How to Retain Top-Performing Funeral Home Staff Members


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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.

Millennials grew up in an era of tremendous economic uncertainty, and many of them have watched their parents and grandparents struggle with the downsizing trend in the late 1980s, the housing crisis in 2008 and the ongoing concern over the solvency of Social Security. Is it any wonder today’s workers feel uncomfortable entrusting their financial and professional futures to a single employer?

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. Long tenure leads to 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?

Show employees they are valued.

One of my college roommates recently changed jobs due in large part to a sense that she wasn’t valued at her previous employer. She’s a hard worker – creative and dedicated – but none of her contributions were appreciated or acknowledged by her coworkers. Then, on her very last day, the team supervisor sat down at my roommate’s clear and empty desk and asked her to not to leave. He didn’t think the department could function as well without her, and would she please reconsider?

As you might have guessed, she didn’t stay. At that point, her loyalty was to her new employer – one that had immediately recognized both her talent and her potential.

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.

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 more value on jobs that are fulfilling and flexible rather than those that are strictly profitable.

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.

Ensure your employees understand the value of funeral service.

It’s a Wonderful Life has always been one of my favorite movies. Growing up, I loved thinking about guardian angels, shovel sledding and dance floors that turned into swimming pools. As an adult, I watch for the more ordinary scenes: George selflessly sending his brother to college, christening the first houses in Bailey Park and shouting down the insults of Henry F. Potter. I love his character – and the idea that someone could go to work each day simply because what they do makes people’s lives better.

Gone are the company men and women – those tireless workers who toiled away year after year for a corporate machine. Today’s workforce wants a purpose. We want to know that what we do makes a difference.

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 peoples’ lives better – and they will never want to leave.

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 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.

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