In our new series, we’ll be tackling common and frequently asked questions from operators and operator executives in the multi-family housing industry.
Ask a multifamily operations-focused executive what their biggest concerns are, and it likely won’t take long for the topic of staffing—and by extension, turnover—to come up. High turnover rates have a number of negative implications for operators, including hiring costs, lost productivity, lower sales results and more.
While turnover is a fact-of-life in multifamily, there are things you can do to manage and mitigate the problem. In today’s installment of the new What Would You Do? series, we’re tackling employee turnover.
Here is a common scenario we encounter:
“I’m the head of operations for a Midwest regional operator. We own 2/3rds of our portfolio and 1/3rd is owned by others. We’ve got 21,000 units with 65 properties. Turnover for our onsite personnel is running at 37-46% and has been increasing over the last several years. What’s more, with lower unemployment, we’re finding it harder to fill positions and the expectations from applicants is increasing. This is impacting our ability to fully cover properties and while our performance is still strong, we’re worried about how this is going to impact us into the future. What would you do?”
This question deals with two important considerations for every employer: how do you get quality employees on your team, and (even more importantly) how do you keep them?
High employee turnover can be a stressful situation, but it’s a solvable problem. Let’s look at ways to address it step by step.
Why Are Employees Leaving?
If you’re experiencing high levels of employee turnover, you’ll want to go right to the source of the problem: why are employees leaving?
The first potential solution may be the simplest: what are their pay packages like, and are they comparable to competitors? If your workers are able to find a similar job but with higher pay or more comprehensive benefits, then it only makes sense that they’re seeking out more lucrative opportunities.
It’s not always about pay, though. How does the saying go? “People don’t quit a work place, they quit their boss.” So the next thing you want to examine is the workplace environment. What is the relationship between staff and management? How is the camaraderie between employees? What are the opportunities for advancement? For employees spending 40+ hours a week in a job, these aren’t minor details; they’re quality of life questions.
One way to assess whether your employees are happy is by looking at your residents. Happy residents help make for happy employees, while employees trying to service unhappy residents may feel overwhelmed or stretched too thin. So ask yourself: is there a way to improve residential life or address common resident complaints that would lighten the load on your employees?
Ultimately, try to assess the reason that each individual is leaving. You may find a pattern in responses, and if a certain issue keeps coming up, make that your first target for improvement.
How Do You Find Quality Employees?
Whether or not turnover is an issue for you, finding high quality employees might be. With low unemployment rates, there are simply fewer workers looking for jobs.
One tip is to get creative in where you look for employees. In finding office staff, seek out medical or legal receptionists or restaurant workers. Not only are they qualified, but they’ll be used to dealing with stressed, angry or unhappy people, or spending 8+ hour shifts on their feet. In comparison, the relatively low-stress MF housing environment, which is less physically and emotionally demanding, might provide them with a welcomed change -- in a work environment they might not have considered as an option.
Another tip: utilize job fairs. Not only can you find service technicians at these events, but you can also likely offer them more stable and consistent hours than they’re used to. This is a big selling point.
Also explore programs like Shelters to Shutters, which trains temporarily homeless people in housing-related jobs. If you change someone’s life, you’re likely to have a very loyal employee.
How Do You Keep Employees?
Once you’ve found your employees, how do you keep them? This will take some work on your part, but it’s work that will pay off. Some tips for reducing employee turnover:
- Have clearly defined roles. Let your employees know exactly what is expected of them. No surprises.
- Define skills needed for these roles. This will save a lot of headaches for both of you. If you hired someone whose skill set doesn’t match their current role, don’t give up (or wait for them to quit in frustration). Is there another role they could fulfill that utilizes their skills?
- Coach for performance and develop people into their roles and ultimately, career pathways. This is the difference between a job and career: as an employer, you can help your employees envision what a career with your company might look like. What roles do you see them growing into? What promotions or opportunities for advancement are down the line? What’s in it for them to stay with the company? These are all conversations you should be having with your employees.
- Promote people into roles that develop their strengths. Don’t promote a great leasing person with strong sales skills into a bookkeeping role just because the promotion is available. Promoting people based on their strengths and interests is a great way to avoid burn out and turnover.
Managing and retaining personnel is one of the most challenging parts of any job, but once you build a strong team, those efforts pay off many times over.
If you have a question for the What Would You Do series, we’d love to hear from you for a future installment! Feel free to comment or shoot us an email. We love a challenge!