workplace Culture

Workplace Culture: Worth the Investment

By Jeff Stewart, Executive Vice President/Chief Culture Officer for Directors Investment Group


What Will Be Your Legacy?

Back in the 1800s, there was a chemist, engineer, and entrepreneur named Alfred whose claim to fame was inventing dynamite. Operating almost 100 factories, he became very wealthy, as his invention helped to expand the railroad, roadways, and mining expeditions. However, his dynamite was also used with ruthless effects as a weapon of destruction. Undeterred, Alfred became a prominent world traveler and an international tycoon who owned more than 300 patents. He enjoyed a vast amount of wealth.

However, one day a newspaper ran his obituary by mistake with the headline: “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” How could this have occurred? Well, Alfred’s brother, Ludvig, had actually passed away and the newspaper made a mistake and published the obituary about Alfred. As a result, he was able to get a glimpse into how he would be remembered…and he didn’t like what he saw. So, Alfred decided he needed to make some changes in his life.

Prior to his actual death in December of 1896, Alfred Nobel had updated his last will and testament so that his fortune could be used to give prizes to those who had done their best for humanity. To this day, Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace are widely regarded as the most prestigious awards given for intellectual achievement. The “Merchant of Death” had become the “Champion of Peace.”

The story of Alfred Nobel should be a reminder to all that our legacy will probably not be based on accumulated possessions and wealth. Our legacy will be defined by the lasting impact we make on others, through kindness, respect, generosity, and love.

An Investment in People

For years, I had tried to educate my aging parents-in-law on the many benefits of prearranging and pre-funding their funerals. But, tried as I did to convince them, they never would get it done. A son-in-law can only do so much, you know?

Recently, my mother-in-law died unexpectedly, and I found myself grieving with the family for our loss of a wonderful woman. Adding to the angst I was feeling, I knew what the next several days would hold, particularly since she did not have a preneed plan in place. I also knew that the funeral home the family selected to handle the arrangements would have their work cut out for them, as they would have to guide our family through those heart-wrenching days immediately following a death.

As a funeral service professional, you know that every family you work with presents an opportunity to make a lasting, memorable impact on them. You want the experience of every family served to be positive. It is in times like these that the investment in the culture of your funeral home is on full display.

We all know that with the day-to-day grind everyone experiences, things don’t run perfectly all of the time. It’s not always easy to deal with employee issues…it can be downright exhausting! But from my recent experience, I can attest to the fact that it’s worth investing everything you can into your employees because the culture of caring you have worked hard to build will extend beyond the walls of your funeral home to every family your staff serves.

Three Ways to Improve Workplace Culture

1. Focus on Employee Success and Wellbeing

According to the 2022 Organizational Culture Research Report by, employees experience culture most strongly in their organization’s approach to performance. So, the way you manage performance has a strong impact on engagement and culture. How managers create alignment, communicate, recognize, and give feedback all shape an employee’s experience. There is no replacement for focusing on employee success and wellbeing.

2. Recognize and Celebrate

Also, in the same study, employees feel culture most strongly in recognition and celebrations. Employees want to feel valued for their contributions. How you recognize them says a lot about your culture and what you value. When you publicly recognize employees for behaviors that align with your culture and values, it helps bring culture to life!

3. Develop a Mission Statement that Supports Collaboration

And finally, the study states that employees experience culture most strongly through the company mission and values, which set the tone. Do you have a mission statement? Does it support a culture of collaboration, in which you give your employees opportunities to participate in shaping the culture of your funeral home? To grow a stronger culture, try developing a mission statement with your team, and then develop everyday initiatives to reinforce your mission.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

Your staff are ambassadors for you AND your funeral home. The way employees are treated by your management team will likely have a direct impact on how they serve others. Just as you treat families with care and compassion, extending that care to your staff will improve morale and your culture, as well. Ralph Waldo Emerson nailed it when he famously wrote, “Your actions speak louder than words!”

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