Keeping Your Onsite Associates in the Fold

Industry experts offer tips on how to minimize leasing team turn-over rates and build a cohesive group that will drive operating performance at communities.

Morgan Dzak

Morgan Dzak

Frequent community staff turnover is an issue that plagues the apartment industry nationwide, yet high-functioning onsite teams are one of the most critical components of a multifamily company’s overall success. Put simply, it’s crucial to build cohesive onsite teams that stay together for the long haul to drive great operating performance at communities.

Industry experts often peg the onsite turnover rate at 50 percent. In such an environment, how can apartment owners and operators build leasing teams that are productive, happy and stay together for the long-term? Outlined below are some suggested tactics from industry experts that operators can use to build such teams.

Pay a competitive salary

Multifamily experts are quick to point out that employee satisfaction is about much more than pay, but leasing team members also have to have an income that allows them to support themselves without undue stress. Providing a fair income is a critical, fundamental component of keeping associates happy and motivated.

“Every market has different costs of living, so creating a pay scale that reflects those market conditions is a method we use to fairly pay our onsite teams,” said Ashish Kapoor, vice president of human resources at JVM Realty Corp.

Part of working at the site level is having to be on call, and operators should consider paying onsite associates a special bonus for the hours they have to be on call, according to Kapoor.

“Pay onsite associates a weekly on-call rate for the weekend or late-night hours they may or may not have to work,” Kapoor said. “And even if they don’t have a late call or an issue, they still get to keep that on-call pay, and it serves as additional money for them.”

Create and communicate career advancement opportunities

Many onsite associates will leave after one or two years if there is no obvious path to career advancement or a promotion, according to industry experts.

“Some people in an entry-level position don’t understand the next steps to career growth and development, so creating a clear career path is crucial to keeping team members motivated and happy,” said Terry Brewer, vice president of human resources at ROSS Management Services. “A great way to create these paths is through a career development program and open communication regarding the associate’s career goals. This conversation should clearly outline where the associate is now in their career, and what steps they need to take to further develop their skills for promotional opportunities and to ultimately reach their career goals.”

Opening up the opportunity to advance and creating room for promotions shows employees that this is a company in which they can grow and build a meaningful career.

Encourage open communication

These days, employees value employers who have open-door policies and create environments in which employees feel free to speak up if need be.

“One of our biggest fundamentals is transparency and being open with our communication,” Kapoor noted. “We want our employees to speak straight and speak up, so to support this, we’ve implemented a third-party ethics line our employees can call if there’s anything bothering them. Outside of the ethics line, we also strive to create an environment in which associates know they can reach leadership at any time to discuss problems within the workplace or to offer suggestions for improved practices.”

Kapoor also recommends quarterly roundtables with community managers to talk with them about employee engagement, morale and motivation among their onsite teams. “It’s a great opportunity to get all of our community managers together in one room, and I can ask them, ‘What’s working for you? What’s not working for you?'” Kapoor said. “It gives us a chance to discuss solutions with each other right on the spot, and it shows our community managers that they and their teams truly have a voice.”

Openness, honesty and dignity aren’t just important in a company culture– they’re integral, according to Brewer. And while leasing team members should be empowered to speak up, company leaders and supervisors must be open as well. Communication is a two-way street.

“When we have turnover issues at our communities, there’s normally a pattern. We facilitate exit interviews when individuals voluntarily resign their position, and many times it is due to discontent with their supervisor,” Brewer said. “Either a lack of respect, inclusion or communication with their supervisor. Supervisors who have long-term employees keep their teams involved, and they have regular team-building activities, ask for suggestions from the teams and attempt to implement those suggestions. There’s a mutual respect between those supervisors and their team members.”

Provide immediate and constant feedback

Don’t wait until an employee’s annual review to provide feedback on his or her performance. Constant and immediate feedback is critical to employee development and satisfaction.

Just like employees should not only be immediately praised and recognized for their hard work, if an employee needs coaching or feedback that should also be provided in a timely manner.

“Employees want to know where they stand and appreciate being made aware of issues as they arise,” Brewer said. “Blindsiding them at a review with a negative assessment is certain to cause considerable discontent.”

Use appreciation programs and events to foster team cohesion

Appreciation programs and events are effective methods for boosting employee morale and bringing team members together.

Whether it’s through ice cream socials and pizza lunches, recognizing an employee-of-the-month or hosting an annual awards event, operators should implement ways to show their leasing teams they care about them and appreciate the work they’re doing. Employees want recognition for their work, and such efforts can have a positive impact on employee satisfaction, according to Brewer.

“It’s so important to show continual recognition to employees and not just once a year,” Brewer said.

Operators should also provide ways for team members to engage in charitable activities, both Brewer and Kapoor noted. Younger employees are placing a growing emphasis on corporate social responsibility, and CSR initiatives can serve as a solid boost to employee morale.

“Consider giving team members paid time off to do volunteer work. Corporate gift-matching programs, through which associates’ charitable donations are matched up to a certain amount, are another great way to help associates feel empowered and supported,” Kapoor said.

“Regularly providing opportunities for employees to perform charitable work enables them to satisfy the basic human need we all have to help others,” Brewer added. “That in turn results in a positive image of the company and at the same time, group volunteer outings allow team members to strengthen their bonds with each other.”

Both Brewer and Kapoor shared that employee appreciation events and team-building activities can help foster a sense of cohesion that drives employee satisfaction and keeps associates in the fold. A corporate culture that emphasizes open communication, fair treatment and career growth is also essential.

Provide a comprehensive benefits package

Offering a comprehensive benefits package is another fundamental component of building a strong leasing team that will stay together for the long haul. For instance, employees need to know that if they or their family members get sick, they will be protected in such circumstances.

In the face of the growing costs of health insurance, which can understandably upset employees, operators need to emphasize “their complete benefits packages,” Brewer said. “Show employees the health and welfare benefits, but also emphasize vacation days, personal and sick days, time off for holidays, commuter benefits, discounted programs and your various work-life benefits. It can be tough to explain a double-digit increase in health insurance premiums, so it is important to be transparent with the health insurance expense, while stressing the full benefit package.”

In the end, building teams of high-performing and loyal leasing associates requires an array of tactics. Overall, though, it’s really about building a culture of respect, fairness, transparency and communication, Brewer and Kapoor said.

“Employee loyalty and retention doesn’t just happen,” Kapoor said. “It takes a comprehensive and sustained effort by companies to create the right culture. In the end, it’s not so much about pay – although that’s certainly important – as it’s about how we treat and motivate our employees. It’s really about creating a stimulating, rewarding and enjoyable place to work.”

Morgan Dzak is a content writer for LinnellTaylor Marketing, a Denver-based public relations agency.

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