Include death planning in your wellbeing strategy

Jan. 28, 2020, 4:46 p.m.

You can guarantee that our working lives will be impacted by death in some way at some time. Be that the death of a colleague, their grief, or the death of someone we love.

The ONLY thing that every single one of us has in common from the day we are born, to the first day of our first job, throughout our careers and our entire lives, is the basic fact that at some point we will all die. 

This may seem morbid to some of you out there, however there are many people who also embrace this simple fact. Sometimes, talking about death with your loved ones is driven out of necessity or a particular experience that makes you question your own mortality. If you are an organised soul, sometimes talking about dying comes from a sense of getting your ducks in line or preparedness.  

For the majority however, it isn’t that common to talk about ‘it’? Why don’t we plan for death? Do we think it’s for those who know they are about to die soon? Do we think we might make it happen sooner if we chat about it now?  Why the hushed somber tones about something that is as natural as taking a breath. 

So, why don’t we use the workplace to start these conversations? You can guarantee that our working lives will be impacted by death in some way at some time. Be that the death of a colleague, their grief, or the death of someone we love. Talking about it and making it OK to discuss these things will make for a prepared and emphatic and energised work team. 

Is it because we feel vulnerable? 

Over the last 15 years, its my belief that some people don’t want to or can’t face that level of vulnerability. We don’t want to feel fragile. We want to feel invincible. But in my experience, great strength arises from understanding and accepting life in all its highs and lows...and that includes the dreaded ‘d’ word. And who doesn’t want a strong team that work well together, as opposed to a group that don’t talk about anything difficult. 

Like many subjects that cause us pain, challenge our makeup and, generally disrupt, we don’t want to face death head on. I’m sure you have heard the first line of social defence; ‘that talking about death is taboo’ or ‘it’s a taboo subject’ but time and experience has found out that this isn’t true.  

One on one, on planes, trains, buses, shopping centres and many different places around the world, time after time the majority of people I’ve spoken to have a story to share. They have an experience and opinion formed around a point in their life, and some have many! So, I know itreally not taboo, and I know that talking about death won’t kill you in the same way talking about having a baby doesn’t make you pregnant! I know we need to help others to be vulnerable and to start ‘the’ conversation. 

What makes you take action? 

As humans most of us want to make the lives easier of those closest either through, planning, ethics or finances. This is why some people, have made wills, are lucky and generous enough to be able to dedicate time, energy and money to support charities to improving those of the lives around us.  

According to research by Royal London, YouGov, IRN Research in the UK more than half (54%) of the adult population do not have a will. Of those who do not have a will one in four (24%) admitted they have no intention of making one, compared to a third (34%) who said that an illness would encourage them to do so. Yet we know the outcome, we know we want to make things easier for those around us and we know that death can cause anxiety and pain but we don’t prepare? 

Source report 

There is a barrier, it is very difficult to go from not talking about death to making a will. It requires you to think of a time when you have left this mortal coil. But it doesn’t have to be that stark, this article is not about making a will! Its about having a good death, being death positive. 

This can include having talked, shared and made plans about many subjects such as:  

  • organ donation 

  • cremation or burial? 

  • Wills 

  • A lasting power of attorney 

  • preferred place of death 

  • Or preferred priorities of care  

  • Your social media presence 


Quite simply, just talking about dying and the impact is a hugely positive first step. Sociologist Dr Brene Brown has spent her academic career studying and sharing about human connection. She explains that vulnerability may mean opening up about a personal challenge or taking responsibility when things go wrong or reaching out when colleagues are struggling. This can be used powerfully in great leadership programmes, but should also be included in wellbeing strategies 

One of the problems we face is the disconnection connected with death. People often don’t talk about or engage in conversations about loss due to the need to be empathetic and ultimately that means becoming vulnerable themselves. This can lead to isolation in life and the workplace.  

We know Workplace Wellbeing 

….is a key factor in determining an organisation's long-term effectiveness. It relates to all aspects of working life, from the quality and safety of the physical environment, to how workers feel about their work, their working environment, the climate at work and work organisation. 

Those of us who know someone with a life limiting illness, or who have had someone die suddenly realise there are a whole host of things we could personally do to make it easier when the same happens to us. But like most things this needs support and encouragement. Once we are there it will create a sense of relief and satisfaction that we have taken steps to help those we hold closest to us. 

#workplacewellbeing #healthyworkplace #thebigconversations #training #team

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