Funeral planning: The final workplace taboo

The taboo around death must be addressed so funeral planning is seen as a vital part of benefit strategies

Most workplaces will have a variety of initiatives aimed at encouraging and supporting employees with most aspects of financial planning, breaking down the complexities of vital but often dry and confusing topics.

But there are still some areas seen as too sensitive to address. Death and funerals remain the last taboo. But, despite being potentially difficult and awkward to address at first, this could be one of the most important financial conversations to have.

The underlying problem is that death is not discussed. Most people avoid talking about their own or a loved one’s wishes, plans or death, least of all while at work. Which can lead to huge emotional and financial consequences for the thousands of people dealing with grief at any given time.

Employees suffering in silence, or not being mentally or financially prepared for the costs of funerals, may have significant negative impacts on their families later down the line. Firms who are less well-equipped to deal with death could see business productivity, morale and ultimately the bottom line negatively affected.

Only 6% of adults in the UK have taken out a pre-paid funeral plan, whereas in other countries take-up is more commonplace. In Holland, for example, this accounts for 70% of the population.

Employers and HR professionals can play a pivotal role in breaking this taboo. Employers can build trust with an individual as they hopefully already have a close relationship to their financial situation through existing initiatives.

Introducing pre-paid funeral plans into the wider workplace benefit mix is an important first step. It’s a largely unknown fact that funeral plans are the only financial product you can write in another person’s name. With this in mind, another strategy employers could consider is ‘funeral vouchers’ or similar. Employees can then pass these on to a loved one to help ease the financial strain. Grief counselling and advice or workshops on wills, power of attorney, or the steps to take when a loved one passes are relatively simple, but could be of great benefit long term.

One taboo being broken down by open discussion is mental health. This is largely down to the work of a number of charities and public campaigning. Death is now the final hurdle and encouraging its discussion will mean fewer suffer in silence.

The responsibility is not solely with the employer, however. Individuals should be encouraged to take ownership of the financial products they have in place, as they do with pensions or savings accounts. Giving employees the option and ability to pay into a funeral plan from their salary could help to educate around later life planning in general.

Many place funeral plans outside the standard financial product bracket. But they are as important as pensions, mortgages and insurance in an individual’s life and should be treated as such within the wider employee benefit strategy.

Paul Wilson is CEO of Avalon