Keeping Great Property Management Talent: New Data Shows What Employees Value Most

Last modified on June 12th, 2024
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Hiring and retention have always been among property management’s top challenges, even before other industries began to feel the full impact of the “Great Resignation” in 2021. 

But with multiple economic challenges squeezing margins and impacting budgets from all sides, competing for top talent has never been tougher. As a result, existing team members may be overloaded with tasks, which increases their chances of burnout.

But, as we explore on this episode of The Top Floor, hiring and retention for the property management industry doesn’t have to be this way. By exploring key survey results from AppFolio’s 2023 Property Manager Hiring and Retention report and discussing opportunities property management companies can take advantage of today, we’ll provide clear paths to improving the employee experience and boosting team member retention. 

Joining the podcast to discuss those opportunities and solutions are Chiccorra Connor, Founder & CEO at Occupancy Heroes, and Sean Forster, Lead Product Marketing Manager at AppFolio. Together, they share insights into their own experiences with successfully managing property management teams and highlight key data points around what employees value most.

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Meet Our Guests:

Keeping Great Property Management Talent: New Data Shows What Employees Value Most

Chiccorra Connor has been in the multifamily industry for over 20 years and is the CEO and Founder of Occupancy Heroes Incorporated. Voted one of the “Most Influential Women of 2020 and 2021,” Chiccorra Connor has made a remarkable impact on the multifamily industry, her local community, and the nation at large. She serves on various NAAEI committees, and her maintenance apprenticeship program has trained and employed over 600 people since 2019. Chiccorra is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion, champions affordable housing, assisted in the development of popular D&I webinars and white papers, and was one of 100 entrepreneurs from across the country invited to The White House to advocate for minority entrepreneurship.

In addition, she and her teams at Occupancy Heroes serve clients nationwide with a carefully selected suite of services designed to help multifamily real estate owners and their teams manage, maintain, and optimize their properties. Services include accelerated leasing, marketing, training, talent placement, and more. Chiccorra’s passion for family, business, and empowering entrepreneurs drives her, and her influence remains a powerful force for those striving to achieve their potential, improve the rental experience, and exceed profit goals.

Keeping Great Property Management Talent: New Data Shows What Employees Value Most

Sean Forster is a Lead Product Marketing Manager at AppFolio. He focuses on understanding the market trends impacting property managers and how businesses can leverage these insights to succeed in their unique markets.

 

 


Episode Transcript

Megan: Over the last three seasons of The Top Floor podcast, we’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about how to keep property management teams engaged and thriving — and for good reason.  

Since 2021, an annual AppFolio-sponsored survey of over 2,000 property management professionals has revealed that HR, staffing, and recruitment is consistently ranked as one of the industry’s most pressing challenges. 

Beyond the annual survey results, we’ve also spent a significant amount of time talking about hiring and retention because property management is, at its core, rooted in people.  

Of course, residents are the lifeblood of any real estate management organization. But even in our last episode, which was entirely dedicated to improving resident satisfaction, our conversations ultimately circled back to property management employees and just how much impact they have on the renter experience.  

In fact, one of our guests on that episode was renowned customer experience expert Jay Baer, who emphasized that “it is essentially impossible to deliver a great resident experience until you have a great employee experience.” 

So, we’re diving back into the topic of HR, Staffing, and Recruitment in this episode of The Top Floor podcast. But we’ll be doing so with a new lens, thanks to insights from the 2023 AppFolio Property Manager Hiring and Retention Report. Along the way, we’ll discuss proven employee experience strategies and data-backed solutions for boosting team member happiness, with the help of two very special guests. 

Let’s get to know a bit about them now, starting with Chiccorra Connor. 

Chiccorra Connor: Well, first, thank you so much for having me. Honored to be your guest today. And let me first say this. I got to put this disclaimer out there. I am not your everyday conventional CEO. I’m not. I’m also the founder, and with the help of my husband, I founded Occupancy Heroes 20 years ago. We incorporated two years after that and became Occupancy Heroes Incorporated. So I birthed it. I watched it crawl. I watched it stumble and fall. I wiped away the tears and watched it grow from a $0 company in the corner of my bedroom with this teeny, tiny, I mean, it was a particle board, $50 desk from Walmart into a real live multimillion dollar corporation servicing clients nationwide. 

