By Stephanie Ramsey; The Foresight Companies, LLC
Many people believe that the funeral business work environment is something like the classic TV show The Brady Bunch. A mixed family that all got along and worked together in perfect harmony. Instead the reality is much more like the current show Modern Family— lots of sniping, gossiping, and taking sides with one group or another.
While the daily work is ultimately accomplished, some employees may not be talking to each other and the atmosphere around the office is often frigid. Does this sound familiar? While the public may see a united team, behind the curtain there may be tension, frustration, and chaos that is on the verge of erupting at any moment.
Managing funeral employees can be challenging on many different levels. One of the most difficult issues is addressing employee conflict. Whether that conflict occurs among employees or between funeral management, it can lead to poor employee morale, a lack of job satisfaction, and more importantly, a failure to provide the level of professionalism that the families being served deserve. The reality is that if employees are feuding with each other or management, their focus will certainly not be on the families they are serving.
How prevalent is conflict in the workplace? A CPP Global Human Capital Report suggested that more time and money is wasted on employee conflict than we think. Here are a few statistics
85% of employees deal with conflict on some level
49% of conflict is a result of personality clashes and “warring egos”
25% of employees have seen conflict result in absence from work
Still not convinced conflict is an issue. The same report concludes that employees spend 2.1 hours a week dealing with conflicts. This equates to one day a month which, on average, is over $2,100 per year a funeral director is wasting to mediate conflict. Thus, understanding situations in which conflict may arise and having a plan for how to resolve the conflict are a better use of time and money. The first step to reducing any type of conflict is to recognize that there is a problem and determine the source of the conflict. Types of workplace conflict are likely to fall within one of seven categories:
- Conflicting goals or deadlines
- Restricted resources
- Differing backgrounds/beliefs
- Work co-dependence
- Work style
Leadership style has a big impact on how conflict is handled. We all know that funeral owners/managers have very different styles in terms of managing staff. Some are authoritative; others democratic. There are those who take a mentoring or coaching approach. A transformational leader is one who encourages mutual trust in the workplace. A visionary leader is one who looks towards the future of the company and understands the positive impact of good conflict resolution.
Regarding authority, a leader can either maintain strict control of employee conflict or a leader can leave conflict resolution in the hands of the employees themselves.
Which type of leader is the best? An effective funeral owner/ manager is one who adapts their leadership style to each new conflict. However, not all conflicts have a transparent road to resolution. So funeral owners/managers must be nimble and flexible when addressing employee conflicts.
Limited resources create a stressful environment where completion of a project/task is almost impossible. It can be difficult to complete funeral announcements in a timely manner when one printer is shared, and two funerals are occurring at the same time. Work co-dependence is likely frustrating for the administrative support staff waiting for the funeral director to complete their paperwork before they can begin working on obtaining death certificates or burial permits. A mistake made at some point in the process can be time consuming to fix because it must be discerned where the mistake was made and which party was responsible.
However, co-dependence is not necessarily a bad way of completing a task. Breaking up a large task into smaller tasks and distributing them among several employees can result in a shorter timeline for completion and a better use of limited resources. Conflict may be likely in this situation, but it does not always have to result in a negative impact. Individuals tend to have a specific way of approaching a task. The focus may be on the data, the details, the main idea, or emotions. It may be difficult for team members to agree on how a project should be handled which ultimately leads to conflict.
Some of the most difficult conflicts to resolve are those based in belief rather than fact. Religious beliefs, values, and morals are examples of this type of conflict. So, who is in the wrong? Without any facts to compare it is difficult to decide the best course of action. Conflicting opinions of whether the focus should be on serving the family or maintaining profit for the business can lead to lower employee morale and ultimately an unprofessional environment. Neither of these outcomes result in the respectful environment the family deserves.
