It’s nearing 10 p.m. and I have finally logged-off my email. Since COVID-19 began, this is considered an early end to my workday. Three things that are true about me in this moment: I am a licensed condominium property manager, I am in my early 30s, and I am completely burned out.
Before the pandemic began, my life as a condo manager was invigorating—every day brings endless change. Yet it was also challenging. The compensation is relatively low compared to the other licensed professions, the hours are unforgivably long, and there are always complex issues (and personalities) to manage, which can be enough to make any well-educated, young professional say “thank-you, next” to this in-transition, newly-licensed industry altogether.
Enter COVID-19. From my chats with industry colleagues, a number of managers are now looking for glowing exit signs to greener pastures. The CMRAO’s June 30 study-or-else licensing deadline looms heavily for senior managers, some of whom have not written an exam for decades and must now find the time to fit that into the chaos of a pandemic—with new precedents set around them and their valued clients. Many have told me they are seriously considering retiring from the industry, rather than completing the requirements.
This virus and the restrictions that accompany it bring mounting challenges. To start, everyone is home. During the day, condo towers which may see 75 per cent or more of their residents head off to work elsewhere are now brimming with residents who work remotely. All this time at home means more accidents on the premises, more irate neighbour disputes, more requests for non-essential maintenance and, generally, more of everything that a manager handles.
Now, there just never seems to be enough time in the day. A life-work balance escapes the diligent, despite best efforts and awareness of how essential that focus is. Managers started noticing a trend after the virus first forced us into our homes last March. Residents who used to reach out, maybe two or three times a year, began reaching out two or three times a month—or in some cases, two or three times a week.
In the beginning, one resident called me every other day for three weeks. While on his daily quarantine walk through the neighbourhood that surrounded his condo, he would pass by a downed tree on a neighbouring property—a good two kilometres away. He felt this was unsightly, that I should be doing more to ensure the neighbouring residents kept their detached homes in a state of cohesion more befitting his luxury condo.
Many Canadians are now reporting heightened levels of stress, and I’m finding a good share of residents are irritable, lonely and bored. Even the kindest of hearts are likely to have moments of pandemic fatigue. Less sympathetic individuals from pre-pandemic days have, in some cases, been downright mean to their managers. Additionally, there seems to be this belief that the manager is, in some way, the building’s “COVID police.” While chatting with colleagues at a recent virtual conference, almost everyone had a similar story to share— an emergency call or a weekend email they received from a resident because a neighbour welcomed a visitor during lockdown.
Earning a pay raise in the midst of shouldering all this work seems impossible. In recent years, insurance premiums for repairs and maintenance have been on the upswing. Due to the pandemic, condos now need extra common area cleaning and wall-mounted hand sanitizer stations. Material costs for basic repairs and large projects have increased. Trades are harder to secure, so their labour and material-related costs are higher; they are charging more in order to stay afloat. Naturally, these costs must be passed on to the unit owners. But what about the management company that signed a contract two years ago with set annual raises? Should their cost-of-living increase not be levied because a few owners are struggling financially? Yes, according to some.
Adding to the pressure is that aforementioned deadline for Ontario-based managers with transitional general licenses, who have until June 30, 2021 to complete the educational requirements and obtain a general license. I have spoken with several managers who were working towards completing their necessary courses to stay fully licensed and maintain current salary levels or even their careers. But now, the idea of taking courses in one’s downtime— when there is no real downtime—is laughable.
If condo managers are going to survive the rest of this pandemic, they must firmly hone their basic coping skills. Something I’ve found helpful is looking to the work of Abraham Maslow, a 20th-century American psychologist who identified a hierarchy of five needs that all humans innately require to feel fulfilled. His theory has since been re-hashed, but remains groundbreaking, and researchers continue to reference his assertions in their own work. These needs, from bottom to top, are: physiological, safety, belonging and love, self-esteem and self-actualization.
Seemingly basic principles like eating, drinking water, sleeping and breathing are key, including exercise. Even just a quick five-minute walk is one of the most powerful ways to accomplish a sense of wellbeing.
Feeling safe and secure might be as simple as ensuring you have a steady supply of personal protective equipment that you and your team require to work safely throughout the day. It’s always a good idea to have supply on hand for periods of unavailability. During the first phase of the pandemic, one of our staff members drove after work hours to a brewery, two hours away, to pick up a truck load of World Health Organization hand-sanitizer solution for our sites. Supply shortages can cause unnecessary stress that managers definitely do not need right now.
Also important are family and friends. Take a minute (hopefully more) to prioritize these relationships. Have a break and check in with your partner or kids. Get up and take the dogs for a walk instead of digging right into that board report.
Recognize achievements. There will be moments when simply getting through the day (and all of the emails) is an achievement. Shift your thinking and celebrate your successes, no matter how small. If you work as part of a team, try being more intentional in your praise for one another. A little bit of acknowledgement goes a long way, especially now.
Self-actualization refers to the idea that we can become the best versions of ourselves and reach our full potential. During COVID-19 we are all doing our best, so this may be a good time to make sure that your ‘ideal you’ is realistic. Perhaps this year we just need to try to sleep better, breathe easier and laugh louder than we did in 2020.
We have the experience and we made it through to the other side of 2021. Let 2022 be the year that we reach the moon and let us just be thankful for the lessons learned and the endurance techniques mastered. We can do this.
Kirsten Dale is an Ontario licensed condominium manager (CMRAO) and a registered condominium manager (ACMO) with MCRS Property Management, based in Huntsville, Ontario providing condominium management services in Simcoe, Muskoka, Parry Sound and Haliburton.