Now, my professional answer would be that in my role as a CEO, I help to develop new revenue streams, oversee client satisfaction, mentor team members and comb through reports to see where we can accelerate and where we’re falling short, and I also help to develop new ways to scale the firm. 

As far as Occupancy Heroes, we are the very first full-service leasing firm in the country. We provide a carefully selected suite of services designed to help multifamily owners and their teams to manage, maintain and optimize their properties nationwide. We include accelerated leasing, which increases occupancy rates two to three times faster than our clients are currently doing it. We do marketing, talent placement training and so much more.  

Maintenance Heroes, a division of Occupancy Heroes Incorporated, focuses on all things maintenance. Services include make-readies, temporary and permanent placements. The list can go on. But I like to say that we’re also community builders. And what I mean by that is that we not only assist owners nationwide, but we also bring people into the multifamily industry. And we do that through our federally recognized apprenticeship program. We train, certify and employ individuals and offer them new opportunities with above average living pay in the industry that most of them knew nothing about. 

So my true calling has always been to help individuals and organizations to meet and exceed their goals. And that goal has, I guess you would say, bled into Occupancy Heroes Incorporated. 

So simply put, we generate money for both our clients and our communities that we serve.  

Megan: In addition to Chiccorra, our second guest is AppFolio’s own Sean Forster. For long-time listeners of The Top Floor, Sean is a very familiar voice, and we’re happy to have him back for today’s conversation. 

Sean Forster: My name is Sean Forster. I’m a Lead Product Marketing Manager here at AppFolio, which means I get my hands in a lot of different projects. But one of the things I really enjoy doing is being a part of our research, both in the design of the studies that we do and also in the analysis. 

Megan: As Sean mentioned, he plays a significant role with AppFolio’s research. That also includes the research we’ll be touching on in today’s episode: the 2023 AppFolio Property Manager Hiring and Retention Report.  

To create the report, we conducted a broad survey of employees, which included boots-on-the-ground team members. With their feedback, we’re able to gain a big-picture view of the employee experience and their satisfaction. And because this is the second-annual Hiring and Retention report, we’re also able to see how everything has shifted since we last surveyed them in 2022. 

We’ll be highlighting several key survey findings in our conversations today, but there’s so much more to explore in the full report. So make sure to download it now on AppFolio.com.  

A direct link to the report has also been included in the show notes for this episode. 

Now, let’s dive into our conversations on improving the employee experience, with Chiccorra Connor and Sean Forster. 

Although the relatively recent phenomenon of the “Great Resignation” forced significant employment shifts across virtually every industry in 2021, staffing and retention has always been a pain point for the property management industry. 

But why? Why does property management struggle to attract top talent? And with turnover rates historically seen around 30%, why does property management struggle to retain employees when the national average for other industries is often much lower? 

To find out, we asked Chiccorra what she’s seeing from the very top, as a CEO with 20 years of experience hiring employees for her own organizations. 

Chiccorra Connor: Well I believe that hiring and retention remains a sticking point for our industry because we’ve yet to learn the importance of people. And I know that’s crazy. When I say that, people are like, “What?” But I know that we’re in real estate. However, our first business is the business of people. We must first learn the proper handling of people. We’ve realized that. In this industry, we wear so many hats. I can’t tell you how many hats I even put on today. And it could be really tough to be everything to everybody at the same time, all the time. But I also realize that the same people that we’re trying to onboard are the same people that live in our communities. And we cannot be one way with our residents and then another way with our employees or potential employees. And again, we must learn the proper handling of the people. 

So first, we have to attract them. And that’s been a problem for our industry because we’ve not always done great with marketing our industry. It just blows my mind. It’s unbelievable how few people are aware of the property management industry. They don’t even know that it exists. And I mean, they live in these apartments and they know something is going on, but nobody thinks, “Hey. This is an industry that I need to look into.” And oftentimes when you mention property management, people only think about the managers and the leasing agents. They fail to think about who’s actually going to take care of these properties, who’s going to market the properties, who’s going to even manage the people who manage the apartment communities and who’s going to handle the money, which in turn means that they fail to realize that there’s so much available opportunity within our industry. 

