Well-Dying: A Program HR Does Not Need to Champion

Kathy Rapp Employee Relations, Engagement and Satisfaction, Kathy Rapp

After reading about what South Korean companies are doing to attempt to increase productivity, our corporate team-building retreats, psychological assessments and 360’s don’t seem all that bad!

Evidently, fake funerals or “well-dying” are the new corporate off-sites for some companies in South Korea like Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor, Kyobo Life Insurance, ING, and Mirae Asset Management.  In a country where suicide rates are high and work-life priorities vary, some organizations believe sending their employees to experience their own “deaths” – including writing their own eulogies, wills, selecting and being closed up in their own coffin (with dirt thrown on top) for 5-10 minutes – will cause them to live a better life and hopefully increase their corporate productivity as well.

“The experience makes workers more efficient, said Kim Hee Jin, a personnel manager at the Gumi Samsung plant, which makes mobile phones, computer printers and fax machines.”

Yep, not making this up.

While I’m sure there is a fair amount of self-reflection and personal prioritization resulting from being nailed in a coffin, I can’t imagine this extreme measure being forced on employees.  It seem experts are on the fence about how effective this type of activity actually is for reducing suicide rates, so why would organizations believe it would potentially lead to higher productivity?  And seriously, even if it were voluntary, who is going to sign-up for something like this unless they feel internal pressure to do so!?!

I came across this odd practice the same week I learned a top candidate for a role with our organization had suddenly passed away in her sleep.  This woman had an extremely successful corporate career holding senior leadership positions in HR, Operations, Sales and Marketing.  After 25 years of service she’d left the corporate world this year to do something more entrepreneurial and spend time with her daughter before she headed off to college.  I spoke to her for the last time two days before she dropped her daughter off; and four days later she had passed away.

Additionally, one of our Managing Directors lost her mother this past week after a battle with Multiple Myeloma.  While her death was not sudden as her battle lasted 18 months, the onset of the illness was and she passed at a very young age as well.

Unfortunately, these circumstances are painful reminders of how precious and limited our time with loved ones can be.  It doesn’t matter if the passing is sudden or prolonged, we naturally self-reflect and likely promise to re-prioritize what is important.  That includes all aspects of our lives – including how we approach work.

This inevitable cycle of life and death is what jolts us out of our daily routine; not a seminar to simulate our own death.  Can you even imagine asking an employee to take part in such a thing?!  It will be interesting to see if this concept of well-dying catches on outside of South Korea.  Thankfully, I doubt many of my HR colleagues would view this idea as worthy of support.

In loving memory of Sandy H. and Margaret Kaiser.