When my husband and I were in pre-marital counseling, our pastor asked us to complete a short questionnaire to identify relational strengths and sources of conflict. Among many attributes, the test measured our individual propensities toward stress. On a 100-point scale, my husband scored a 10. I scored a 90.
Our friends and family members were not surprised.
While there’s no scientific explanation for why some individuals are more disposed to stress than others, certain environmental factors significantly increase its occurrence – like erratic schedules, emotionally charged workplaces and long hours. As funeral professionals, you likely experience one (or all) of these complications on a regular basis and function under a corresponding level of workplace stress.
Here are a few ways you can manage stress at the funeral home to ensure you’re remaining productive, efficient and effective.
1. Identify your optimum stress level.
It’s important to remember that stress is not the same thing as distress, and a small-to-moderate amount can actually increase productivity. Psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson confirmed this, noting that optimum productivity results from a moderate level of stress – rather than no stress at all. That’s where the old adage “performing under pressure” comes into play.
Some people – like me – enjoy a little stress because it pushes us past our comfort zone and motivates us to tackle new challenges. For others – like my husband – stress serves as a nuisance rather than a catalyst for change.
As funeral professionals, your first goal should be to identify what level of stress produces your optimum productivity. Then, you can take steps to manage workplace stressors to ensure you are operating in conditions conducive to your very best work.
2. Know which situations are likely to cause the most stress, and handle those first.
When I was in college, money was a major source of anxiety. Juggling rent, utilities and insurance for the first time was overwhelming and confusing. So, I ignored the problem, avoided balancing my checkbook and waited until the last possible moment to pay bills. As a result, I was in a constant state of anxiety. My avoidance became its own source of stress – not only was I worried about money, I was worried about worrying about money.
Procrastinating stressful activities is the quickest way to produce more stress. That’s why it’s important to identify those things that cause the most anxiety and tackle them first before they pile on additional pressure.
Mark Twain once wrote, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Getting the unpleasant, stressful tasks out of the way first makes it easier to focus on the simpler ones later in the day when your motivation and concentration start to wane. It also lessens the likelihood your most frustrating tasks will cause increased stress throughout the day.
3. Share emotional stress with someone you trust.
Funeral professionals confront grief on a daily basis, and particularly complicated services or tragic losses can have a profound impact on the level of workplace stress.
A few years ago, Scott Janssen, owner of Janssen Funeral Homes in Alaska, faced intense emotional stress after caring for the families of 24 airmen killed in an AWAC plane crash just outside of Anchorage. Scott battled insomnia, but felt uncomfortable sharing his struggle. “The privacy and dignity we put into what we do is of upmost importance,” he reflected. “So, who do you talk to when you’re dealing with something like that?”
Scott decided to share some of his experience with trusted members of his staff, which helped alleviate the emotional stress he was experiencing without violating the privacy of his client families. “There’s a saying we share with families all the time: Grief shared is grief diminished. And for me, it really was,” he affirmed.
Emotional stress among funeral professionals is normal – the natural result of your compassion for grieving families. Finding a co-worker or mentor you can confide in is a healthy and necessary means of alleviating some of your personal grief.
4. Take time to recharge.
Did you know that 75-90% of doctor visits are due to stress-related injuries and illnesses? Stress is a $1 trillion health epidemic, more than the combined cost of smoking, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Yet many of us – funeral professionals included – feel guilty taking time off work to de-stress and recharge. According to a 2015 survey by Project: Time Off, 55% of employees don’t use all their vacation time, resulting in more than 650 million hours of unused time off each year.
There’s a reason employers offer vacation days – time away from work is linked to increased engagement, higher productivity and better performance. Simply put, you will be better at your job if you take some time off. That means better service for your client families and your communities.
When it comes to personal time, extended vacations are far more restorative than an occasional weekend getaway. Book a cruise or stay at an all-inclusive resort – travel to a place where all your meals and entertainment are provided so you don’t have to make any more decisions or finalize any more plans. Hop on a plane – or drive a considerable distance – so you won’t be tempted to “pop back” to meet with a family. And turn off your phone (or at least commit to only checking it once a day).
Spend some time with your family, so you can come back better prepared to serve the needs of your client families.
The nature of funeral service lends itself to a certain amount of workplace pressure – and you’ll never be able to eliminate all stress at the funeral home. But you can take steps to identify and manage stressors, ensuring that you are capable of offering the very best customer service to every family, every time.