Retain Funeral Home Staff by Making Your Firm A Great Place to Work

If you asked your funeral home’s staff members how they feel about working for your firm, do you know how they’d respond? This question is important for more than just your employees’ personal satisfaction—their attitudes and perceptions about their workplace will affect how they perform and represent your firm in the community. These factors will also influence how your firm compares to your competitors and your ability to hire and retain top-performing funeral home staff members.

Creating a great workplace is an ongoing effort no matter what your business is, and funeral professionals face unique working conditions that make a positive environment especially important. Here are a few ways you can help ensure your employees are satisfied working at your firm:

1. Establish strong values (and live by them)

Staff members should feel confident in their firms’ mission and values. Has your firm defined a set of values—and do you regularly remind your team about them? Ongoing communications—whether they’re through staff meetings, email updates or employee newsletters—should frequently reference your firm’s purpose. In addition to improving employees’ job satisfaction, your values can make a noticeable difference in how your firm is perceived in the community.

Homesteaders’ core values are powerful in terms of building a sense of personal responsibility for the success of the company. For example, Homesteaders values a mutually beneficial relationship with our employees, customers and stakeholders. Notice that employees are part of the equation—without a motivated and productive workforce, a company cannot effectively serve its customers. These values are posted on signs throughout the home office building, serving as reminders of why we exist as a company and how each employee can make a difference.

Focus on Integrity

Your employees connect with your community on a regular basis. It’s important that they represent your funeral home in the most honest and helpful way possible. At Homesteaders, we have a set of core values and a mission statement that we expect each employee to follow. These integrity guidelines make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes time to make tough decisions inside and outside our organization.

Creating an expectation of integrity within your funeral home can start by creating your own mission statement. Once you’ve set the tone for how you expect your employees to act, make sure you stick to it. Any blatant examples of a lack of integrity, such as lying or stealing from you or your client families, should be swiftly dealt with.

Ensure Your Employees Understand the Value of Funeral Service

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, one that your employees cannot be expected to make unless they truly understand the value of what they do. Take time 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 people’s lives better—and they will never want to leave.

2. DEVELOP STRONG LEADERSHIP

Studies have indicated that organizations with strong leadership are 13 times more likely to outperform their competitors. This means it’s paramount that funeral homes grow and nurture future leaders. One of the first steps to growing your leadership team is to identify the best candidates. Many companies (like Homesteaders) allow employees to self-identify as potential leaders by raising their hands through a survey or by email.

Another option to find strong leaders in your organization is to discover who can rise to the occasion by challenging your current employees to complete tasks that are unfamiliar to them. If you choose to go this route, it’s important to remember that failure is not an indication of being unqualified for a leadership position. The fact that your employee attempted to take on this challenge is a great sign; they just may need additional training or education.

Once you’ve identified potential leaders, it’s time to help them grow and learn. Continuing education for both funeral service and leadership is a must and can be accomplished by utilizing multiple strategies including webinars, assigned readings, volunteer opportunities in your community and job shadowing.

3. Show your team that their work matters

In the rush of day-to-day operations, it can be easy to forget how important funeral service professionals are to the families they serve. If your firm receives a positive customer survey response, an excellent online review or a “thank you” letter from a grateful family, be sure to share it with your team members (especially those who are specifically cited for exceptional service).

Employees want a balanced perspective on their personal performance and on their firm’s performance. They value honest, constructive feedback—even if that feedback isn’t a rave review. When a firm receives negative feedback from a customer, a good manager will investigate the comments and share how the team can use it to improve their efforts in the future. Even if a negative review seems unfair, it can provide a lesson on how to serve families during sensitive and emotionally difficult times.

Engage in Employee Appreciation

Making your employees feel appreciated can be as simple as taking a few minutes at a team meeting to recognize an accomplishment, work anniversary or birthday. Catering breakfast, lunch or dinner can also help brighten people’s day, especially if the workload at the funeral home has been higher than usual. Never underestimate the value of a genuine “thank you,” delivered either verbally or in a handwritten note.

