Pushing for a workplace culture shift

Issue of manager harassment moves into a more solution-based approach
Tuesday, January 23, 2024
By Rebecca Melnyk

Condo managers are becoming more susceptible to hostile work environments. There are several reasons why cases of harassment, intimidation, and even violence, have been rising.

“A lot of condo owners are feeling the pressure of higher fees,” says Juliet Atha, president of Best Practices Property Management. “The board doesn’t have a lot of flexibility with the budget, but at the end of the day, it’s their decision and people then take that frustration out on managers. In some cases, people are going to have to sell their units because they can’t afford the increased mortgage and increased condo fees. That’s a newer contributing factor.”

A statement from the Association of Condominium Managers of Ontario (ACMO) last year lists additional causes. A widespread misunderstanding of the specific role managers play in their communities is one. Pressure and lack of support are causing them to leave the profession, which is unsustainable amid a condo building boom.

“I certainly know quite a few managers who have been forced out of their jobs,” says Atha, who is also vice-president of ACMO. “Some have relocated to a different management company and different site, but to the best of my knowledge, they’ve all been excellent managers.”

There are about 2500 general licensees in Ontario and 12,700 condo corporations. The Condominium Management Regulatory Authority of Ontario (CMRAO) found that as of March 2023, the number of managers who decided not to renew their license rose 107 per cent from 2022.

So how can the condo industry support a workplace culture shift? Over the past year, the issue of harassment has taken on a new tone; there is more fire behind the cause. This is partly attributed to the Condominium Authority of Ontario’s (CAO) new template for an anti-harassment rule that corporations can implement for both staff and residents.

This draft rule is a tool among many that leading condo associations have been pushing for as part of a joint industry initiative to create resources and educational opportunities, and propose legislation that addresses violence and mental health in communities.

Atha would also like to see changes with the CMRAO regarding frivolous complaints. Filing a complaint on the CMRAO website requires no more than a text box of words and little effort. This can make it challenging to distinguish a baseless complaint (say, rising condo fees) from one more serious. “Of course, people should have the ability to complain about managers, but it is used as a threat in our industry a lot,” she adds.

To eradicate harassment, ACMO is looking to boost education and training and establish clear communication channels among owners, directors, and managers.

Effective communication takes many forms. “As a policy in our firm, we encourage written communication from owners and residents, either by filing a service request or by sending an email,” says Atha. “I want to paint the trail of what they’re asking for so we can make sure we deal with it and respond and we have a record that we responded.”

Education is also crucial, whether that means clarifying a manager’s specific role and set workplace hours or teaching new hires that intimidation from a board is unacceptable. This comes with support from management firms.

Due to the nature of the job, on-site managers don’t always have in-person colleagues who can rally in support.

“In most workplaces there are other people around to witness behaviour,” Atha observes. “If someone is going to stand at your desk and scream at you, other people will see that, but often, in condo management, there’s no one around.”

Relieving the pressure

The pervasiveness of harassment seems to be moving from a state of awareness to a solution-focused approach. And for good reason.

“I’m seeing more and more court applications seeking orders to terminate tenancies or orders for owners to vacate and sell their units, all relating to conduct that would best be summarized as harassment,” Jason Rivait, a condo lawyer with Miller Thomson LLP, said during a panel discussion at the Condo Conference on November 17, 2023.

Harassment can sometimes be a pattern of small issues that happen over an extended period of time, he finds. A workplace violence and harassment policy is now a must.

Condo corporations can also look at passing civility rules that provide a means for enforcement. New board members should also be asked to sign a code of ethics that sets the stage for their conduct, suggested William Choi, a board rep.

To help foster a positive relationship between the board and manager, clear expectations should be established in writing. Eric Plant, founding partner at Brilliant Property Management and the current president of ACMO, suggests this should happen instantly upon meeting a new manager or management company.

A clash in personalities is another reality when condos experience board and manager turnover. “An abrasive board president may not pair well with a sensitive manager just as an old-fashioned manager may not work well with a young and tech-savvy board member,” he said. “While the style of the board might not be a perfect match, at least the expectations are there and both sides can work on that common ground.”

Open communication is a key component of community culture. “Both parties need to understand a disagreement is not an argument,” he added. “Most of the time, problems can be solved amicably with some give and take on both sides.”

An evolving role

Even in communities with few conflicts, a manager’s role can become distorted, especially with an influx of new owners who may not read the welcoming packages, which include the condo’s declaration, bylaws, and rules.

“Residents often think managers are making these rules,” said Tania Haluk, vice president of operations at Wilson Blanchard Management. “The board actually has the duty to enforce the condo documents and they do that through their managing agent. It’s a matter of getting that understanding and expectation out there to make sure people aren’t stepping over the line before it’s too late.”

Being contacted after work hours or for issues that fall outside a manager’s mandate continues to be a festering problem. “Decision-making should only happen at duly constituted board meetings,” she said. “It’s really hard when you’re a site manager and you’re accessible all the time.”

Reviewing the management contract is also good practice. “If the board has decided to pay for part-time management, they need to understand what that means with respect to accessibility and availability [and] when it’s appropriate to be reaching out or not,” she advised.

As the Condo Act has made way for heavier workloads, managers may be defining more boundaries. “There are a lot more administrative requirements and deadlines and prescribed forms we’re responsible for,” Haluk said. “That’s what we build into our contracts when we are deciding how much time a community needs and how we allocate that time as a manager who is assigned to a site.”

Changing the way managers are perceived means rethinking a whole culture and detoxifying the workplace , especially given the wider ratio of managers to condo buildings.

“We have to raise the bar; we have to demand respect and expect respect, which is kind of a new concept in this industry,” says Atha. “Part of that is standing up for ourselves as an industry, explaining we’re professionals and that we have standards in the way we expect to be treated.”


This story originally appeared in the 2023 winter edition of CondoBusiness magazine and has since been updated.

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