Employee Relations


I’m a bit sluggish this morning.  Partly because it’s the third day in a string of rainy, cloudy, dark days in Central Florida.

But it’s mostly because my flag football team had a “do or die” game last night.

If we won, we’d make the playoffs.  If we lost, we were done for the season.

My team played great for 38 minutes.  Unfortunately, the game lasts forty.  I first noticed the breakdown after a referee’s call that went against us.  My players continued to argue with the other team and the officials, even after the next play was finished.

We got stuck on something that happened in the past and it took our attention off the task at hand.

I implored my guys from the sideline (I only play offense) to “play this down, not the last one.”

Unfortunately, we lost focus and allowed the other team to score and get back in the game.  Luckily, we were able to overcome our mistakes and hold on for a 2-point win as we knocked down a pass in the endzone with no time remaining on the clock.

But business isn’t like football, where there’s a game clock and a definitive outcome for each play and game.

Running a funeral home requires a competent and communicative team (even one-man operations require day-of-the-service help) that can work together to achieve a larger goal.

And it’s hard to know when your team has “won the game” unless you set goals and measure your success. 

One thing I’ve learned from my time playing flag football:  it’s easy to stay focused on a perceived injustice or slight from the past, while ignoring the “play” going on right now.

Watch your team, talk to them and don’t let them focus on things that happened “then.”  Remind them that the most important part is “now.”

This post won’t help those of you who run a one-person funeral home, but the rest of you can benefit from finalizing your Christmas on-call list right now.

I’ve heard a lot of stories about Christmas responsibilities, but my favorite is how one corporate cluster of funeral homes (15 locations) puts one funeral director on call for all of Christmas day.  And they used to delegate it by whoever didn’t have kids!

As a childless person, I think it’s pretty rude to assume that I’d want to take on so much responsibility just so Fred and Martha can spend all day with their families.  And putting one person in charge of so many funeral homes can cause some serious issues.

Imagine, for a moment, that your loved one dies on Christmas morning.  Added to the regular stress and grief of a death is the knowledge that a presumably joyous day is now one of sorrow.  Then, imagine that you can’t get through to someone at the funeral home or are forced to wait for a return call because only one person is available to handle all the issues that are generated by so many locations.

I think it’s pretty clear that this plan is a recipe for bad customer service.

In fact, I think I’d make sure that every one of my directors is taking any urgent calls about their own firm.  This might mean more work for the answering service, but it also ensures that anyone who takes the time to make a phone call to the funeral home on Christmas Day is accommodated.

Let’s face it:  there are relatively few sickos or bored people who will call on Christmas Day.  Even folks who don’t celebrate the holiday will still realize that it’s a special day and that your staff won’t be around.  So it’s safe to say that most of the calls received on Christmas Day are going to be important.

If you do delegate some responsibility to other staff members to answer calls and dispatch removal crews, make sure that you stagger the hours of responsibility.  Your employees will do a better job of serving your clients if they know they only have to cover the phones until noon or that you’re going to take the calls all morning so they can spend uninterrupted time with their kids and family.

If you don’t want the hassle of starting your own charity, you can contribute by either financially supporting charities of your employees’ choice or giving paid time off for your employees to volunteer at the charity of their choice.

By granting paid time off for these tasks, you’ll not only build good will at the charities your employees support, but you’ll be dispatching loyal ambassadors of your funeral home into the outside world.

Remember, you can be the greatest funeral director in the world who provides the finest funerals in town, but no one will come to you unless they hear that fact from trusted voices.

More than one funeral home has suffered because the employees don’t feel appreciated and won’t tell the community about the fine work going on inside the doors.

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Are you so busy worred about keeping your “trade secrets” away from your competition that you don’t notice when the important parts of your business (your customers) have left you?  Kinda like this guy, who forgot to lock up some important parts of his bicycle.

I used to work in a big town with over 30 competing firms, many of them owned by SCI or Stewart.  So often, I heard funeral directors unwilling to share any information about the challenges they were facing or the success they were having because they were afraid that their competition would use it against them.

Let’s think critically for a minute:  what damage can your competitor do if he knows how many funerals you did last year?  Will your monthly cremation-to-burial ratios really help him “clean your clock?”  (In most states, this information is public record anyway, through your monthly embalming reports.)

