Putting People First in Multifamily: Hiring Tips through Turnover Comebacks
In an age of unflattering Glassdoor reviews and frequent job switches, companies of all varieties are under more pressure than ever to put people first. From hiring through turnover, HappyCo explores strategies for multifamily operators.
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To be sure, Glassdoor reviews can vary significantly when it comes to tone, specificity, and helpfulness. In a recent piece, The New Yorker took a deep dive into just this phenomenon, covering some of the dysfunctional dynamics: “Sales reps blame the support team… tech support blames sales” all the way through tactless behavior like a boss who “makes fun of what the employees are wearing, trying to be funny.” The most biting remarks included references to a “cult-like culture” and a show of disgust over one colleague’s unpleasant scent: “rubbing alcohol.”
While some companies (and their hiring managers) might wish to bury Glassdoor reviews for good, posts like these are actually taking center stage — during interviews. Virginia Love, VP of Leasing and Marketing at Waterton, revealed to Multifamily Executive: “I’ve had people ask me point-blank questions [about what they read on Glassdoor]. People are very conscious about how they’ll fit in with the company and are interested in seeing what the word of mouth [is].”
Work culture may well be one of the factors driving an unnerving trend affecting employers across the U.S.: as unemployment rates improve, turnover is on the rise. In a May 2019 article, Forbes cites a sobering statistic: “one in three hires will leave a company within two years.” A separate Forbes piece highlights the financial consequences for employers: “$160 billion a year,” as reported in 2018. The same author reports how company revenue can take an even worse turn after a star employee quits: “high performers deliver up to 400% more than their mediocre counterparts,” making their departures “a serious threat to the bottom line.”
Fortunately, in the multifamily realm and beyond, employers don’t have to sit back and watch their departments unravel. They can learn from the data and dynamics right in front of them, making conscientious decisions to build a company culture that puts people first. To this end, HappyCo explores hiring strategies, retention opportunities, and turnover comebacks through an operator lens — before sharing a multifamily insider perspective on the people equation.
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In their efforts to prevent turnover, multifamily operators would do well to take a few steps back and rethink the first step in the people puzzle: hiring. As Forbes contributor Brent Gleeson spells out: hiring candidates who “don’t mesh well with the existing or desired company culture leads to poor work quality, decreased job satisfaction and a potentially toxic environment.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, some “84% of recruiters surveyed agree that cultural fit — not the time and cost to hire for a role — is one of the most important recruitment factors, and nine out of 10 have reported passing on applicants who didn’t feel aligned with their companies’ cultures,” according to a separate Forbes piece.
Before you start searching for candidates who meet this mark, Ultimate Software Chief People Officer Vivian Maza recommends looking inward and asking: “what values and beliefs map back to your company’s mission?” In Maza’s view, “answering that question provides the guidelines for determining whether a candidate is a cultural fit.”
From there, Maza advises, “interviews are two-way streets: Candidates should demonstrate their capabilities and their values, but interviewers should clearly define the overall mission of your company and hit home on culture.” Indeed, she even pitches a culture-oriented question of clear benefit for a multifamily hiring manager: “can you give an example of when you went out of your way to help a coworker or create a positive experience for a customer?”
With these interview insights in mind, multifamily might also want to consider communicating with candidates in ways they might not have considered before the digital age.
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It goes without saying: millennials are no strangers to cell phones. From texting on the train to Snapchatting in the produce aisle, many in this young adult mix have a stronger dependence on devices than some around them would like. To that end, multifamily operators trying to reach millennial candidates would be wise to meet them where they are: with a text.
Indeed, texting job candidates is growing in popularity, according to a recent U.S. News & World Report piece on recruiting trends. Arguing that the strategy “may help recruiters connect with the younger workforce or those who prefer texting to email,” the author writes: “Jobvite reports that 43 percent of recruiters have used texting to reach out to candidates or current applicants.” However, the writer recommends that hiring managers maintain a fairly professional tone, no matter the medium.
