Stress for Funeral Workers

Funeral directors manage upward of 150 tasks per service, and often multiple services per day. According to Kate Hamilton of Mourning Cross Bereavement Pins, who conducted a survey among 57 funeral directors, the personal costs of pursuing a career in the bereavement industry can be high. The work can be both emotionally and physically intense. Hamilton asked six questions of directors from the Unites States, South Africa, England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. She wanted to know what drew them to the work, if they saw the job as a vocation, what stresses they experienced and how they dealt with them.

A Calling

Hamilton reports that 90 percent of those surveyed thought of their role as a mission to serve people in need. Five percent said that they took up where others left off in the family business. This last number reflects a significant change in the industry over the past couple of decades, when the vast majority of services were administered by family businesses. Today, a director may start his or her own business after getting a degree and some experience in the field. More commonly these days, many directors work for a larger corporate enterprise. In all cases, responders were drawn to the business to help people, although only five percent thought they naturally had the compassion and social skills to make the work "a good fit with their personalities."

Emotionally and Physically Demanding

Directors are on call virtually 24/7, a condition that can result in chronic mental, physical and emotional stress. While other professions have similar schedule challenges, the funeral industry is unique in its emotional demands. The situation is almost always distressing for everyone involved, and there is much sadness. It is a director's dual job to organize and to offer comfort. This can be a complicated endeavor when there are a variety of factors to deal with, such as multiple other professionals, family politics and time management issues. Money, of course, plays a role. In cases where the business is corporate owned, a director may feel the pressure of meeting financial goals set by the parent company.

Work/Life Balance

A consistent complaint among the directors surveyed was that they often had a difficult time striking a livable balance between their profession and their personal lives. They experienced difficulties with feelings of anger and guilt and a problem with letting go. Potentially self-destructive ways to deal with stress are alcohol abuse, excessive shopping and other addictive behaviors. Many of the directors discussed some of the more satisfying strategies they practiced. These included:

  • Prayer
  • Laughter
  • A hobby
  • Exercise gardening, yoga, walking
  • Networking with other professionals
  • Napping

While some of the participants admitted to seeking outside support to help cope with the pressures of their job, many cited the ability to share their experience with others as a missing link in self-care.

Industry Changes

Developments in technologies and social media have the potential to vastly improve stress levels for directors and workers in the industry, according to Hamilton. For example, there are now professional answering services that can take the 3 A.M. calls off a director's plate. Online memorial websites help directors facilitate access to obituaries and more, a service that both simplifies a task and adds value to the business. New lifts and tools help industry workers manage heavy objects with less stress on the body.

Hamilton concludes that directors need to take advantage of their resources to stay healthy and effective. Therapy or outside support may help directors and their staff, as well as sharing business and concerns through online industry sharing sites. Hamilton believes that directors need to make greater and more productive use of social media, to promote both their individual businesses and a positive image of the industry as a whole.

Category: Get Ordained Funeral

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