Is conflict always bad? It does not have to be. The implementation of effective strategies for resolving conflict before conflict occurs can limit the damage conflict has on work relationships. Employees with the same training for how conflict should be handled are more likely to quickly and effective resolve the conflict than employees with differing/non-existent conflict resolution training. There of several roads to conflict resolution and the answer to which road to take can be determined by the desired outcome.
Can conflict be ignored? The real problem is not whether a conflict can be ignored but whether it should be ignored.
Ignoring the conflict is only a short-term solution to a problem that will build over time and start to affect the entire business. What are the other options? Here are just a few ways to deal with conflict:
- Force a resolution
- Smooth it over
Smoothing over a conflict occurs when one party accommodates the other which allows the project or task to be completed. The task may get completed, but this is only a temporary fix that does not address underlying stressors surrounding the conflict itself.
A funeral owner/manager can lay down the law and quickly force a resolution to the conflict. In this situation there is a winner and a loser which can negatively impact relationships and effect overall team building efforts.
Compromise is a good way for all parties to express their
opinion and reach an agreeable solution. Is anyone ever really satisfied with
compromise? Compromise means that there is an effort to appease all parties,
but no party is completed satisfied.
Collaboration creates an environment of open communication that ultimately creates a long-term positive impact. This type of conflict resolution takes time and commitment to creating a collaborative team environment. Regardless of how conflict is resolved it is important that conflict is not ignored.
Sometimes conflict happens! Having an effective plan in place for conflict resolution can reduce the overall negative impact it has on the company. A funeral service owner/manager needs to be committed to establishing a work environment that promotes healthy discussion and sets the foundation for effective conflict resolution. Consider the following:
Open communication – Encourage employees to discuss conflict without fear of retaliation. Employees who feel their opinion matters are more likely to resolve conflicts from the start before they effect the entire team. Not every employee will be good communicators. Programs like Toastmasters and Rotary Club are good resources for employees to establish better communication skills outside of work. Other opportunities like seminars, workshops, and other educational events provide somewhere for employees to practice communication skills regularly rather than waiting for conflict to arise.
Work-life balance – Create an environment of support in which employees feel that they are a valued member of a team. Employees who feel valued are more likely to verbalize external stressors before they start to impact work completion and job satisfaction.
Training and development – Promote an environment for employee development. An employee should be able to learn from stressful situations in a way that benefits their overall work ethic. The funeral industry is constantly changing.
An environment conducive to learning new skills as well as adapting outdated practices is an environment that will promote positive attitudes among employees.
Quality work – Recognize employees who are doing quality work. Positive reinforcement does exist! Recognition of a job well done will likely result in the same or even greater levels of commitment from that employee in the future. Providing positive feedback can translate to positive opinions towards the work environment.
Team entity – Build an environment that focuses on teamwork. Create a sense of unity in which everyone feels they are contributing something to the overall team dynamic. Remind employees that they are all working towards a common goal. Differences do not have to be a negative thing. Utilizing the strengths of everyone can lead to an even more positive result than simply assigning tasks at random.
Creating a work environment that focuses on a team rather than
an individual will encourage open communication and an active effort by
everyone to reduce conflict. Employees in a team environment will focus their
efforts on promoting a positive image of the funeral business.
Establishing a good team is easy, right? Is hiring the right person for the job enough? The short answer is no. The more complex answer is yes and no. Every project may require the restructuring of an established team or the creation of a completely new team. Team building is not easy and there is no pre-defined method to maintain a good team atmosphere. Remember, conflict can arise from anywhere. The key is commitment to taking the time to maintain the team entity and problem solving when a conflict inevitably arises. If you need assistance addressing employee conflict, please reach out to us. We stand ready to assist you.
Stephanie Ramsey is the HR Specialist for OGR Supply Partner, The Foresight Companies, LLC. She has a unique perspective on the challenges funeral and cemetery business owners and managers face when dealing with employee issues. She has written many employee hand- books and other job-specific documents for clients nationwide. Stephanie writes a quarterly newsletter on HR matters that can be viewed at www. f4sight.com. She can be reached at Stephanie@f4sight.com.