Megan: Chiccorra’s right: There is an extraordinary amount of opportunity in the property management industry, and not just at the property level.  

That means as tough labor markets continue, it’s vital to not just raise awareness about the number of property management jobs available, but the career paths that are possible, too. 

However, Chiccorra is also quick to point out that it’s not just about attracting more talent to property management. Organizations also have to find better ways to keep talent within the industry, too. And the best way to do so, is to tap into an unexpected superpower: building trust. 

Chiccorra Connor: Trust is unlike a superpower; it isn’t something we’re born with or we magically receive after getting bit by a spider. Instead, trust is something that is earned. And the key to win people over is with trust.  

So when we market and educate people in the industry, we need to tell them the good and the bad. So what I mean is we have to be honest about it. I love this industry. I’ve been in this industry for over 20 years. I never, ever want to go anywhere else. But we’ve got to be honest and say we have our fair share of negatives, too. So talk about those things. When we’re training people, we have to train them with pure honesty. That what’s going to keep them. 

And then lastly, I’m going to say this and then I’m going to move on because I can go on and on and on about this. So in order to retain people in this industry, we must create a career pathway for them and work that path alongside them. And that includes mentoring, training, growth, growth advancement, acknowledgement. All these things are necessary for your current team members. I want us to think back to those companies with people who have been with them for 5+ years, because that’s like the sweet spot now. If you’ve been somewhere five years, it’s like, “Ooh.” okay? That’s like a big win. 

So when you take a look at those people, they’ve either grown into another role, so they’re advancing in their career, or they’ve advanced in their role. So when they started out, they were here, but now they’re like all the way up here, and they’re amazing. They’re doing all these great things. And these are the people who are happy because you hear their names spoken in rooms that they’re not even standing in. And it’s because they know that they’re appreciated. 

And we just cannot assume that people know that they’re appreciated. We have to show them and we have to tell them. And that is what is going to help us. Otherwise, we’re going to stay here. It’s always going to be stuck. 

Megan: So, to recap Chiccorra’s perspective as a founder and CEO, hiring and retention has been an ongoing pain point because the industry has yet to really get the people aspect right. 

That includes: 

  • One: Attracting talent by raising visibility around different career paths. 
  • Two: Keeping talent longer by being honest about what working in property management is really like. 
  • And three: Retaining existing team members by growing and mentoring them. 

Zooming in a bit to take a closer look at what’s happening at the property level with Sean, it’s clear that Chiccorra’s assessment is spot on. Based on what he sees in the research and hears from AppFolio customers, he specifically notes how two vital yet incredibly-difficult-to-fill roles would benefit from Chiccorra’s approach. Those roles are leasing agents and maintenance technicians. 

Sean Forster: Over and over those are what we hear as being the most challenging to hire for. And I think there’s related but kind of distinct reasons for why. Let’s take first the leasing agents. 

Usually these are entry level positions hiring folks into roles that are a great foundation for developing a wide variety of skillsets. But what that also means is that these folks have lots of options, whether that’s in hospitality, retail, other areas, and it’s probably not where they see their careers long term. They often see as kind of like a stepping stone – gather some skills and move on to the next thing. 

Next, let’s turn attention to maintenance folks. I think really two things are happening here. First, simply there’s not as many maintenance technicians or skilled labor in this area than there were historically. So it’s a simple supply and demand. We’re getting more and more apartment buildings, more and more units that need maintenance repair and simply have a smaller pool of talent to pull from.  

So ways that we can address that is really looking to invest in trade programs, in trainings for people that may don’t have the skills yet, but have the interest, the aptitude to grow into maintenance technician types of positions, and investing time, resources and training of those folks. And then looking to retain them because these folks, it’s not just our industry that is looking for these skilled workers, it’s construction, it’s a variety of other industries that their skillset is in high demand. 

So what are ways that we can make sure that we’re retaining these really kind of linchpin of our companies? 

