often leads to a temporary dip in service quality. Long tenure results in deeply knowledgeable and invested employees – employees who are responsible for the compassionate care of your client families. It’s in your best interest to hire top-performing employees and, once they’re on staff, to ensure they don’t look elsewhere for employment.

So, how do funeral professionals address this trend and retain their top-performing talent?

According to the United States Department of Labor, the average American worker switches jobs every 4.6 years. Considering that most people will work for 40 years or more before retirement, today’s nine-to-fivers can expect to be employed by at least eight different companies throughout their lifetime. Most experts attribute this troubling trend to the preferences of younger workers, particularly millennials who now make up one third of the American workforce.

Fortunately, this trend doesn’t seem to have affected funeral professionals as profoundly as those in corporate America, but it should still be a concern for today’s funeral home owners. The NFDA estimates that the average funeral home will care for 113 decedents this year while supporting three full-time and four part-time employees. With seven people on the payroll and a 4 1/2-year turnover, funeral home owners can expect to spend a significant portion of their time recruiting, interviewing, hiring and training new staff members.

In addition to being time-consuming and frustrating, replacing existing staff members often leads to a temporary dip in service quality. Long tenure results in deeply knowledgeable and invested employees – employees who are responsible for the compassionate care of your client families. It’s in your best interest to hire top-performing employees and, once they’re on staff, to ensure they don’t look elsewhere for employment.

So, how do funeral professionals address this trend and retain their top-performing talent?

Acknowledge Valuable Contributions
My college roommate recently changed jobs due in large part to a sense that she wasn’t bringing value to her previous employer. She’s a hard worker – creative and talented – but she rarely heard feedback from her coworkers on the quality of her work, and she never received any kind of formal performance review from her manager. Three years after working there, she really had no idea if she was bringing any value to the team. Then, on her very last day, the team supervisor sat down at her clean and empty desk and asked her to not to leave. He didn’t think the department would function well without her, and would she please reconsider?

She didn’t stay. At that point, her loyalty was to her new employer – one who had immediately recognized both her talent and her potential and openly acknowledged the value she would bring to the team.

If you want to retain top performers, you need to make sure you honestly and consistently acknowledge their contributions. Your top performers are easy to recognize: they are the ones who always go above and beyond to help your client families and your funeral home business. Acknowledging their efforts and thanking them for their extraordinary commitment lessens the risk of losing them to an employer who does a better job validating their talent.

This may be easier than you think. One of Homesteaders’ funeral home customers reviews every customer satisfaction survey that crosses his desk. Whenever a client family mentions a staff member by name, he takes time to call that employee to share the praise and reiterate his appreciation. Perhaps you don’t have time to make all of those phone calls, but you could commit to writing a note to every employee at least once a month to thank them for their contributions. The more specific you can be, the more significant the impact on your staff.

Get Creative with Compensation
Many tech startups now offer employees unlimited vacation – the flexibility to take off work as often as they would like to as long as they are completing projects on point and on time. Google is well-known for their spa-like corporate offices, complete with on-staff yoga instructors, nutritionists and massage therapists. Even here in Des Moines, many companies offer on-site cafeterias and fitness facilities.

Why? Because younger workers place greater value on jobs that are fulfilling and flexible rather than those that are strictly profitable.

Given the nature of the profession, it’s not feasible to offer unlimited vacation or on-site yoga classes, but perhaps instead you could offer a stipend for a gym membership or exercise class. When you’re not busy at the funeral home, you could give employees an opportunity to take an afternoon off to reconnect with their families. You could even consider providing continuing education opportunities outside of standard CEU reimbursement – like attendance at your next state association convention or membership in a professional networking group.

These are just suggestions – your staff knows best what will motivate them, so ask! Take time to understand what type of compensation truly motivates your funeral home employees. If you know what your top performers value, it will be much easier to ensure you offer benefits and compensation that earn their continued loyalty.

Promote the Value of What You Do
Many funeral professionals view their jobs as a calling – not a career. You don’t work in the funeral industry – you work in funeral service. It’s demanding and exhausting and thankless. It requires sacrifice, a tradeoff your employees cannot be expected to make unless they truly understand the value of what they do.

Very few members of the funeral profession are company men and women – those tireless workers who toil away year after year just to earn a paycheck. Today’s workforce wants a purpose. We want to know that what we do makes a difference.

Fortunately, you work in a profession that offers purpose in abundance. Take time with your staff after each service to reflect on its meaning and significance to the family you have just served. Make sure your employees understand that what they are doing has value – that it truly makes peoples’ lives better – and they will never want to leave.

Encourage Self Care
Burnout is a significant problem in the funeral profession. Every day, you and your staff are surrounded by grief. Your work is unpredictable and exhausting. You answer the phone, whenever it rings, often sacrificing time with your own family to serve someone else’s. You are never truly off-duty. It’s a demanding job, one suited to a select group of extraordinary men and women. But that doesn’t mean you’re superhuman.

Recognizing that the stress and demands of the job may negatively impact you and your employees is critical when you manage funeral home employees. You should work to create a culture where it’s okay to address issues of burnout.

One final thought: Top performers want to work alongside people who are like them – dedicated, hardworking and talented. If you truly want to retain your best employees, you also need to hire the best employees. There are no throwaway positions in a funeral home. Every staff member matters because each and every one helps set the tone for the families who walk through your front door. Retaining great employees starts with hiring them in the first place. FBA


To learn more about Homesteaders’ Finding Resilience career burnout prevention program, please visit the following: homesteaderslife.com/resilience.

Danielle Burmeister, Homesteaders’ Marketing Communications Lead, joined the company in 2015. The daughter of two funeral professionals, she has firsthand knowledge of and a deep appreciation for the business as well as 10 years of marketing and communications experience. You can reach Danielle at [email protected]