Would a four-day work week impact funeral service?

I’m not one to get too excited over talk. . . .but, I’m also a realist who believes that where there is smoke, there is fire.  And, it appears that the trend in America will not go to a longer work week. . . so, over time I’m guessing that we get to a shorter work week.  If we do, how will it impact funeral service and the employment trends in our profession?

America has went to a shorter work week before.  History tells us that Americans were used to working six days per week and taking only Sunday to rest until 1908 when a New England cotton mill allowed it’s employees to also take Saturday off so Jewish workers did not have to work on their Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown on Saturday.  Not long afterward Henry Ford began shutting down his automotive plants all day on Saturday providing a two-day weekend for his workers.  In 1938 America’s Fair Labor Standards mandated a 40-hour maximum work week which set the table for the basic work scheduling we have today.

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has altered working rules across the world. Not only are many employees allowed to work from home but many have recalibrated their lives and decided not to work altogether.  It’s what we are now calling the “Great Resignation” in America and the end result is that we don’t seem to have enough workers for the positions open.

If that is truly the case — not enough workers for the positions open — than we have probably seen a sea change in employment history.  It will mark a time when employees have a stronger bargaining position than the employers who sign the paycheck.  Business cannot operate profitably without employees and if they cannot satisfy employees, employees won’t be found and profits will be hard to come by.

Anecdotally, in the death care profession, it appears that we are already short of professional employees.  We’ve brought it up in this forum and there are a lot of people working on finding more workers with the skills necessary to work in the death care profession.

Reading this article made me think about this issue.  I started to wonder what would happen in our profession if the basic funeral director schedule was four eight-hour days in a 7-day cycle?  It seems, at first glance, that would exacerbate the problem of the lack of professional employees.  Or would it?

I started working, like many of you, with a schedule that said you work until the work is done. . . . 40-hour work weeks were not the norm for me in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  I started working every Monday thru Friday and then every other weekend. . . . and, it wasn’t just 9 to 5, but my schedule included nightly visitations and nights on call.  However, it is a different day and age today. . . .and most employees want more than every other weekend to enjoy time with their families and/or other interests.

It’s interesting in reading the linked article, I learned that employees were much happier with a 32-hour work week. . . well, who wouldn’t be.  However, I found this an interesting observation by the author, “When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important.  Constraining time encourages quality time. Better work gets done in four days than in five.”

Here’s another observation that the author wrote about, “Beyond working more efficiently, a four-day workweek appears to improve morale and well-being. . . .a four-day workweek could help lower blood pressure and increase mental health among employees. . . . his employee-retention rate shot up when he phased in three-day weekends.”

Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

So, what might happen if funeral homes had friendlier work schedules?  Can the schedules improve if we had more specialists?  For instance, as chairman of a senior health and living non-profit I was involved when we tried lots of things to make employee lives happier.  We contracted out for specialists in certain therapy care lines and we offered our home health care workers positions with no schedules as long as they made the requisite patient visits within a certain time period.

First of all, I think our profession is a little behind the times on specialists. Funeral directors, to me, are seen as generalists.  By that I mean that they are to be well rounded so that they can do body preparation, funeral arrangements, and funeral performance.  However, I believe most funeral directors don’t enjoy doing all three of those basic requisites.  Especially in large communities, would our funeral homes be better off by putting funeral directors where they do best or put them where they enjoy working?  Can a funeral home save money by contracting out all body removal and preparation and at the same time give their professional staff less hours?  Probably not. . . but, what is the actual trade-off in this situation?

For instance, employee issues, especially night calls, makes me wonder if the fastest growing segment of the death care profession is trade services.  Many funeral homes are having trade services do their night calls in order to be able to hire talented funeral directors without night call responsibilities.  To continue to make hours more palatable for good funeral directors, I see that business continuing to grow.

I actually see the specialists, such as trade service embalmers, as good for our business.  Funeral homes contracting with those businesses give their funeral directors that prefer to work with families and funeral service events a more focused work direction.  Taking it to the extreme, I know of at least one large funeral home that contracts for all of the “hands on” body work, including cosmetizing, dressing, and casketing that it requires.

I can see employment patterns for funeral service professionals pick up and more young people think about entering our profession if the hours were not so long.  I also know the “old veterans” in the profession, like me, have a hard time with hours when we were simply used to “getting the job done” regardless of how long it took.  However, like everything else, expectations of the younger generation who will be entering the work force soon are changing.  I think we know, “Staying status quo on funeral director job realities will limit our potential pool of new employees.”  The question that will soon face funeral home owners and operators is “How do we operate with such few employees?”

Of course, there will be a financial ramification whenever more employees might be needed.  Employment satisfaction does not happen in a vacuum. . . .the financial impacts of these types of decisions also have to be looked at when thinking of these types of changes.  Can this reality be somewhat blunted by technological changes as we’ve been able to do in health care with virtual visits and the like?  It all should be part of the conversation.

I don’t have the answers, but let’s keep our minds open to changes we have not thought about before.

RelatedIceland’s positive experience with the four-day work week.  BBC News (Great Britain)

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