Megan: Although hiring and retention has always been a challenge for the property management industry, and continuously tough labor markets over the last few years haven’t helped, there is some very good news to celebrate.  

Survey results for the 2023 Hiring and Retention report show that property management turnover is slowing. However, as Sean explains, turning this short-term win into a long-term trend means companies have to make the employee experience an ongoing priority. 

Sean Forster: So a bit of good news here, and that is that from a year over year perspective, we do see that staff by and large are less likely to be thinking about exiting the industry. I think we saw about 9% were thinking of leaving their current company, and that’s down from last year’s number of 25%. So that’s a fairly significant year-over-year decrease in there.  

Now that’s the good news. But I would put maybe a slight caveat on it in that I believe that there are some external factors happening here where you have an environment of high inflation, an overall kind of uncertainty around where careers are. And that, I think, has put a little bit of a damper on folks that are looking to make career changes or job changes in this moment. 

The pandemic was an opportunity for us all to take a look at what we’re currently doing and maybe look to make switches if we were not happy in our careers. And I think that some of that elevated turnover rates before and now we’re maybe seeing the other side of that. But I still think that there’s things that we can do as organizations to continue to focus on retaining talent because as some certainty comes into folks’ minds around the future trajectory of the economy, I think we could see this tick back up if we don’t make changes to address really the core issues that drive resignation. 

But I do also know, because we talk to property managers day in, day out and there is an effort to make our workplaces a better place to work. And you can point to a lot of examples of property managers that are looking to extend flexibility in their work environments by doing some of the specialization and centralizing certain functions so that people can focus on the work that really matters to them. And when I think of the specific examples of property managers that are doing those, that must be having an effect on the retention within their employees. So I think it is both. We need to continue the work in improving our workplaces and our cultures to attract and retain talent because if we don’t, I caution that that 9% may tick up when we do this report next year. But if we do the work to create wonderful working environments, we can hopefully have this be the new normal. 

Megan: As Sean mentioned, he’s celebrating slower turnover rates, but also urging caution. That’s because, while turnover rates are lower and fewer employees are thinking about leaving, respondents did say they feel less satisfied across almost every aspect of their roles in 2023. 

While those insights may seem contradictory, Sean actually sees a connection between why employees may not be seeking other opportunities, even when they’re not satisfied with all aspects of their roles.  

Sean Forster: Well, I think again, it comes to some of those external factors because there is just less of a desire to switch positions because of that uncertainty. So the threshold that some employees that may be a little bit less satisfied than they were previously to still stay in their roles for, again, not wanting to make a big shift in an uncertain work environment. So I think that one is what I’d point to as kind of a reason to be a little bit cautious about celebrating the 9% number that we found. 

The truth is it’s hard work. I think what we were mentioning before about the property manager companies that have made shifts to their culture and looking to make a more positive work environment, it’s a lot of work to get to that point, and we’re starting to see reasons that that’s paying off a bit, but you have to work to maintain it. And I think that’s what folks have the opportunity for now. Even if you’ve started the journey and are in a place where you can celebrate some wins, it’ll be easy to maintain, but that still does require some effort. So I think that’s what I would encourage folks to be mindful of moving forward. You can’t just move on to the next thing. 

Megan: Thankfully, by and large, it seems the vast majority of property management companies have also realized that investing in company culture pays off. In 2023, 72% of survey respondents said they enjoy their company culture. In 2022, only 65% of respondents said the same. 

But, even with the increase in satisfaction, the entire concept of company culture can still feel a bit nebulous. Sure, we all know that a positive company culture is a good thing. It helps keep teams happy. And happy teams lead to greater retention, motivation, productivity, and profitability. But, as Chiccorra explains, company culture is also much, much more.  

Chiccorra Connor: Well, I would say that culture is a competitive advantage. Great cultures leverage their organizations through a unique mission, purpose, and values to strengthen their identity, inspire their employees, and deliver on their brand promise to customers. Ultimately, it’s what sets us apart from the competition. 

Each company has its own idea of how things should go, but without a clear purpose, communication, and measurement, and the how might be hard for the employees and that customer to grab. It’s not about doing something new, it’s about finding what works for your organization and company culture is a shared set of workplace beliefs, values, attitudes, standards, purpose, and behavior that reflects your company. It’s something that we all really need to focus on. 

