Has Property Management already had its “Great Resignation”?

There’s a fair bit of media attention at the moment on this phenomenon we’re now calling the “Great Resignation” and the prediction that it will hit us in March 2022, once people start returning to the office full time.

Using the anecdotal American experience the experts are saying that the lockdowns have given us the time and opportunity to pause and reflect on how we want our lives to be as we emerge from the pandemic, and how we imagine ourselves leading a more fulfilled balance between career and life with more time for their own, more rewarding pursuits and less stress from a work perspective – current thoughts seem to be that around 30% of the workforce will either resign from their current roles or have them significantly recalibrated.

In short, a large chunk of the overall workforce is seen as  dissatisfied with their current role and want something different.

Although it has changed to some extent recently with employers starting to recognise the importance of the role or have to compete for staff, property management has never been a well paid sector of the industry; and frankly, some business owners gave no thought at all to supporting their teams with good training and resources preferring to spend their budget within the sales division so there has been discontent with conditions for some time.

Over the last couple of years property managers have been at the forefront of conflict over rental payments from both tenants who have found themselves with significantly altered circumstances both financially and personally, and landlords who have been in exactly the same position, and an inability within the legislation to do anything about it. The stress projected onto those at the coalface has been immense and this caused a huge number of dedicated, experienced people to quit the sector; by the middle of 2020, I’d already lost count of the number of calls I had last year where the person on the other end of the phone was in tears from the overwhelm.

According to an article in the AFR in April 2021, the strain of the job had meant that we’d already lost 30% of our population in that first 12 months. I know this from my own consulting clients; 2 out of 3 conversations I have with directors and leaders of agencies is on whether I know someone who wants to move companies; and these aren’t just inexperienced people who were leaving, they were senior, knowledgeable, highly skilled individuals who’d just had enough for the reasons I’ve outlined above. This means that we’re already operating at a reduced number of 70% of our pre-covid cohort and if we lose another say 20%, the property management population has been halved.

Property management is about relationships. With the 30% reduction in numbers, staff shortages are already apparent within estate agencies in areas such as service delivery, client communication and efficiencies and this is starting to impact client satisfaction – while there is enough technology around to assist with automating the routine tasks, no software can replace the human aspects of our role – to think it can is short sighted and denies the needs of both parties in the tenancy.

Where business owners need to start to implement improvements to retain their staff or attract new team members is firstly in the provision of a flexible working environment. A fully structured office environment will still be needed and should be offered to everyone who wants it, but not everyone is going to want to go back to that, and nor do they have to from a practical point of view.

Much as being social with our teammates is a big part of the office, there is going to be a level of resistance from some people for a diverse number of reasons and as employers we need to be supportive of a diversified workforce, and a diversified workplace to meet that need.

If the pandemic has shown us anything it’s that cloud technology has given us all the ability to work remote of an office from pretty much anywhere – there will still be a requirement for some in-person attendance at an “office” in my view as we are at heart social creatures and need that interaction, but the majority of work can be undertaken remotely and to be honest, so long as the work is being completed satisfactorily and the clients expectations are being met (and exceeded), does it really matter if the property manager is at home, in the office, or at the beach? (and yes ok, the beach is a stretch but you see my point…)

Property management is a very mobile role, and most traditional roles spend a sizeable amount of their working day away from the office with inspections etc as priority tasks.

To keep people in their roles, they need to feel as though they matter – support, resourcing, and training are all hugely important contributors to job satisfaction.

If we’re going to offer the flexibility in working environments, we need to take care to continue (or even enhance) the way we interact with them on a daily and weekly basis – if your team are working remotely, we still need to check in with them each day to make sure that they’re in a good place from a work point of view and that we’re across any issues which may need further oversight or escalation, and have a schedule for more formal meetings on a regular basis. Maybe even continue the “buddy” system that was incredibly successful for some of the more progressive agencies as a way to further support people who are working from home.
Ensure that regular, relevant training events are booked in; having these as face to face sessions rather than zoom or teams meetings give each member the opportunity to interact with each other more than just as faces on a screen and will add to the cohesive nature of the team.
There’s a whole lot more we can do to support the members of our sector and avoid our own second wave once people come to grips with the realities of working in 2022, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll avoid our own second wave of resignations.