Last modified on August 8th, 2023
By Marc Frenkiel
Although the AppFolio Property Manager 2022 Hiring and Retention Report found that the industry’s annual quit rate of 25% is only slightly higher than the entire real estate, rental, and leasing industry’s annual quit rate of 23%, staffing and recruitment is still a major pain point. In fact, 74% of property management professionals ranked it among their top three challenges. Add a historically tight labor market to the mix, and it becomes essential to not just hire top talent but to retain them as well.
So, what can property management executives, leaders, and managers do to improve employee retention? Keep reading for five key ways your organization can keep existing team members happy and engaged to reduce overall employee turnover.
1.) Identify what motivates individual team members
Over the last several years, virtually everything about the way we live and work has been impacted. And now, more than ever before, it’s important to understand that there are many different ways to motivate individual team members.
While salary is still a driving factor, it’s not the only thing employees care about. As Leah Cuffy, Senior Research Analyst at the National Apartment Association (NAA), explained on The Top Floor podcast: “I think it’s so important to recognize that today’s environment has changed. And if you are wanting to recruit and retain your employees, you have to adapt and realize that what they’re looking for is far past salary.”
To better understand what motivates your individual team members, ask them a few key questions, such as:
- What was one of your most rewarding days recently, and why?
- What part of your role do you enjoy most, and why?
- What are the best ways we can show appreciation for the work you do?
By understanding what parts of their role your team members enjoy and how they prefer to receive praise, you can better tailor your overall approach. And you can do it in highly meaningful ways for your individual team members.
2.) Mentor employees along their career path
Based on feedback from more than 1,000 property management professionals, an incredible 52% of on-site employees cited a lack of opportunity for career growth as one of their greatest sources of dissatisfaction.
Therefore, it’s worth the time and effort to sit down with team members and gain insight into their desired career path. As Gozen Hartman, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Fairlawn Real Estate, explains: “Have a quarterly conversation with each of your direct reports. Maybe it’s outside of the office? Maybe you go for a meal? But just ask questions around whether or not people are happy in their roles. Then ask how their manager can help facilitate their growth.”
As senior leadership and management, it’s important to provide mentorship and help junior members on your team achieve their goals. Jasmyn Sylvester, Senior Property Manager at Atlanta-based Pine Tree LLC, explains the impact she’s seen with mentoring: “I think it takes a very specific skill set to be a property manager and to really want to stay in it. Implementing a coach at the senior level is really important, someone who can coach you through. When you foster that sort of environment, it does lead to talent retention.”
3.) Adapt to changing technology expectations
Millennials — born between 1982 and 1996 — currently stand as the largest generation in the labor force. Gen Z — those born after 1996 — are slowly entering behind them. Combined, these two generations make up well over one third of the US workforce today.
What makes these generational cohorts especially unique is that they are the first to have grown up with the internet, smartphones, apps, and social media. With an innate understanding of digital and computer technologies, they want and expect smart, intuitive solutions in the workplace, as revealed by Zapier:
- 1 in 6 Gen Z and Millennial employees have quit because they didn’t have the proper technology to do their job
- Nearly all Gen Z (95%) and Millennial (93%) employees say they would be willing to automate parts of their job
By embracing technology and automating tedious, manual, and routine tasks — such as data entry, work order creation, accounts payable, late payment follow-ups, and monthly reports — team members can focus on more satisfying, high-value work.
4.) Let team members feel heard
Providing open lines of communication will make employees feel like their voice is truly heard. That means it’s in an organization’s best interest to listen closely to what their on-site team members have to say since they are the “eyes and ears” of your properties.
In addition, the consequences of not having open lines of communication can directly impact your team members’ attitudes and morale, in addition to your business’ success. As outlined by one property manager who wishes to remain anonymous: “We don’t have open and effective communication at my company, and what’s happening is some sort of competition between the different departments: leasing, construction, and property management. How can you expect your employees to show up every day and bring their A-game when every day feels like a battle with your coworkers?”
5.) Prevent burnout
Because property management can be an incredibly demanding job, it’s not entirely surprising that the industry has such a high turnover rate. This is especially true when you consider that as many as 62% of property management professionals cite operational efficiency as one of their top challenges. Digging deeper, the specific retention challenges they cited included:
- Freeing teams from labor-intensive tasks
- Ensuring smooth handoffs during multi-step processes
- Reducing the frequency of emergency responses to urgent issues
Even though there are known team productivity and overload issues that need to be solved, frontline property management team members are often still required to be on and available 24/7, which can take an incredible toll on morale and energy. As Dr. Jacinta M. Jiménez, PsyD, BCC and author of The Burnout Fix, explained on The Top Floor podcast: “I think the biggest difference for frontline workers and supervisors is what contributes to burnout. You’re in the trenches kind of dealing with it. And a lot of times you’re not getting the rest and recovery, and that can take a toll over time. Especially people who are frontline and really care about doing a great job in terms of customer service…that can take a toll.”
To help prevent burnout, look for ways to give team members time back and alleviate stress, starting with getting time-consuming yet easily automated tasks off their to-do lists. For example, when it comes to fielding maintenance issues, a possible solution is to switch to property management software that offers smart automation that can respond to renters 24/7 and deploy approved vendors instead of waking up team members in the middle of the night. Or, as another example, offering 3D virtual tours to help prospective residents better self-qualify, which will let leasing team members focus their energy on already-qualified leads.
Bottom line: Retain employees by helping them do their best work
When it comes to improving employee retention, it’s up to property management leaders to make meaningful changes that will make people want to stay and grow in their roles.
The five approaches outlined above are a great start, but long-term success also requires adopting a more strategic approach to how people, processes, and tools are positioned within property management organizations.
Download our free guide below for more strategies to attract and retain your top performers.