Importantly, U.S. News & World Report also highlights a rather unpleasant trend in the realm of job candidate follow-up. In a word? “Ghosting.” There’s a startling rise in new hires accepting an offer and then backing out — sometimes without even communicating their sudden change of heart (i.e. “ghosting”). U.S. News & World Report reveals just how widespread this behavior is becoming, noting: “seventy-five percent of recruiters say they’ve seen a candidate change his or her mind after signing an offer letter.”
Whether they’re hiring for an assistant property manager to front desk staff, multifamily operators would be wise to keep communication cordial and encouraging with candidates they feel just miss the mark. In the end, these close-second contenders might be the ones who actually show up and deliver results.
“Test drives” can also be a valuable way for managers to feel confident that their new hires will be able to meet expectations. Forbes contributor Jeff Hyman explains these test drives can take shape as “a job audition or work sample,” essentially serving as “a real-world simulation that mirrors the actual work that your candidate will need to accomplish if they get the job.”
Hyman emphasizes their importance by stressing: “after 25 years in the recruiting business, I’ve concluded that test drives are more accurate than traditional interviews, reference checks, intelligence tests, education, and any other criteria.” He cites a “landmark study based on 85 years of data” that suggests: “work sample tests are the top predictor of job success – bar none.”
After hiring a candidate, it’s critical to make sure the person feels included and valued in their new team. This is as good a time as any for a multifamily manager to do a little self-reflection and ask: “does our culture put people first?”
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Of course, building a positive work culture is easier said than done. However, in trying to stop turnover in its tracks, multifamily managers can start by embracing one of the basic facts of their trade: “happy people deliver the best service, which, in turn, leads to loyal residents.” Nick Mertens, VP of Property Management at Atlas Real Estate Group, shared this piece of advice — among many others — in a conversation with the Colorado Real Estate Journal.
To Mertens, the chaotic nature of the multifamily business should absolutely inform the way managers treat their people. Arguing that “property management is a stressful and demanding industry,” he urges managers to “consistently check the pulse on our teams to make sure we retain our top talent.” A recent Forbes piece supports this approach, adding clear-cut advice on how to make it happen: “Listen, I mean really listen. Acknowledge them. Tell them what you see in them that they may not see in themselves.”
Indeed, Mertens also says it’s very important to acknowledge employees’ accomplishments — in addition to providing constructive feedback where necessary. Mertens explains: “when they deliver great customer service, they tell them they did great work. It’s that simple.”
Additionally, Mertens says multifamily managers should spare their staff from attending meetings that aren’t relevant to their day-to-day work. In his view, “people feel disrespected when they are asked to attend a meeting that isn’t a valuable use of their time.” Another novel approach he recommends to retain top performers? Challenge them.
Mertens argues that employees have a stronger incentive to stay on at a company when they’re empowered to take on new responsibilities. How exactly can managers make this happen? Mertens paints the picture: “give them tasks that they could fail at, and embrace that failure as a normal part of the learning process.”
By empowering employees to learn more than the nuts and bolts of their job requirements, you can strengthen their attachment to your company. After all, Forbes’ Coaches Council suggests: “high turnover is an indicator that employees do not feel connected to their organization.” Fortunately, the council offers a remedy: “leaders can immediately start engaging employees and let them know how they have a role in the purpose of the organization by communicating their value in emails, meetings and conversations.”
However, if you’re now facing turnover head-on, there’s still plenty you can do to make changes for the better.
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Above all, Forbes’ Coaches Council stresses: “the most important thing to do is to NOT make gut-based assumptions… Don’t assume it’s the managers or their inability to select talent.” In that vein, the council urges company leaders to: “dig into some data and figure out when and where the turnover rate took a nosedive,” asking: “what happened during that time?”
The Forbes council recommends that companies: “bring in a neutral ear for exit interviews…to demonstrate the willingness to hear what the underlying problems are, and to tackle them, whatever and wherever in the organization they might be.” Anonymous engagement surveys are another path to this end, proving to employees that “their voice is being heard and their opinion matters.”
After gathering these employee responses, Forbes’ coaching experts note that it is quite important to mull over whether your managers are: “influencing, inspiring and leading the people they manage?” From there, it’s key to take their skills a step further, “creating opportunities for them to be trained and coached to become even better managers.”
