Talent Recruitment and Retention for Property Managers
Hiring practices in the multifamily business have changed. Top companies share winning tactics for employing the best and making sure they stay.
Millennials and Gen Zers, the two generations taking over the employment market, are forcing people-intensive property management companies to re-assess what makes work satisfying and what makes an employee valuable. Establishing strong employment brands, creating responsive and flexible work environments, and cultivating a broader sense of purpose are among the strategies industry firms are implementing to attract and retain a high-performing workforce.
The U.S.’ low unemployment rate—under 4 percent as of December—has made it difficult for property management companies to keep up with demand for more employees, particularly on the maintenance side. “Active recruitment is a priority to keep the size of the workforce on pace with the rise of homeowner association communities,” said Paula Allen, vice president of Human Resources for FirstService Residential’s South Region. “There are currently more than 342,000 HOAs nationwide, with that number growing at an annual rate of nearly 2 percent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of property, real estate and community association managers is projected to grow 10 percent by 2026.”
Under such conditions, property management firms are doing their best to make sure they find the necessary workforce for a growing sector. Taking part in and sponsoring job fairs is one preferred strategy. Partnerships with educational institutions are also still popular. “We have partnered most recently with Drexel University on an internship program that exposes undergraduate students to the field,” explained Genevieve Bauer, senior vice president of residential operations for Balfour Beatty Communities. “We bring these students into our organization, and over the course of several months, expose them to many aspects of the business, enriching their experience, gaining their unique insights and ultimately helping to develop a more qualified pipeline of property management talent that will pay dividends for the industry as a whole.”
Keeping current employees happy is also a great way to find new ones. Satisfied employees become the best brand ambassadors for the property management firms they work for. Balfour Beatty has implemented a so-called on-the-spot-recruiting technique. “We’ve trained our employees to always be on the lookout in their day-to-day travels for individuals who are delivering outstanding customer service,” Bauer added. “When they spot one, we encourage our people to reach out and let them know about opportunities we have available and leave them with one of our recruitment cards so they can follow-up and stay in touch if there is an interest.”
Of course, every successful effort in this direction is supplemented with generous referral bonuses. The scheme is very efficient, as shown by statistics. For example, roughly half of all new hires at Boston-based Beacon Communities are made via employee referrals. Actually, Beacon was named among the city’s best places to work by the Boston Globe and employee research and consulting firm Energage.
What makes recruiting a lot easier is having a company culture that resonates with the preferences of today’s main workforce demographic. Millennials, or Generation Y as they are also known, have completely transformed the way talent is being recruited. In essence, they have shifted the focus of human resources departments and top managers to the things that matter most to them. Millennials don’t just need a job. They want to put effort into an activity that has a sense of purpose and is challenging. “Millennials want to work for organizations that have purpose as part of their DNA. Because we are in the affordable housing industry, we are a strong, mission-driven company and are able to focus on purpose and making a difference in the world and in residents’ and team members’ lives,” admitted Beacon Residential Management President Jeff Baker.
“Because of their feedback we have seen great benefits,” Baker said. “They have helped us focus on work/life balance initiatives and have been instrumental in creating numerous efficiencies through technology. They also require today’s organizations to have ‘best in class’ training and development programs. This generation has made us better.”
Actually, feedback is at the core of current talent attraction and retention strategies. Baker calls Beacon a “feedback organization” and highlights the 99 percent response rate to the company’s most recent employee engagement survey. “We will continue to solicit team member feedback on Glassdoor. During our weekly new hire lunches, we have seen that approximately 75 percent of new hires have researched us on Glassdoor prior to accepting the offer,” he said.
California-based Moss & Co. is also doing regular surveys to measure employment satisfaction. “We recently implemented a survey that goes to all team members every six months to measure our Net Promoter Score. We are ranked in the best of the best across all industries with a 4 -to-1 ratio of Promoters to Detractors. As a management team, we are proud of this measurement, but we know there is always room for improvement,” said Moss & Co. Executive Vice President Chris Gray.
The new leadership
The term “company culture” or “employer brand” has evolved from something abstract to a very clear and practical way of attracting, filtering and retaining just-right candidates. FirstService, for example, created “I am FirstService Residential,” an employment website that is aimed at expanding its available talent pool by introducing the property management industry to those interested, and showcasing its culture and career opportunities to candidates beyond the traditional real estate sector. Instead of querying visitors to the site about hard skills, it asks “Do you always aim high?” “Are you genuinely helpful and interested in doing what’s right?
“In addition to job openings, the site features profiles and career paths of successful associates across the organization to illustrate the dynamic and diverse professions and range of advancement opportunities of the community association management industry,” Allen said.
Corporate culture and a sense of unified purpose can be critical for retaining property management talent as well, since a company’s portfolio is often spread across geographies and demographics. “We’ve discovered through interviewing a group of employees from around the country and in different age groups that the end goal for everyone is the same,” Bauer said. “Our opportunity to bring these groups together is to remind them that at the end of the day, no matter what, we all want the same out of our career and life and can achieve those things by working as a team.”
Opportunities for growth and development―a more traditional goal for employees―will also continue to weigh heavily for retaining top talent in the coming years. The defining variable here is time. “Professional advancement is no longer of the slow-and-steady, linear path variety. The duration spent in a role is shorter; the time to promotion is faster; and the receptiveness to make lateral moves to pick up new skills and capabilities and assume a new occupation path altogether are positives in the eyes of today’s emerging workforce,” Allen noted.
And just as employees are scrutinizing companies’ intangibles, property management companies are evaluating new recruits and employees more on who they are rather than on their technical skills and education. “The top talent in the property management industry are leaders, regardless of what position they are in,” Gray said. “These are the people that are meant to lead. They continue to come up with innovative ideas to improve the business, and they put their employees first. They are not concerned about their own promotion. They want to see their employees developed and promoted first. It’s amazing what a company can accomplish when upper management has a relentless focus on the individuals that make up the team.”
Bauer agreed, noting that the new generation of leaders does not feel threatened by their fearless peers and accepts the constant flow of ideas coming from their staffs. As a result, companies are striving to create the perfect environment for these ideas to thrive. “Balfour Beatty Communities’ My Contribution program opens the gates for these employees to submit their ideas on how the company can do things in a more efficient manner, catering to this desire to have a larger impact,” Bauer explained.
What does the future hold?
It’s not just mentalities that are changing―it’s also physical spaces. The current consensus is that modern design and leisure amenities make workplaces more desirable, and it’s not just the tech giants and hipsterish startups that have learned this lesson. “We are planning to provide more ergonomic furniture options such as height adjustable desks. Taking cues from the ‘resimercial’ trend, we are planning to implement more collaborative spaces with lounge furniture to allow our employees the option to work at their desks or from the comfort of a plush armchair,” Baker revealed.
In the near future and beyond, it seems that companies that are responsiveness and committed to empowering their employees will fare best. “We have a saying at Moss & Co. that we make clear at our new hire orientation. ‘Nobody has toes here, so don’t worry about stepping on them.’ We want to continuously improve our processes. Once we define a process, it’s time to start over and find a better way to do it with the goal of saving our clients’ money and our employees’ headaches. The best ideas come from every level of the organization,’ Gray added.