Confronting workplace harassment in condos

Mistreatment of managers carries potential mental health and turnover costs
Thursday, November 15, 2018
By Michelle Ervin

At least one industry executive thinks more needs to be done to address the harassment he says condo managers commonly confront while working in condo communities.

There may be legislative provisions to protect employees from abusive behaviour in the workplace, but condo managers in a toxic environment are unlikely to stick around at a site waiting for policies and procedures to unfold, said Bill Thompson, president of Malvern Condominium Property Management.

“There are so many jobs available that they don’t have to put up with it personally,” said Thompson. “Instead of addressing the situation, they walk away from it, and that’s why the situation keeps getting worse.”

By leaving the abusive behaviour unaddressed, that manager leaves to door open for the same thing to happen to their successor, he explained.

All parties in condo communities have a stake in stamping out harassment in the workplace. Compassionate reasons and legal obligations aside, condo corporations and condo management companies pay a price when there is a revolving door of condo managers. And prolonged exposure to on-the-job stressors can take a toll on the mental health of condo managers, which can have ripple effects in their personal lives.

Life under mandatory licensing

Thompson’s comments come as the condo management industry is adjusting to life under mandatory licensing and regulation of the profession. He observed that there has been some attrition of industry veterans as some opt to retire rather than satisfy new standards. At the same time, minimum qualifications and requirements for experience and education have also made it harder for would-be recruits to enter the profession and replenish the talent pool.

“You have a limited pool of managers and lots of business, so all of a sudden, the quality of management goes down, and all those people who don’t know how to hold their tongue have no patience, and they just come out,” said Thompson. “The harassment just comes out.”

He said he believes that condo managers are subjected to some form of abusive behaviour daily, although he allows that the most extreme cases are rarer. (There’s a difference between a person having a bad day and taking it out on a manager and harassment, which is defined as repeated unwelcome behaviour.)

Of course, condo managers have always faced the possibility of experiencing harassment in the workplace. Take, for example, a scenario in which a condo board director threatens the continued employment of a condo manager who refuses to do their bidding, said Thompson.

He said the protocol for addressing harassing behaviour can be complicated by the involvement of a condo director if the rest of the board is reluctant to hold him or her accountable. Thompson cited a case in which his condo management company saw its contract terminated after raising just such an issue with a board after it had cycled through several of its condo managers.

The costs of turnover

There may be financial costs that come with workplace harassment if it leads to turnover. Burnout and churn of condo managers can affect the bottom lines of both condo corporations and condo management companies, observed Mazen Fegali, a manager within Hays Canada’s property and architecture division.

“First, there are resources involved in searching for a new manager and getting them up to speed. That can be tens of thousands of dollars in time,” said Fegali. “Then, there’s the matter of contracts. If a property management firm was to lose a contract due to a poor-performing manager as a result of burnout or a state of constant churn, the cost could be immense.”

High turnover is the norm in the condo management industry. Fegali said it’s unusual to see tenures of longer than five years with any one company listed on a condo manager’s resume.

Sometimes condo managers leave companies because they’re looking for growth but their employer is reluctant to move them because the client condo corporation likes them so much, he said. Other times, condo managers leave a company because their employer acquires new clients and reassigns managers to sites outside of their preferred geographic areas.

If condo management companies want to minimize turnover, they need to balance both keeping their clients and employees happy, he said. In the case of a beloved condo manager looking to take on a new challenge, that could mean transitioning their replacement into the community.

But more than anything else, Fegali attributed burnout and churn to the fact that condo managers are overburdened with multiple sites.

“To break it down in terms of workload, that condo manager is going to three meetings a month, three AGM meetings a year, and it just doesn’t stop,” said Fegali. “That’s manager burnout.”

On-the-job stressors

Burnout is among the psychological health concerns that are likelier to occur when an employee is exposed to chronic stressors that leave him or her feeling helpless and powerless to control work demands or responsibilities, said Dr. Katy Kamkar, clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Dr. Kamkar distinguishes between on-the-job stressors — which include the kind of abusive behaviour that professionals such as condo managers might encounter through the course of interactions with the public —  and organizational stressors — which include the type of workplace harassment that can occur within a company.

Since on-the-job stressors can have negative consequences for a person’s mental health, she said it’s important to recognize symptoms of distress. These symptoms can include difficulty focusing and making decisions, feeling anxious, depressed or fatigued, a reduced interest or pleasure in activities and low motivation or passion for work, as well as bad dreams and suicidal ideation.

“Especially if we feel it’s immensely difficult to cope with those symptoms, and they increase over time, it’s important to not only seek social support, and also talk about it with family, loved ones and trusted ones, but also to seek professional help,” said Dr. Kamkar.