I’ll tell you this. I promised my youngest daughter, her name is Mikayla, I made this promise to her many years ago. I said, “You know, you will always be able to identify me no matter where I am. Whether I’m at work, I’m at home, I’m out with the girls, whatever. You will always be able to look across the room and know that is mommy.” And that’s because I’ll always remain the same in my purpose, my values, and my beliefs. And she’ll never have to second guess who is that person today. She’s never going to have to do that. 

That is what company culture is for your business. It should always remain true to who you claim to be, who you say that company is. My daughter was happy to know that her mother will never waver, and employees will be even more satisfied if you do the same within your organization. Tell them who you are, show them, and never change. And that’s winning. 

I’ll tell you this, if your employees leave, because sometimes they leave, it won’t be due to poor company culture because they knew what it was from the beginning. We’ve seen it because we see the resumes come in and we talk to the people, and we find that a large part of those employees leave when the culture has been tainted. Make sure that you’ve got great company culture, you’re sticking to it. If you’re changing it, switching it up, make sure that it’s positive. If it’s not, well, then you may be looking at rehiring. 

Megan: Company culture may be a foundational element for attracting and retaining top talent, but it can also take time to establish. This is especially true if you’re making big or radically different culture shifts.  

For example, moving from dedicated, property-level management to a centralized property management model. In situations like that, it’s not as simple as just making the switch. There are potentially months of planning first, plus a strategically phased rollout over several additional months. 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other highly effective ways to help boost employee satisfaction in the meantime. With more than two decades of extensive team management experience, including leading teams through several periods of rapid company growth, we asked Chiccorra for her recommendations on what companies can do now to help instantly boost employee satisfaction. 

Chiccorra Connor: Well, I’d say that there’s quite a few things that you can do to boost employee satisfaction. The first thing I would say do is ask them. We don’t think about that. Words are powerful. But ask them how they feel about the company. Ask them what is the company doing well? Ask them what can the company do better? And ask them what can the company do specifically to improve their experience with the company? Those are big, big deals. Because we don’t know. We can only assume unless we ask. 

Second, put it into action. The worst thing that you can do as an owner is bring up the conversation, allow your employees to become vulnerable because that’s what they’re doing, they’re literally sitting there and they’re like bearing themselves to you. They’re becoming vulnerable and they’re telling us their truth, and we turn around and we do nothing. That is the worst thing. Why point out the problem if we’re not going to take steps to resolve it? It makes no sense, and it happens so many times. That’s a biggie. 

And lastly, I’m going to say send appreciation notes and just do it sporadically, right? No rhyme or reason, just I picked this person today. Because this means that you have to learn a little bit about your employees. You got to take time, you got to talk to people and see what their positives are, what’s the plus there? 

And I got to tell you, it’s worth it. And it may even boost the entire morale of the company, but it’s just little things that we can do. 

Megan: In addition, Sean also recommends looking for short-term opportunities that are both cost-effective and can leave a lasting impact on employee satisfaction. One example that takes the top spot on his list is giving employees the flexibility and agency to spend their time on more meaningful work. 

Sean Forster: So what exactly does that mean, right? So flexibility. If you’re able to anchor your day-to-day tasks for your employees on the outcomes rather than the process, I think that’s a really great way to be thinking about planning your work. If we can agree on the outcome and there’s lots of different paths that can get there, having the trust in your employees to deliver that outcome, you then feel as an employee that you’re valued and your expertise is something that is contributing to the outcome of the overall business. So I think that is something that is really valuable and really appreciated by employees. And you feel like you’re now not having a never-ending to-do list that you have to check through before you clock out for the day, but you’re now contributing to the overall health of the business and that’s something that’s much more sticky to your role. 

Megan: Implementing some quick-win strategies to boost employee satisfaction can absolutely help organizations in the short-term. But making a lasting impact and keeping top talent in place, is going to take much more than temporary fixes.  

