4 Ways to Avoid Burnout As a Funeral Director

Posted June 13, 2018

6 min read

If you don’t take care of yourself, it’s much more difficult to take care of your families.

How come Dr. Jason Troyer, PhD CT, says that’s an accurate statement?

“First and foremost, it’s a matter of simply taking care of yourself—because as a human being, it’s worthwhile to work in time to dedicate to your own health. You deserve to have a happy life, and be fulfilled in your work. Beyond that, certainly it does help your business, too,” explains Troyer.

Troyer is a psychology professor, author, former counselor, grief researcher, speaker, and consultant for funeral professionals looking to better serve grieving families. Troyer is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling and is certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement.

He’s also the founder of Mount Hope Grief Services which provides aftercare products, training seminars, and many more services to help professionals support those in grief.

Troyer explains that for funeral professionals in particular, the consequences of feeling drained, fatigued, or overwhelmed can deeply impact day-to-day interactions.

“As someone who might be feeling burned out or experiencing job stress, some of the things that go along with that are more difficulty empathizing with other people, more difficulty being patient, difficulty being open, and difficulty being genuine,” he explains. “All of those things help create relationships with families who are bereaved.”

We sat down with Troyer to dig deeper and to explore practical ways funeral directors can pay attention to their own needs and take care of themselves to avoid fatigue. Whether you are facing negative emotions or chronic stress, here’s what you should know:

1. Don’t ignore the signs of burnout

One of the problems with chronic stress or burnout can be that people take pride in what they perceive as being “mentally tough.” Or, they genuinely don’t recognize that their health is gradually being negatively impacted by chronic stress or frustration.

“A misconception can be adopting an old school perspective of, ‘You know what you got into,’ and therefore you don’t complain about it. This isn’t useful at all,” says Troyer.

Other funeral directors may hear about a burnout prevention program and say, “Well, I’m not within a day or two, or week, or six months of leaving the field—therefore this doesn’t apply to me.”

But that mentality can be one of the biggest mistakes someone can make because it sets them up to be blindsided later.

It’s much easier to make manageable changes before it’s too late—for example, before you ever feel inclined to walk away from the profession. Know that burnout is real, but it’s also preventable in many cases. That’s part of why military, first responders, federal agencies, and law enforcement are all taking burnout very seriously today.

“I want funeral directors to really focus on the fact that avoiding burnout is an ongoing battle, so to speak. It’s something you need to attend to all the time. You don’t have to feel within that week of stepping away from the field to have these resources be useful to you,” he adds.

2. Keep building your resilience “muscle”

Resiliency can be built up and worked on for when you need to draw on it. One of the tried-and-true ways to do this isn’t even a huge change to your daily life. Troyer recommends carving out time for little moments throughout the day to renew your energy and to refill your cup.

Making time for some sort of way to reset each day will ultimately help to give you more self-control when those high-pressure, high-stress situations hit.

“Funeral service is difficult no matter what. It’s inherently going to be a difficult job. But by building resilience, you can continually recharge, and you can bounce back after those stressful days, and after those stressful weeks,” says Troyer.

“You can’t remove stress from the profession, but you can continually nurture yourself so you can recover as needed.”

3. Reflect on where you’re at today

You may recognize you are stressed or tired. But have you ever stopped and reflected on how you are feeling and why?

Consider taking inventory of the kind of behaviors you want to avoid and the kind of behaviors you want to support in your workplace and throughout your life.

You and your staff aren’t always going to get it right, but you can take steps to drive real, lasting change that can help you avoid burnout.

“Transforming yourself is more about changing fundamentally who you are and how you see the service you provide,” adds Troyer.

Examples of behaviors you may want to support include:

  • More meal preparation for better nutrition
  • Mentoring
  • Exercising more often
  • Dedicating more time for giving back
  • Taking more time off and/or vacation time
  • Finding new skills to learn
  • Offering new types of services

Whether it be written down or not, take time to reflect on what you want to do more of—and what you want to do less of!

4. Add structure to support the change

Incorporating new habits and routines into your daily life can help to alleviate daily stress and can help you have more energy over time. But it will also take a lot of work to create structure that will support more fundamental changes to how you work and live.

Once the types of behaviors you want to see are defined, you can take steps to add structure to see that they happen.

For example, that could include:

  • Hiring a nutritionist for you and your team
  • New policies that encourage time off for every worker
  • Hiring flex-time staff
  • Changing the firm’s hours
  • Putting time on the calendar for exercise and treating it like an appointment
  • Developing accountability relationships
  • Putting time on the calendar to give back to the community as a team

“Those sorts of things can really change how you think about [your work] and also how you avoid getting burned out,” adds Troyer.

5. Give change a chance

Many funeral professionals can be resistant to change because of fears that they have. “A fear could be, for example, if they change a schedule, or if they change how they serve families, that there’s going to be a huge backlash.” Troyer says he sees so many cases where these fears go unrealized. If you’re able, suspend judgment and give it a chance.

“The vast majority of funeral owners and managers I talk to who have changed major processes as a way to take care of themselves and their staff, find that typically their fears are usually quite a bit overblown. They share that they actually don’t have the backlash they thought they would have.”

Finding Resilience: Learn More

Homesteaders Life Company, in partnership with Troyer, recognized just how many funeral directors can benefit from this kind of advice. The result: they’ve developed a program, called Finding Resilience, to help directors prevent burnout and support a reduction in career fatigue. Learn more here.

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