Working at a death-positive company

March 22, 2022, 2:10 p.m.

Frankie’s experience working at a death-positive company: supportive, educational and great for well-being. Photo: not Frankie. Frankie is shy. Matilda says hi.

The description ‘death-positive’ can sound daunting, or even buzzword-y, as if we’re looking for the next HR trend. In reality, being death-positive has incredibly important ramifications for organisational health.

Being death-positive doesn’t mean promoting death but being open and accepting of its inevitability. Once such an attitude is adopted, its effects on any challenge (not just death) are transformative. If something can happen, it will; and if it does, why pretend it didn’t?

This concept applies to even the most mundane situations. If something can happen, say your clothes are still wet after drying all weekend (not based on true story), it will. There’s no use in ignoring the possibility because it’s stressful to think about.

Although it doesn’t quite prepare you for the eventuality (nothing can prepare you for joining a work call in a soaked jumper, NOT BASED ON A TRUE STORY), just planning and knowing what you will do can provide great peace of mind.

It can prepare you in a way that, whilst the experience is still far from pleasant, it can be dealt with much more efficiently and remove some of the stress involved (for example, it’s better to dry your clothes with body heat than to work in dirty clothes and let the perma-damp ones get musty; that’s a saying, right?).

Personally, I was brought up on horror stories of how employees and co-workers will sabotage and exploit you at every turn (and I’m sure that happens at some other companies, just not here). Perhaps it used to happen more often, when education on how death and mental health affect us was scarce, and the accepted way of dealing with it was to grit your teeth and ignore it, lest you appear weak.

This is my first job, and I was, and am, wary of buzzwords; but I can confirm that death-positivity has created a very supportive and comfortable environment. We are absolutely expected to do our best, of course, but the definition of our best isn’t based on an intangible perfect us, on a perfect day, in a perfect place. It is more about what we can do with what we have – wet jumpers included!

I don’t have to worry about being honest about challenges or obstacles, and my co-workers don’t have to worry about my honesty or promises. Openness and honesty beget openness and honesty.

Unfortunately, as far as companies go, we’re more the exception than the rule. Many companies still run on outdated and baseless assumptions, not out of malice, but because they know no better. Death, mental health, and so many other things that cannot be wrapped up neatly in a value-pack-one-size-fits-all-bow are thought to be incompatible with an ordered and efficient workplace. They are pushed aside, because, if they’re incompatible, they couldn’t possibly affect it, right?

Some companies try to deal with unique problems with generic solutions: a death or other event gets you a set number of days off and that’s that. You’re thought capable of sorting yourself out and returning at peak performance on your own, with a time-limit.

I don’t have to say why that doesn’t work. If ‘disordered’ problems are incompatible with an ‘ordered’ workplace, why would they be compatible with their solutions?

Unique problems require unique solutions, and a solution can start before the problem ever arises. Preparing employees and employers to deal with the inevitable can make an uncomfortable and difficult time more bearable, and help us do our best on the day.


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