While a productive building or association manager who ably navigates the day-to-day operations of one or more client communities may not have millions in the bank, it's hard to argue that he or she is not 'successful' in practical terms. But effective property management requires a truly taxing level of accessibility, as a manager is expected to be the conduit for all of a co-op or condo's woes. This can wear down those with even the strongest constitutions.
Given that, it's simply a necessity for a managing agent to know how to deal with stress: mitigating it during work hours, and decompressing when off the clock. The prescription here must conform to the patient; there's not one true antidote to managerial stress. But there are tips and tricks that career property managers have long practiced that may be of help to those who are struggling to keep their heads above water.
From Whence It Comes
A good first step before battling stress is to identify it at the source. Determining which parts of the job are most anxiety-inducing for an individual can help prepare that manager to handle those challenges as they're presented – as well as to devise ways to preempt and counterbalance them with more relaxing activity.
“A lack of communication, or a lack of owner or board member interest, will sometimes cause the most grief,” says Bryan Cagan, Director of Asset Management at Cagan Management Group, Inc., in Skokie, Illinois. “When owners can't communicate with the board, and need certain things handled, [they] can go on and on – but it might be a topic that the board has addressed ten times over, and [that owner] just didn't care enough to listen during those times. It's actually the boards that meet more regularly and have more participation that amount to less work for their manager. People assume that it's the opposite, and the ones that you never hear from are the easiest, but they can give you the biggest headaches, because you find yourself working in an unknown environment.”
Dianna Wilson, an account specialist with real estate firm KWA Group in Glastonbury, Connecticut, advises managers to establish a single point of contact within a board. “Otherwise, you'll find yourself with five different people giving you five different directives,” she warns. “Too many projects requested simultaneously is a surefire stressor, while one project at a time is the recipe for success.”
Inflated expectations can also wear on a manager. “Unfortunately, people who live in community associations demand that to which they believe they are entitled – even if they're not understanding the underlying conditions that affect their lives,” says Bill Cullen, Owner of B&D Management in Hyde Park, New York. “Many are unreasonable, or even nasty about it, and of course that affects performance, regardless of what anybody says. We all try our best to work above and beyond negative behavior, but it does take its toll on you.”
All this said, some managers actually try to channel their stress into productivity. “It can be good as a motivator when managed,” says Ryan Kinser, a senior property manager and Director of Concierge Services with DDG, a real estate company in New York City. “I use stress as a tool to engage goals that need completion or fulfillment, and to exceed expectations. Remaining positive and goal-oriented is beneficial both personally and to the team.”
While workplace stress is an inevitability, there are stress reducers near at hand if you just know where to look.
“Time management and planning ensures a proactive approach to enable unforeseen needs to receive attention and prompt remediation,” notes Kinser. “Open channels of communication and a direct-report structure ensure escalation of urgent matters and the resolution thereof by employees, who are more fulfilled and enriched when empowered to fulfill requests. This empowerment is enabled via regular job training, including service seminars and sponsoring certificates for safety, service and other job-related needs. Delegation is also an integral part to managing the overall operations.”
Taking off the property management hat and popping on one of the business manager variety, it's also important to use one's own experiences dealing with associations to empathize with what employees might be going through.
“Internally, we try to encourage managers to take time off, or exercise – things of that nature,” says Cagan. “It's hard not to take feedback personally, because oftentimes a unit owner or board member will try to make it such. I try to remind individual property managers that they need to take a step back, and acknowledge that this is work, and it's separate from their personal lives. They shouldn't let this bother them at the end of the day. Most of what leads to stressful environments are not life-threatening, or even as critical as people can make it seem. We deal with a hundred or more decisions each day, and we can scale it – but when a unit owner calls, it's with one issue that's critical to them. You can get 95 out of 100 things right, but it's those other five that everyone judges you by.”
“I make sure to eat lunch daily, and perhaps take a 15-20 minute walk afterward,” adds Katie M. Ciccotelli, a community association manager with Sentry Management in Tavares, Florida. “This leaves me completely recharged and ready to focus on work. If I don't take that time out, I notice that my productivity dips, and that my energy level is lower than usual. I tend to prioritize and tackle the hardest things on my list first thing in the morning, when my mind is the most clear. And I try to schedule as rigorously as possible, to minimize interruptions. I don't stress over making sure that everything I do is perfect; that seems counterproductive, to me. Instead, I do the best that I can in every situation based on my own judgments.”
Wilson urges managers to focus on listening to association members whenever possible, rather than rushing to contribute input. She finds it helpful to repeat what the resident or board member is saying back to them, so both parties understand the terms of the conversation. This helps things move along at a calmer pace. Additionally, her company has monthly happy hours, which does not necessarily help with association dealings, but might help with everything else.
Of course, the majority of work-necessitated decompression is going to come when the manager is off the clock. Everybody has different methods of unwinding, and these are but a few:
“The most important thing to keep me grounded is balance,” says Ciccotelli. “To me, this means time with my family, sleeping well, eating right, and exercise. If one area is suffering, everything will be off, like a stool that's missing a leg.”
“I go to the gym quite regularly, and practice yoga as well, which has been quite helpful,” adds Cagan. “But [distracting oneself] has become more challenging due to access to email, texts... everything is remotely accessible. You have to make a conscious effort to really disconnect, which can be tough.”
Cullen takes a week-long vacation each year, and tries “to engage in local activities to break up the mental tension.” But as a small business owner, he needs to be available. Aside from that, he'll grab the occasional day off whenever his schedule warrants one.
And Kinser spends his downtime “enjoying the parks, or the waterfront; exploring restaurants in the region. Traveling can be inspirational, and it allows time to unwind and returned energized to better focus on efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace.”
So take a break! Hit the gym. Go on a trip. Have an indulgent meal. The queries and requests of an association are infinite – and they'll most definitely be there tomorrow.
Mike Odenthal is a staff writer/reporter for The Chicagoland Cooperator.