She said professional help may be available through a company employee assistance program, organizations such as CAMH, or through a community psychologist or a referral from a family doctor.

Mental health issues that originate in the workplace can also spill over into other aspects of a person’s life, such as their relationships, Dr. Kamkar observed. What’s more, she said, on-the-job stressors can be compounded by certain events — take, for example, the legal proceedings that could arise from a condo manager reporting abusive behaviour in hopes of having it addressed through official channels.

As their name suggests, on-the-job stressors are sometimes unavoidable parts of a particular position. In light of this, Dr. Kamkar recommended that organizations provide employees who are exposed to these types of situations tools and training to cope with them.

“When it happens, how can they manage it to de-escalate the situation?” said Dr. Kamkar. “And then also, who can they turn to if they feel the impact on themselves?”

Documenting and reporting harassment

While employers have legal obligations to have harassment policies in place, the training condo managers receive for handling abusive behaviour on the job may be somewhat patchwork, as Thompson indicated it comes down to whatever their condo management company offers. He said key steps in addressing workplace harassment include documenting it and reporting it.

“Managers need to really understand that they are worth it, that they don’t have to put up with it,” said Thompson. “Report it to their company, and if their company’s a good company, they’re going to report it back to the board, and if it’s a good board, that board’s going to do something about it.”

Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.

6 thoughts on “Confronting workplace harassment in condos

  1. The percentage is small in the national big picture. The condo owners tend to be older while condo management is much younger The youth of the management are not trained to work with older people who do not always appreciate the ideas and rules forced on them by all levels of Government
    Younger people have to respect older people and show respect. Either “suck it up”, and get on with the job you choose or move on

    • Roger, well said. Thank you – Management Co’s tend to be unprofessional and don’t exactly hire the cream of the crop employees. The Condo owners who pay a great deal of money for condos’s are more inclined to be bullied by the B of Directors and Management co’s not the other way around. Trust me we know! JESleeth

  2. Condominium Corporations are Employers and must comply with violence and harassment laws. Train your workers and educate owners. Only a small percentage will remain abusive. The termination of a contract may have been a violation of Section 50 of the OHSA. Education works.

    • Please hold Boards of Directors accountable if they allow a bona fide harassing condo owner to continue to harass and bully- in our experience Boards of Directors who are the EMPLOYERS need to be held accountable – currently they can do whatever they please with no protection for condo owners. This is a gaping hole in consumer protection and #humanrights protection. JESleeth

  3. I see this articular regarding Property Managers title Confronting Workplace Harassment in Condos.

    I speak’s of the MANAGERS and abusive behavior in the workplace, but yet again, there is no mention of a apparent concern
    of the same when it comes to Superintendent. I have been doing this know for 5 years @ the same location and have experienced the same leaves of abusive behavior again and again. Do we not hold the same worth?

    I have reported such incidents on numerous occasions and was told there was nothing they could do directly.

    That I would have to report such behaviors to the Police.

    Or is like said in such articular that the board/ manager are to afraid to confront an owner.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that it would be appreciated by all Superintendent if from time to time that it would be helpful to think of ways to help us less remembered and thought of. We to could use help with many of the same issues managers go through.

    After all WE are on the front line every day.

    • To provide a balanced view of this issue of #harrassment in condos, & based on the fact that #Condoowners have NO rights whatsoever under past & current #CondoLaw in ON: It is becoming increasingly common for Condo Boards who do not like some condo owners or several condo owners, to use the “condo lawyers play book”. This book allows Boards of directors have full & unfettered access to condo funds & #reservefunds with which to hire Condo Lawyers (who have a negative reputation amongst their peers) to bully & wield unchecked powers. Boards of Directors hire both Management Co’s & Condo law firms to harass, then bully, & go so far as to place illegal liens on condo owners. They can force the sale of the very condo/home which you have enjoyed & saved for for years. So before this article places again, the “blame” onto condo owners – please consider the fact there is NO CONSUMER PROTECTION in the province of ON or any legal recourse against Condo Lawyers, bullying Management Co’s & bullying Boards of Directors. This is a serious consumer & human rights issue. Harassment of vulnerable older & elderly owners, women & other vulnerable groups has been & is permitted to carry on, without recourse, legal rights & #humanrights @dougFord we need #Consumerprotection PS – our several trips to the Police, Justice of the Peace, 4 lawyers, and even the use of social media does not stop Boards of Directors from bullying condo owners and hiring of management co’s to do their bullying for them. This is a very serious issue not addressed by any level of governance.

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