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.”
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.