Why are Rental Housing Employees Quitting? Communication Problems Frustrate Many

lack of communication risks employee engagement

Note: This is one in a five-article series spotlighting the five top risks to employee engagement and retention cited in Swift Bunny’s 2023 Employee Engagement Risk Report. Employee turnover is a persistent top challenge for rental housing operators, and the labor shortage has made staffing even more difficult than usual. A focus on driving down employee turnover and driving up employee engagement, tenure, and loyalty will help apartment leaders keep their communities and companies fully staffed and high performing.

For the second year in a row, one of the top risks to employee engagement and retention among rental housing employees is communication. Here are some of the frustrations expressed by employees in confidential surveys last year:

  • When they reach out to supervisors, coworkers, or other departments with a question or for assistance, it takes forever to get a response.
  • Insufficient information sharing from the leaders to the on-site teams.
  • Leadership is unwilling to listen to suggestions and input from employees.

The apartment industry has long struggled with communication issues. Each community is its own workplace and can be isolated from others in the portfolio, and from regional and corporate offices. Even within communities, there can be a disconnect between different work groups, such as maintenance and management. When employees aren’t included in information sharing, they feel invisible. When they can’t get a response from others in a reasonable time frame, they get frustrated and their work suffers. And when employees’ input and opinions are not considered, they feel unvalued.

What can leaders do?

First, increase the amount of communication you are doing. What we’ve learned from analyzing tens of thousands of employee surveys at workplaces large, small, geographically contained, geographically dispersed, and everything in between is that it’s almost impossible to over-communicate with your teams. You may think that you’re doing a lot of communication now; step it up anyway. Chances are at least some members of your team are feeling in the dark in spite of your efforts.

Next, vary your communication methods. Your workforce is diverse, and different methods work better for different teams and individuals. Use a mix of approaches in order to increase your chances of getting through to all. Consider:

  • Regularly scheduled all-hands meetings where company leaders address high level topics with all employees. In-person is ideal if you can swing it, but the next best thing is a virtual meeting with cameras on. Be sure the agenda allows for dialogue so employees can actively participate.
  • Recorded video messages from leaders are another excellent way to share information. Again, distribute these via a variety of methods so you reach the most team members.
  • In-person staff meetings for each work location, such as communities, regional offices, and departments within the home office. These should also be recurring and predictably scheduled, such as weekly.
  • One-on-one meetings between each supervisor and their direct reports. Find the rhythm that works best for you; many workplaces find monthly or quarterly to work well.
  • Company or regional newsletters are a great way to share information. Consider distributing them in a variety of ways, such as via email, on your company’s Intranet, in your internal Slack group or similar, and even go old-school by printing copies at each work location and placing where employees are likely to see them such as on a bulletin board in the break room, kitchen, and maintenance shop.
  • Allow for employees’ voices to be heard, too, not just leaders. Employ a listening strategy to capture feedback, input, and suggestions. This can be formal, such as creating a repository for suggestions; or informal, such as managers and supervisors making a concerted effort to listen to their direct reports.
  • Employee surveys are also useful for capturing feedback. Remember the golden rule of feedback: if you’re going to ask for it, you must be prepared to act on it.

Finally, establish a norm within your organization where employees are responded to quickly. You may even want to formalize this with a policy change. Many workplaces have such a policy in place for customer response times; remember that employees are internal customers. They deserve a quick reply when they reach out with a question or request. Consider that they may in fact require that reply in order to complete their work and satisfy a resident or prospective resident. A workplace culture that leaves employees hanging when they reach out is a surefire way to plummet employee engagement and lead to greater dissatisfaction and attrition.

Learn more about the other risks to employee engagement that we have identified as driving dissatisfaction and turnover, including compensation, professional development, workload, and onboarding, and get your copy of the 2023 Employee Engagement Risk Report for our complete findings.


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