According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), more than 4 in 10 U.S. employees reported that they were burned out in January of 2020. Do you remember January of 2020? That’s what we’ve now come to call “before times”, as in, before COVID-19. So even when our lives hadn’t yet been upended by this punishing pandemic, we already had 40% of employees who were feeling stretched too thin. Not great.
Then along came COVID-19, and things went from bad to worse. The same survey was repeated in December of 2020, and this time a full 75% of employees reported that they were burned out.
For the last year and a half, apartment professionals been worried about so many things—from health concerns to financial pressures to caregiving challenges. On-site community team members have also been faced with serving resident customers who have been, to be diplomatic, not exactly at their best. That’s because our residents are as stressed out as we are, and unfortunately, they often reach their breaking point when interacting with one of our office or maintenance staff members.
Here are just some of the sources of friction on-site Community Managers have faced this year:
- A significant increase in the number of noise complaints as residents’ behaviors changed and they were suddenly home all the time… trying to work while their upstairs neighbors’ kids stomped around, and the landscaping crew’s equipment buzzed
- Non-stop deliveries from UPS, FedEx, and Amazon Prime meant residents’ packages turned leasing offices into loading docks
- Managing resident frustrations when amenities were restricted or closed for safety reasons
- A spike in delinquencies as residents struggle to pay rent due to loss of income
- Non-stop service requests from residents who were home all the time, coupled with restrictive mandates limiting service team members’ ability to respond to emergencies only
- And, staffing challenges as employees were ill, unable to come to work due to health risks, or unwilling or unable to perform their duties during the pandemic
Is it any wonder, really, that we’re seeing warning signs that on-site Community Managers are at risk of not just burning out but flaming out? It’s likely that property management companies will see higher than average employee turnover this year. Considering our industry already experiences employee turnover at nearly twice the national average, we could be in for a world of hurt.
Here’s why I’m concerned. In the employee surveys that Swift Bunny conducts for multifamily companies, we ask employees: how likely are you to still be here in 12 months? The reason we ask this question is because our management company clients are focused on reducing employee turnover. This leading indicator signals if trouble is brewing and allows leaders to address any specific challenges employees are pointing out in their confidential survey responses.
The Swift Bunny Index indicates a growing number of on-site Community Managers are unsure whether they will stick around for another year. In an average year (you know, “before times”) about 12% of managers say they’re unsure if they’ll remain with their companies for the next 12 months. So far in 2020 we are seeing at least 19% of Community Managers saying they are uncertain they’ll stick around. In some organizations, that number is as high as 25%. Other positions, such as leasing and maintenance, are also showing a similar rise in uncertainty. It’s an alarming trend.
What’s to be done? First, let’s acknowledge the stresses our teams have endured are going to take more than a pizza party to fix. We need to employ supportive solutions to really help our associates manage all that they are juggling. For example:
- Extend flexibility with work schedules to accommodate employees’ other responsibilities such as caregiving. Many companies modified work schedules during the pandemic due to external constraints; can we consider maintaining some flexibility there in “after times”?
- Relax and update PTO policies to better suit employees’ needs. For example, in 2020, many companies altered their “use it or lose it” policy around vacation time to allow team members to roll their unused time over to the new year. Some even allowed associates to cash out their unused PTO and receive pay instead. Such accommodations were welcome and may be worth considering into the future.
- Last year, we learned how to manage our communities while team members worked from home, which is something we never thought would work for on-site community management. Guess what? It worked. Is work-from-home something we could continue to offer, at least occasionally? It could be really beneficial to our team members, especially those who are caregivers. Imagine having the flexibility to work from home when your child has a day off from school. A total game changer!
- Many companies have embraced new wellness initiatives, from providing meditation apps (and the time to use them) to mental health counseling on-call. Taking care of our team’s mental health has become just as important as safeguarding their physical health on the job.
Apartment communities tend to perform as well as the Community Manager who leads them. Most leaders would agree that when an apartment community experiences turnover in the management position, it has a negative impact on resident satisfaction and retention. It can also lead to even more employee turnover on the team. In order to achieve your organization’s performance objectives, your company is reliant upon the skill, ability, hard work, and tenure of the on-site community team—and especially the Community Manager who leads the effort. They’re the absolute foundation of your success. Leaders, do everything you can to prove you have their backs—and keep them from burning out.