As mentioned at the top of our episode today, the full 2023 AppFolio Property Manager Hiring and Retention report has more data-backed solutions and staffing strategies than we can cover in one episode.  

So, for today’s conversation, we’ll focus on three of the biggest areas of opportunity that emerged from the report: 

  • Opportunity number one: Nurturing teams’ careers 
  • Opportunity number two: Rewarding top performers 
  • And opportunity number three: freeing employees from energy-draining busywork 

First up, let’s start with nurturing teams’ careers.  

Despite the fact that 74% of survey respondents said opportunities for career growth are important, only 54% say they’re satisfied with their opportunities for growth. In addition, those who said they don’t see room for career growth were more likely to feel dissatisfied in their roles. 

One possible explanation for the low satisfaction around growth could be exactly what Chiccorra mentioned earlier: There are many property management roles and paths that people either don’t think about or know about, which means they simply can’t see all of the opportunities that are available. That means it’s up to property management leaders to show them.  

Chiccorra Connor: Just do it. Sit with them and help them to create the pathway for success. Help them through their journey. You can do this through mentoring, training classes, and conferences. If you can’t do it personally, partner them. Partner them with someone else. Because you can’t just let them sit there stale and stagnant. Help them through the process. 

Sean Forster: So this is the topic I feel really passionate about, and that is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to career growth. It’s something that everyone wants and it’s something that as companies, as businesses, it’s in our interest to provide to our employees. But that does not mean that you become an entry level role, a better version of an entry level role, then a manager for a few people, then a manager to more people, then a manager of managers and then ultimately in the executive level. That can be and often is a very fulfilling career progression for many people. So I don’t want to discount that, but that’s not going to be everybody and shouldn’t be everybody. 

So developing alternative career paths where you can still have increase in responsibility, increase in agency to decide what teams work on kind of the super individual contributor type of pathway where mentorship, where input into a strategic decisions, where maybe wholly owning an aspect of the business or in charge of researching different technologies to be used or any variety of really critical things to your business, giving people different pathways to where they can grow their career in a way that aligns to what their interests are and what your business needs, that is what we need to offer for the 46% that aren’t satisfied with the career path that they’re seeing because I don’t know if they see what they internally want being offered at every organization. So the more that we can offer those alternatives, I think the more satisfied both the employees are and you’re going to be as a leader within the organization on the great work that you’re now able to do. 

What I would say for those of us that are in smaller companies, what’s great about that is you kind of have a direct kind of relationship with decision makers within. But you’re also able to have a really, really clear line of sight into the impact and the work that you’re doing on the outcomes of the business. So then we think of, okay, different compensation, different ways that we show appreciation and value for employees, I think when you’re at that level, you can see the impact that you’re having and we can reward that type of contribution. 

Megan: Next, let’s talk about opportunity number two: Rewarding top performers. 

Considering the cost of living has skyrocketed over the last several years and the fact that inflation rates are staying stubbornly high, it’s not exactly a surprise that satisfaction around salary and benefits has decreased since 2022. 

But with persistent economic pressures squeezing property management companies from all sides, increasing cash-based methods of compensation is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate. However, that also doesn’t mean there aren’t other equally meaningful and highly impactful ways to reward top performers. 

Sean Forster: So this is probably the most difficult question that you can ask because it’s simply the hardest thing to do and to account for. We do this survey year after year. I think that this will always be the area where folks are least satisfied, like you mentioned. That’s because it’s simply hard to do. So a couple things that I would just call out as I think around this topic that we should keep in mind.  

I think first to have competitive compensation in your organization, you have to be a competitive business full stop. So you have to be a successful business in order to take care of your employees. So job one is to make sure that you’re putting your business in a position where you can take care of the employees that are placing you in that position. 

Second thing, and this is no particular order, but a common thing that we hear about is, yes, it is compensation, but it’s also making sure that things are fair. What I mean by that is a lot of us have colleagues that are in similar types of roles, and if there is a perception that work isn’t being distributed evenly or we’re operating at different levels, that is an input into compensation and where people get a little bit dissatisfied with their compensations when they feel that work isn’t being distributed or impact isn’t being equally shared across teams. So making sure that you have a clear line of sight into performance in teams is a key part for you to figure out how you plan your compensation strategy. 