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Above all, multifamily owners are best poised for success if they view critical feedback as a gift — not a burden. Indeed, in the realm of Glassdoor reviews, Multifamily Executive makes clear: “proactive companies are learning that they need to not only know that’s being said about them on Glassdoor, but work to address it.”
It’s why Jennifer Staciokas, Senior VP of Marketing and Training at Pinnacle reads every Glassdoor review posted about her company. Where others might feel disappointment, she sees opportunity: “if we’re seeing feedback about particular issues, like benefits or training or work hours or work load, then we can see those trends and bring them up to our executive team.”
Without a doubt, this spirit of open dialogue and emphasis on proactive decision-making are key to the positive work culture at Atlanta-based RADCO. HappyCo recently spoke with the company’s Director of Human Resources and Director of Learning & Development. From hiring candidates to building culture, these RADCO leaders share cutting-edge approaches to finding the right candidates — and keeping them happy.
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Janet Baildon, Director of Human Resources at RADCO, is quick to emphasize why multifamily stands out from the pack: “it’s very unique from a hiring perspective, because most people end up in this industry by accident. They didn’t go to school for it, so we see a wide variety of skills and backgrounds on resumes that come through.”
Baildon relishes this chance to find “new talent,” candidates who may have never held a multifamily job before. In her view: “I think it’s a mistake to hire someone just because they’ve previously held a certain role. Rather than ask: ‘have you been a maintenance tech?,’ we look for people whose skills and strengths seem perfect for the position, even if they haven’t done the exact work before.”
This is precisely why Baildon is keeping a careful eye on AI technology. She’s been glad to observe that AI hiring software can “identify new ways to reach a target audience, to develop its own algorithm to find candidates, and truly gauge what we’re looking for.” Baildon also sees the convenience in the software’s ability to create “a specific message to the person in the hiring process.”
However, Baildon says she’s most excited that this kind of tech might spell the end of cut-and-dry keyword searches for candidates. “Previously, like so many multifamily companies, we focused on: ‘do they check this box?’ If they were missing just one keyword, they might not get selected for a position.” Now, she’s growing confident that AI tech will be a major asset for multifamily operators, enabling them to look beyond the straightforward choices and find candidates who will bring a novel perspective to the industry.
Jessica Gordon, Director of Learning & Development, is just as open-minded when approaching training and inclusion opportunities at RADCO. Gordon admits being “naturally curious” helped her ask plenty of questions of RADCO’s teams when she started at the company two years ago. “During my needs assessment, I identified communication and on-boarding as two key challenges, and I realized we weren’t leveraging our biggest assets — our people.”
After interacting with a range of teams, Gordon learned that many maintenance technicians were feeling isolated from the rest of RADCO. As most of these techs did their day-to-day work without having an email address, they missed out on a range of common references within the company: to group outings, social media posts, etc.
In an effort to connect maintenance techs with their peers, Gordon got them trained in the company’s email system and its social media platform, Yammer. With technicians in the fold, Gordon says the number of Yammer posts grew from 400 in 2017 to 300,000 over the last year.
Inclusion is also a theme in Baildon’s day-to-day work as Director of HR. Indeed, she stresses: “I want all team members to know I’m available, because my hope is that things don’t bubble up.” Baildon says a person’s decision to leave can often revolve around how something is said — not even the meaning behind it. As she puts it, “sometimes I find it’s not a large issue at all, but instead it’s about how people communicate things, their tone.” Above all, Baildon works “to break those barriers, so people feel they can speak up.”
It’s why Baildon and Gordon worked together to create a new onboarding process where RADCO staff from all properties get to experience interactive orientation programs. By interacting with other departments, new hires expand their skill sets, feel connected to a wider community, and learn early on that the corporate team values their opinions. In Baildon’s view, this makes clear to everyone starting out at the company: “we’re real people who care about them.”
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From hiring to retention to turnover, multifamily operators have powerful opportunities — and technologies — at their fingertips. Instead of seeing social posts or Glassdoor reviews as liabilities, operators can use these platforms to spark positive changes within their organizations, truly putting people first.
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