The Implications of Facing Death on the Job: Investigating the Antecedents and Consequences of Mortality Awareness in Organizations
Despite how commonplace it is for employees in certain helping professions to be exposed to mortality cues (i.e., events that make death salient personally or vicariously) at work and for these cues to increase their awareness of their mortality, little is known about the consequences of this exposure and heightened mortality awareness. Traditionally, the effects of mortality cues and mortality awareness are studied from a terror management perspective, which states that when people are reminded of their mortality, they will experience death anxiety and this death anxiety will lead to destructive consequences. Recently, scholars have begun to consider whether exposure to mortality cues and mortality awareness may lead employees to have reflective thoughts about their death (i.e., death reflection), which may have productive consequences. This dissertation integrates these perspectives to examine the destructive and productive consequences of exposure to mortality cues and mortality awareness in organizations. In one study, I examine the consequences of death anxiety and death reflection in 105 employees from helping professions who chronically encounter mortality cues at work. Results reveal that employees higher in death reflection are more likely to report greater work-life balance and engage in higher levels of organizational citizenship behaviours, helping behaviours directed towards the organization or its members. In a second study, I examine if death reflection arises as a result of factors that occur in near-death experiences: realistically thinking about dying, a life review, and taking on the perspective of others. Results indicate that an experimental manipulation of a near-death experience does not lead to greater death reflection, at least not after one exposure. Overall, this dissertation adds to our understanding of how employees who are exposed to death at work think about their mortality and is one of the first demonstrations this exposure and mortality awareness may have some benefits.