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  • Kari Peters

What Are We Actually Doing About the Burnout?

Updated: Feb 6, 2019


3 years ago I went to a funeral symposium and there was a speaker who talked about burnout. After the 8 hour symposium I went to work, made funeral arrangements and embalmed until midnight. Then I went home and cried for about 2 hours, slept for 4hours, (had a nightmare the body I embalmed contracting tissue gas) went back to work to play catch-up on lost hours, from attending the symposium to keep my mandatory educational credits up to date.


I vowed to start seeing a therapist and get more exercise. I couldn't keep my therapist appointments or a regular regimen at the gym because of the irregular work hours.


You know the story; long hours, on call, prayers, last minute changes, after hours, have to cancel your vacation, can we get 50 more cards? You have dreams of storing bodies in your own home, because every table in the prep room is full, only to be awakened by a phone call from one of your families saying they want green onions in the egg salad. The funeral happens, everything is perfect, you get a hug and a thank you and are showered with love and appreciation for doing what you do.


The gratitude from families is rewarding beyond measure. I've received text messages and phone calls from families on Christmas day, telling me they're thinking of me and that they're still so grateful months later for going over and above. I'm working Christmas day, so at least that warms my Grinch heart.


You have a busy month, do a service, make another set of arrangements (the second one that day), and then you go home to find out you forgot your anniversary, brothers graduation or friends birthday. You'll make it up to them on your day off next week. You'll take them out, do whatever they want to do, but the funeral home is swamped. You end up working late again, with no overtime. You had to pop in to the office to check a file, and took 4 calls; while out on the town, trying to "make up for it," and the guilt cycle repeats.


You sit in the dark, watching some vapid YouTube channel, feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt. Is a strangers family at their most difficult time, more important than your own? Even if your own family is proud of you, do they understand? or do they believe that you value your work more than your personal relationships with them?


I have often been asked why I do it, since I am paid a low salary and that salary doesn't compensate my sacrifices. Many licensed funeral directors and embalmers are paid drastically lower than secretaries, teachers, or clergy.


Would a better wage prevent burnout? No, but money does solve a lot of issues. Striking financial stress off the list would certainly help. Thanking your employees for their efforts regularly also makes a difference.


Sometimes it seems like all the gratitude comes from the families we serve and not necessarily from the funeral home we work so hard for. When was the last time management said thank you to their employee for all of their hard work? It probably doesn't happen often enough. I think this is because management is just as busy and tired as we are.


Then there are the reasons why we burn out:

  • There's no one to hire.

  • We're fully staffed.

  • It will be slow in July and then how will we afford to pay a new staff member?


Theses are all things that funeral home owners and management, in every funeral home struggle with. I understand that there's a budget, but can you really afford to lose an exceptional employee to disability because they had a melt down from not having time to deal with their personal issues? How many skeletons can you afford to make on your crew?


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