Couple other things that I would call out as well, compensation doesn’t always mean pure salary. I think that we can look to ways that we can reward outcomes in business performance and sharing when the company overachieves that that is passed along to employees is something that’s worth considering. So they show that that work is really appreciated and pays off. And also looking for non-monetary ways of compensation. Now obviously we need to provide a certain level of compensation that is monetary so people can live their lives. Beyond that, you look for other ways that you can reward performance whether that’s flexible work environments, working home certain days if that fits within their role. Added vacation paid time off is another way that we can show appreciation does not directly have an impact on your costs, but still is something that’s very valued by the employee. 

Megan: As founder and CEO of Occupancy Heroes, Chiccorra has had to navigate more than her fair share of employee compensation conversations. But because she uses a people-first approach and takes the time to get to know her employees as individuals, she understands what makes her team feel rewarded and valued. As a result, she’s able to compensate her team more consistently and in a variety of different ways. 

Chiccorra Connor: Well, I would go back to asking the question. Ask your employees what would help them? Let’s just ask the question. We know that financially we can’t do this. I’ve been in this situation before. Again, I’m speaking from experience. It may be something small that’s obtainable, and this is the time that we have to be creative and show why we’re in these roles that we’re in. We have to figure out a way to make it work. 

I’ll tell you this. I once had an employee that gave notice because of pay, and we sat down and we had an honest conversation and I was like, “Hey, what’s going on? I thought you were happy.” And she told me, “It’s because of the pay.” And she said, “Listen, I’m in debt $30,000 and I need to find a higher paying job to pay down my debt.” 

Well, I took a step back. I didn’t answer her right then, but I came right back the next day after I took it to the table, printed some numbers, and we offered her a $30,000 interest free loan to be paid over time. 

That was me being creative. I was able to say, “Okay, I can help you. You can help me.” Payment would’ve come out of her check. So that’s how you keep your good employees. You go above and beyond for them, and they’re going to do the same for you. 

You can also consider giving your employees a day off every week. And I know before everybody screams, I understand that this may seem like, oh my gosh, this is going to result in your teams having to do more work, and then more people are going to be upset and people are going to leave, and so on and so on. That’s not the case. You’re going to give everybody a day off. And I know, it’s like Oprah Winfrey’s like, “You get a car and you get a day.” Right? 

But I’m speaking from experience, this was scary for us because, again, we didn’t have the money. But it was like, okay, well what if they put in less hours? Well, then they’ll be making more money. So we did this, and when we did that, it worked out because we found that the good employees, they work harder, right? Because they’re working because they want to complete their tasks. Because they know when they come back, they don’t want to face this heavy workload, but they still have that day off.  

And so it truly works out for everyone. And my thing is make sure that if you’re going to do this, that you know that you have really good employees. If you don’t, then they’re going to tell on themselves. 

You’re going to know, well this isn’t working for you. And you may end up replacing some people because you just see that were just not doing what they needed to do from the beginning. But that’s okay. That’s not a bad thing either. Because once you do that, then you’re able to get the right fit for your company. So it’s good either way.  

And then lastly, I would say acknowledgement. It goes such a long way. When I call one of my heroes out of the blue, I found out they had a good week or whatever, and I call them and I talk to them and they’re just like, “Oh my God, I got a call from Chiccorra.” And I’m thinking it’s not a huge deal, but just for me to call them and say thank you. And if you do that within your companies, you’ll get, oh my gosh, so much back from that. The employees love it. 

Megan: Lastly, let’s round out today’s conversations with opportunity number three: freeing employees from energy-draining busywork. 

According to survey results, those not in leadership roles say approximately 36% of their time is spent on “busywork.” Although that number is down from the estimated 40% reported in 2022, team members still estimate that more than 15 hours of work per week today could be optimized or streamlined. 

While busywork can certainly be tedious, we asked Chiccorra to share her perspective on just how much busywork impacts employee satisfaction. 