Recognize Your Top Performers

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.

Acknowledge Employee Involvement in Your Community

Funeral service is a community-oriented profession, and funeral professionals often participate in volunteer activities, civic groups and/or religious organizations. Your staff’s significant achievements outside of work, such as winning a volunteer award, are worthy of recognition and praise. By showing appreciation for these pursuits, you’ll encourage your staff members’ involvement in community activities. Many exceptional firms take community outreach a step further by donating their employees’ paid time to work on volunteer projects—which also serve as team-building opportunities.

4. Get Creative with Compensation

Take some time to understand what type of compensation truly motivates your funeral home employees. Given the nature of the profession, it’s probably not feasible to offer unlimited vacations or on-site yoga classes, but perhaps instead of the standard holiday bonus, you could offer employees an extra day off to spend with their families or an opportunity to attend the next state association convention. Ask your employees what they really want. If you truly know what your top performers value, it will be much easier to ensure that you are offering benefits and compensation that will secure their continued loyalty.

5. Provide opportunities for two-way communication

Employees want to feel that their ideas and concerns are important to their firm’s leadership. Set up periodic one-on-one meetings—in addition to regular performance reviews—at which staff members can discuss their jobs with their managers. These quick “checkups” can help everyone on the team set short-term goals and track progress toward long-term goals. The meetings can also be a source for new ideas about how to improve efficiency and provide better service—a win-win for your customers and your staff.

Surveys can provide valuable customer feedback, and they may also be an effective tool for evaluating the satisfaction of your employees. After a funeral service, one of the most effective survey questions you can ask your client families is, “How likely would you be to recommend us to someone else?” You can ask a similar question on a workplace survey to gauge your employees’ satisfaction with their funeral home jobs: “On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most likely), how likely would you be to recommend working at this funeral home to another funeral service professional?” Provide an opportunity for employees to comment on their rankings to help you determine what your firm is doing well and how you can improve the workplace.

6. Encourage a team-oriented environment

Funeral service is a demanding profession, and it’s important to ensure that members of your staff feel they can rely on each other during busy or otherwise difficult times. This is another reason why open communication is important—it can help you identify and address potential problems before they affect the quality of your firm’s service.

Fostering a positive, team-oriented environment also requires you to clearly define responsibilities. When each person knows his or her role and understands those duties make him or her accountable for the firm’s success, your team will be able to collaborate more effectively.

7. PROMOTE A HEALTHY WORK-LIFE BALANCE

In funeral service, it can be challenging to find a balance between work and your personal life. That’s why funeral professional burnout is such a common occurrence. It is impossible to control the death of a member of your community, so someone has to be on-call 24 hours a day, even on holidays. However, there are a few steps you can take to help alleviate some of this stress:

First, if you’re noticing that your employees are consistently working long and difficult hours, it might be time to consider hiring additional help. Whether this individual is part-time or full-time, any weight you can take off your employee’s shoulders will be appreciated.

If your firm isn’t in a position where you can hire additional staff, consider adding extra benefits like working from home when possible, providing flexibility for working parents and encouraging everyone to use all of their allowed vacation time each year.

One of the best ways to make work-life balance a cultural norm is to lead by example. Stop checking your email at 3 a.m., make sure you are using your vacation time and be open and honest about your personal feelings of burnout and exhaustion.

It takes time and effort to become a top place to work in your community but taking steps now will help you grow into the future.


One final thought: It is human nature to crave the company of people who remind us of ourselves. 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 individual helps set the tone for the families who walk through your front door.

Retaining great employees starts with hiring them in the first place, and it takes time and effort to become a top place to work in your community. Taking the appropriate steps now will help you grow into the future. Contact your Homesteaders account executive for more tips and resources on making your funeral home a great place to work.

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