In high school, I got a job at a well-known undergarment chain store at the mall as a sales associate. My first day at work, I was given a tape measure to wear around my neck and was told to stand in the front of the store. I knew nothing about the different fabric or styles or even prices. I had never worked in a store before, let alone with customers.
As the day wore on, both the customers and I got more and more frustrated as they would ask me for help finding a particular item, and I had no idea where to find it, or even what they were looking for. And then customers would ask me to help them figure out what size they needed.
“Um…” I sputtered. “I’m not sure.”
“Well, could you measure me?” they would ask.
“With that tape measure you have around your neck!” they’d angrily explain.
“Oh…this thing. That’s what it’s for. Of course. Um…”
Did you know you can’t accurately measure someone to figure out their undergarment size by wrapping a tape measure around their body (including their arms) while they’re wearing a puffy parka? It’s true!
I didn’t last very long at that job.
Many positions take a “trial by fire” attitude when it comes to new employees, figuring the best way for people to learn is by doing. But this is certainly not always the case. Training and “onboarding” new employees is crucial to make sure that they start out as prepared as possible to do a good job.
That is not to say there won’t be a learning curve. You can’t expect new employees to do everything perfectly on day one. But you need to give them all the tools necessary so that they can be on the right track.
Training and onboarding is especially important for your team at your multifamily community, especially since these employees often have to interact with residents or prospective residents. You wouldn’t want residents to get frustrated when they ask about community procedures, such as where rent checks should be dropped off or whether they have to break down big boxes in the garbage room or if Slip and Slides are permitted in the hallways, only to get a blank stare in return. That could annoy renters, or even cause them not to rent from you. Even if an employee comes from the industry, procedures vary from community to community. Maybe at Apartments XYZ where they previously worked, they were allowed to wear jeans on Fridays, but at your community employees are only allowed jeans on Tuesdays.
Here are some suggestions for successfully onboarding new multifamily employees.
Create a training manual. Make a physical or online book with all the information your new employee needs. This should not just include important company policies, such as policies for vacation days, insurance information, etc., but also policies for the individual community. This way the employee can use it as a reference guide down the road. (“Oh look, on Halloween I can wear cat ears or a pirate hat. I wonder if the same holds true for Arbor Day.” Checks manual. “Well, what do you know? It’s frowned upon. Good to know!”)
Spell out your expectations. Maybe the hours are technically 9-5 at the leasing office, but you want employees there a little early in case a prospective resident gets there at 9 on the dot. Maybe you want to know every time there is a resident complaint, or maybe you’d rather the employee handle it themselves. Maybe all resident events with food are supposed to include chocolate chip cookies instead of raisin cookies, because raisins are gross. Your employee won’t know unless you tell him or her. (Except for the raisin part. Duh.)
Do a walk through. Just because your new employee was told that the utility room is on the second floor and that the gym is in the basement, doesn’t mean he or she will be able to find it, or be able to point it out to residents right away. Make sure to physically show employees where things are so there’s no confusion. This might prevent the poor new person from wandering the halls, urgently searching for the restroom.
Encourage questions. You say you always welcome questions, but you actually have to mean in. Something that’s obvious to a seasoned employee might seem completely strange to a new person. But if they’re too afraid to ask you, then they risk doing something wrong, and potentially giving a resident the wrong information. (For example, when I was moving out of my apartment, my husband asked an employee in the leasing office what color the paint for the walls were so we could repaint a room we had painted before we left. He looked confused, and then said, “I think it’s Egg Shell White:” and gave us a paint brand. We went to the store, and that brand did not have an Egg Shell White. So we bought Egg Yolk—or something else “eggy”—thinking it would be close enough. It wasn’t. You’d think, “white” is “white,” but there are apparently a million different shades. If the employee had just asked his manager, my husband and I might not have to worry about possibly not getting our security deposit back. But I digress.)
Meet frequently with new employees to let them know how they’re doing and explain if things are going wrong. No one likes to be told they’re doing something wrong. But it’s better to tell an employee, “Hey, it’s our policy to wear pants when you’re showing a prospective resident an apartment, so maybe keep a spare pair in your desk for next time,” than to let it go a bunch of times and then have to fire the employee “out of nowhere” (in their minds) for constantly doing something wrong. Be sure to let them know when they’re doing well too, which will bolster employee morale.
What are some of your training procedures for new employees? Do you think training is important, or would you rather people learn on the job?
-Jessica Fiur, Senior Editor