Interestingly, the only folks who seemed to benefit from the secrecy were the funeral directors who bounced between the two companies (SCI & Stewart) and kept picking up bigger raises.

Turns out the problems that each faced had little to do with the competition and more to do with the culture within the company.

I’d be willing to bet that your biggest hurdles are self-created, instead of coming from an outside competitor.

How do you act when families aren’t watching you?

Do you treat their loved one, the casket they purchased, their personal effects, even your employees with respect and care?

Even though you might think your public actions will fool your community, eventually, someone will find out the truth.

So treat everyone and everything with respect.  That way you won’t end up on hidden camera!

Why Your Employees Don’t Give Excellent Customer Service

Running a business can be hard enough without issues that come up among your staff.  No matter what type of business you own, how many employees work for you, or where employees are on the totem pole, it seems like there is always something getting in the way of providing excellent customer service.  Here are a few reasons why:

Your staff is disgruntled.  Policies that are not followed by everyone, including senior staff, management and owners, or are inconsistently managed.

You ignore some employees.  Every employee deserves to be treated with respect.  If you don’t see them on a regular basis because of how work areas and paths are laid out, make a special effort to visit the areas they work in.

You micromanage.  Trust them.  Give your employees the freedom to work on their projects and tasks without second guessing or looking over their shoulder.  Provide boundaries with clear instructions on what to do if they hit a wall.

You criticize or correct them in front of others.  Always have these conversations behind closed doors.

You don’t play by the rules.  Yes, you are the boss, but employees take your lead and rarely ever see a difference in each of you breaking the rules.  They don’t care that you are the owner and/or manager and on call 24/7.  They still see you doing something wrong.  To them, if you work there, you as an employee are governed by the same rules.

They don’t know the rules.  Whatever you do, don’t assume that everyone knows what the rules and policies are.  Be very clear by putting them in writing and requiring a signature to acknowledge receipt and understanding.  When situations come up that require verbal or written follow up, each person must be treated the same with the same consequences.

Happy employees give excellent customer service.  Unhappy ones don’t care.

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Robin Richter is a Human Resources Expert and an avid motorcycle enthusiast.  As a Creative Memories Consultant, she helps preserve memories through scrapbooking.  Visit her Creative Memories website to see how this “Queen of the Scrappers” can help you.

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Snapped by Todd Everett at a hotel in Michigan, the photograph above is from the website This Is Broken.  Click the image to see the full picture and to read the ironic parking space sign.

Unfortunately, many employees view an “Employee of the Month” program this way.  They view standard forms of recognition as an obligation of the employer.

Which makes any conventional rewards program you offer part of the benefits package and not an actual reward.

That’s precisely why I recommend that you reward your employee in more creative ways.  Paying attention to your employee’s desires should give you a hint about what kinds of rewards will excite him or her.


MorgueFile photo courtesy of Meg Donahue 

Often, the type of thing that will encourage your employee to work harder and can reinforce a good work ethic is an experience instead of a monetary reward.  And being an effective funeral home manager means creating community connections and building favor with local movers and shakers.

“So what?” you ask. 

I think it’s time you started using your connections and calling in favors to create the kinds of experiences that can reward the loyalty of a trusted employee.

Let’s say one of your employees loves NASCAR.  You just happen to know the son of the owner of the big NASCAR racetrack in your state. 

Could you buy tickets for your employee as a reward?  Of course.  But then again, he could buy them for himself.

But if you got him VIP tickets, arranged for a pit pass and got him into a meet and greet with his favorite driver, you’d create an excited employee who knows you appreciate him.

One word of caution:  make sure you let your employee know how many favors you had to call in to create the experience.

No, you can’t exaggerate.  And you should be tactful.  But that private meeting you arranged between your secretary and her favorite author just before a local book signing wasn’t easy to get, so make sure she knows it, in a nice way.

Your employees expect to receive a paycheck.  They expect you to pay for some type of benefits.  They might even expect you to buy their lunch when they work a particularly large funeral service.

But special favors get called in for people who are really appreciated.  Make your employees feel appreciated.

In return, they’ll make your clients feel the same way.

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