Chiccorra Connor: Well, let me ask you this. When you see that you’re putting in the work with little results, does that bring you down? Yeah, I’d say yes. So basically, with that being said, the answer is yes, hands down. Imagine how you feel if you’re getting paid to do it, and you still feel that you’re not being successful with it. So I think that it gives them a feeling of worthlessness. 

Sean Forster: Yeah. So I agree, 36% is too high to be spent on busy work, more than a third of your time. I think if you ask people what busy work was, you might get different answers in what they mean by that. And this gets back earlier we were talking around different folks get passionate and feel engaged by different types of work. I think we can all agree things like data entry may not be the best use of our times, but for some data analysts, they may be really passionate about that. So I wouldn’t necessarily discount that out of hand. 

When I think about busy work, I think it is work that has to get done, that is on your to-do list, but you don’t really perceive as having a ton of value around it. Either that’s because you don’t see the output down the line and see that this really is a valuable activity and a necessary thing. Or it may not just be valuable because it maybe was a holdover from a process that worked before or was needed before, and it is just carried on without being questioned. I think there is some of that that we need to look at as well. So how can we help folks with this? Well, first I’d say if there’s things that you’re doing that nobody knows why or why there’s not valuable, those are obvious easy things to eliminate from someone’s to-do list so that they can focus on the more meaningful, less busy work types of their tasks. 

But assuming that you’ve done that, I think that you can, one, look for ways to get people focused on the aspects of their job that they find more meaningful. So getting back to some of that specialization. Getting an alignment from the skillsets that your team has to the work that they’re doing is a way to distribute the work in a way that everyone feels like they’re contributing because something that they value or to look for other ways that the work still gets done, but where you don’t necessarily need to have somebody doing that. So that’s where we can talk around some of the technology solutions out there where you have technology doing things that technology is really good at and humans doing things that humans are really good at. You want the two to cross, but there are ways that we can use technology to our advantage so that people are focused on the things that they really find valuable and meaningful in their day to day. 

Chiccorra Connor: Absolutely. Technology is king right now, so anything that’s out there, use it. I have notes in my phone like crazy. I keep notepads all around. You can take pictures, have PDFs from your phone. There are so many different things that you can do with the technology. 

So most definitely use technology. 

Megan: Clearly, as our discussions have covered thoroughly today, boosting team member satisfaction and improving the employee experience starts at the highest parts of the organization. But, as Sean sees it, that doesn’t also mean companies are the only ones responsible for property management employee success. Instead, he sees the need for balance: companies need to have a culture that encourages people to find meaningful paths, so people can take advantage of the opportunities presented and ownership of their careers. 

Sean Forster: One thing that I think is worth mentioning as a part of all of this and the employee experience is the actual the employee’s responsibility themselves to own their path within their organization. Something that I really am a big believer in is this concept of job crafting, and that’s where it’s on you to find your path to a job that you find meaningful. So you get into an organization, you fill your role within that, but as you do, you’re probably going to find things that you gravitate naturally towards as being more energy giving and others that are a little bit more energy draining. And I think that as an employee, you want to, in alignment and definitely in consideration with what the business needs, find ways that you can provide value in a way that gives you energy and it gets you bought into that. 

I think that no one’s going to do that for you. You have to be able to have the agency to do that yourself. Now you also have to be in an organization that encourages that and provides the flexibility and the ability to encourage their employees to find that path. So I think there is a leadership role in making sure that people feel safe and can point to examples where folks have done that type of work to improve their satisfaction and also improve outcomes for the business. But there is a role for the employee themselves to build their own meaningful careers within organizations. 

Megan: While the “Great Resignation” isn’t having the same impact on the property management industry as it did in 2021 and turnover is slowing, that doesn’t mean organizations should let their guard down just yet.  

Instead, now is the exact right time to double-down on improving the employee experience. Only then will the short-term improvements discussed today become long-term wins in the future. 

We’d like to thank Chiccorra Connor and Sean Forster for joining us and sharing their insights and strategies for improving the employee experience. 

To learn more about improving the employee experience and team member satisfaction, download the full 2023 AppFolio Property Manager Hiring and Retention report. And don’t forget to visit AppFolio.com for even more helpful articles and guides. 

We’ll see you next month here, on The Top Floor podcast.

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