And I’m not suggesting that I have all (or any..) of the answers, but after reading the number of posts this month from members of our community who are clearly in so much distress that they’re leaving or have left the sector, we need to do something to address this. I’ve also had conversations away from our forums with people who are just burnt out, who in the 10 or 20 years they’ve been in the industry have never had so much demanded of them, not had holidays in 4 or more years, and are so distressed that they’ve given notice that they’re leaving the job.
It’s an uneasy truth that PM is not a highly valued profession by some, and in that “some” I’m including a broad range of people and interests – from employers and directors to government and media, and the public in general, there’s a constant demeaning of the role by people who speak with little knowledge of it, and in some cases, from inside our own industry.
This attitude doesn’t seem to have shifted much in the 30 or so years that I’ve been working in the sector, and it is reflected in the way some treat us, and we allow to continue. It’s a combination of lack of professional remuneration, training and skills development, and also a lack of potency within the tenancy laws for us to be able to effectively manage the rights of both sides – in this regard, we’ve become the kicking bag for both sides.
While we won’t change the attitudes overnight, we need to find our voice and start to hold our ground in the face of continued poor treatment from directors, landlords, tenants and government – we need to shift the narrative that this is unskilled work carried out by people who can’t find a job anywhere else (yes, I had that said to me early in my career). The old mentality of this being the domain for employment of either young women or bored housewives (and yes, I had THAT said to me too!) has to be changed.
The requirement now is that PMs are well versed in not just PM legislation, but risk and compliance, accounting, building principles, strata law, negotiation, customer service, communication and more means that we are constantly finding ourselves at the receiving end of a public which has become shorter-tempered and more demanding of our skills and our time, and we need to start to manage expectations around what we are actually able to do far better than we have to date – the presumption is that we should be available at almost any hour to handle even routine matters has to be the first area we address – the role of a PM is vastly different to that of a sales person, and our income is not reliant on someone calling late at night to list or buy a house, our role is really limited to office hours (with some flexibility) and being on call outside of this does not show good customer service, it merely sets the expectation that we will answer a call at any time, regardless of whether it could really wait until the following business day, or what we’re doing.
We also need to start to set standards in terms of the treatment we get from clients (and I don’t differentiate between landlords or tenants here…), and any abuse needs to be reported up our chain of command and handled firmly by those above us – we perpetuate this behaviour if we do nothing to counter it; I’ve lost count of the number of times where, in previous roles, I’ve dealt with errant landlords and tenants who think it’s appropriate to abuse a PM because they couldn’t get their own way when what was being told to them was accurate; directors and department heads should be taking on those more difficult clients and not leaving the PM to feel that they’re in it on their own, this will help to shift stresses away from the PM and help with retention of good people.
Perhaps one of the first places this should start is with an education program from inside the offices to their client base on what the role actually entails, so that the client becomes aware of what goes on behind the scenes –we can’t rely on the media or industry bodies for this, they’ve shown over time to be largely ineffective at it, so we’ve got to take it on ourselves.
We also need to look at our education, both individually and at a company level, each one of us is responsible for at least a part of our continued professional development, but our employers are probably more so – after all, it’s their clients we’re looking after so it’s incumbent on them to contribute at least an equal part of our costs.
Professional development though, is also not purely training in the hard technical skills of the role – the legislation and its administration is important, as is being able to use the differing platforms correctly, but so is training in the human side of the business such as improving our communication and negotiation skills, and customer service, as well as resilience training for those times when the going gets really tough; and if your directors won’t pay for this, do it for yourself and your future self – some of these courses out there come with government assistance to help pay part of the costs.
Finally, let’s address the pay – ours is not a highly paid job, most roles I’ve seen advertised from PMs are paying in the range of $65 – 70,000 +/- with occasionally ones in the $80,000’s; and the common refrain from directors is “we can’t afford to pay more than that”. Well, the simplistic answer is get better fees; I know it’s a lot more nuanced than this, but the simple truth is that while we keep accepting discounted fees from clients, we’re only going to be paid at the current rate – and yes, I know that there’ll be landlords who will go to the cheaper agent, but my question then is do you really want those ones anyway? Go out and find the clients who believe in your value as much as you do and are willing to pay better fees, concentrate on a smaller number of higher-yielding clients, and you’ll need a smaller staff cohort and your salaries bill will probably also be slightly smaller. The more we encourage poor fees, the more we’ll encourage the attitude that we’re really not worth that much, and the more we’ll be forced to deal with people who treat us that way.
As I said at the beginning, there’s no simple answer to this, it’s multifaceted and it’s a long road, but if we don’t start to speak out for ourselves then the Einstein truism will continue to hold
“if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”
So, what are you going to do about it?