OnSite Employees for Condos and HOAs

Board Tips for Onsite Employees

When the unemployment rate is relatively low throughout the country, most employers will find it difficult to attract and retain good employees. This is especially so when the foundation of our work – people’s homes and quality of life – brings with it strong emotional factors that can prove challenging to community management professionals. Professional managers are also required to be knowledgeable about a broad spectrum of property management issues. To name but a few, they include physical plant maintenance, law, budget development, financial management, general administration, and computers. Professional managers work with changing volunteers that have differing goals and objectives, must apply a high degree of customer service to owners, and regularly attend evening meetings where they may not get home until 10:00 p.m. or later, after a full day of work. These are tough prerequisites in a highly competitive job market.

To be further advantaged in this employment market, boards with professional management firms may want to give consideration to having the management company, rather than the association, be the employer of on-site employees.

Some boards want to be the employer because they feel that it gives them a greater amount of operational control, and perhaps a more loyal and ‘watchful eye’ on their behalf. Even if that were true, communities may be passing up some of the more experienced and skilled management professionals who prefer not to be an association employee, and here’s why:

· The position of a professional site manager is difficult to fill. Yet once a candidate accepts that position with an association, s/he is already at the top spot in the community employment organization, having nowhere to professionally advance. In fact, a manager who remains at one site for a lengthy period of time is not considered to be as experienced and/or as marketable as those who have not. Instead, that manager may be assessed as having had a lot of experience with one particular community, rather than the broad and diverse experience of another manager who developed their skills through the countless challenges and situations presented by having managed multiple communities.

· Even if the site manager position initially pays well, there are often significant limitations on how much that salary can be increased annually – versus the opportunity to move on to larger and/or more complex operations that are available to management company employees – provided that the employee has performed well and earned the elevated respect of both his/her professional management firm and peers.

· The community association’s manager is often ‘isolated’ on the site, whereas management firm employees regularly enjoy professional resources, collegial collaboration, and training that Is superior to that which is available by a community association. Highly regarded management firms typically have industry professionals provide specialized training in the various trades, as well as in-house training programs and required continuing education and credentialing.

Condo and HOA on-site employees should be employees of the management company

Consider that your community may be better served by the sharing of information between professional managers. This routinely occurs within a good management firm. Your community may not have paved or carpeted in some time, but a management employee’s peer may have just gone through this process and will offer valuable information concerning their experience — such as negotiated pricing, whether a contractor has recently lost some of their best workers or supervisors, if complaints were promptly and satisfactorily addressed, and so on.

· Management companies invest in other site employees as well by providing attention and training that encourages individuals to perform at the highest level. Employees respond because they know that this is their opportunity for professional development and career growth. While a community might promote their employee into a higher position, their typical training has been “OTJ” or On the Job. Once promoted, how will that employee get the professional training your community deserves to have? Who will they collaborate with while they are learning? How will they be evaluated, and by who?

· The typical employment benefits offered by a community are health and routine vacation/sick leave. A few offer some form of retirement. But employees whose career opportunities are constrained at a single community, when forced to re­enter the employment market, must start over with their benefits package each time they change employers. For example, vacation time, which is normally earned commensurate with one’s length of employment, will remain at the ‘new employee’ status – time and time again. Not so if they are with a professional management firm.

· Communities are limited in one of the most important aspects of job satisfaction; professional recognition. As evidenced by many job-satisfaction studies, to be commended by one’s employer is essential to an employee’s retention and motivation to perform well. Our management company offers a wide variety of recognition programs wherein the employee earns and receives emotional, financial and career rewards.

·The community volunteers that employees regularly interact and work with frequently change. This has the effect of making association employees feel insecure, especially when a new board behaves differently or has different expectations than the previous board.

In this industry, it is particularly important that an employee be a “good fit” in terms of personality and approach. We’ve seen repeated instances where the employee who could do no wrong with one board or committee, could do no right with the next. This employee is distracted from their work as they worry about job security. It’s amazing how much job anxiety a few sharp words from a community volunteer can cast upon a site employee, though that was perhaps not the intent of the volunteer. When employed by the management firm, both the association and the employee have options. The employee knows that their company understands the ‘good fit’ issues and will work with them to improve the situation and/or help them find another position if necessary. This encourages the employee to perform well despite the circumstances because they do not want to disappoint their company – and their job security concerns are greatly reduced. Instead of concern about a termination process, the Association is able to limit their liability for personnel issues by requesting reassignment of a management employee who is not a ‘good fit.’

· Finally, as is no surprise to anyone, there is a huge amount of liability associated with being an employer. This can be significantly increased by the nature of volunteer supervision and/or oversight.

Condo and HOA on-site employees should be employees of the management company

The board operates under a democratic principle wherein members may disagree, but ultimately take a vote, upon which the majority rules. This keystone of association democracy is the right, if not the obligation of individual board members, to disagree when believed necessary to exercise one’s fiduciary responsibility. However, as a result, members of the board who see things differently often approach things differently, and it is not unusual for site employees to receive conflicting direction from one member of the board to the next. This is exacerbated when board members do not get along. In turn, this can be ripe ground for an employee to exploit a personnel claim of some wrongdoing.

We’ve seen many occasions where one board member feels that the employee is doing an excellent job, whereas another completely disagrees with that assessment. This has been accompanied by the employee ‘confiding’ in one or more members, who may ‘console’ that employee and assure them that they are doing a good job – while the other board member(s) complain, perhaps openly, about the same employee. This can easily lead to, for example, employee complaints of discrimination on one basis or another and a lawsuit against the association.

The employee will testify that they had every reason to believe they were doing well, based upon what one or more board members told them. An examiner is going to ask how the employee could have known who to follow, and why some board members were willing to have discussions with the employee, while the other(s) were not, or why the employee was given conflicting performance viewpoints and/or direction, etc. The association will be asked how they resolve employment issues when ‘/2 of the board believes the employee is doing a good job and the other ‘/2 does not … and most associations will not have a satisfactory answer to that. The examiner sees the employee as vulnerable to an unfair system.

·   Now, using the site manager as an example, let’s turn to the evaluation process itself. We routinely see instances where each member of the board completes their evaluation of the manager. Uh-Oh; three members thought the manager was doing a great job, two members thought the manager was mediocre, and two thought s/he was just awful. Now what? Do the three members prevail? Do we combine the scores together – and if so, does that mean the manager is average or not? Should that manager make changes in product and/or approach or not?

When a group of people each apply their subjective valuation, it’s unlikely that the result will be uniform. Would you want to be professionally evaluated under those circumstances? Will the manager feel that the evaluation was a fair assessment and an important tool/guidance for their product, much less their career growth? Do they feel encouraged and appreciated or are they thinking it’s time to move on?

When considering all of the above, boards may be concerned that if the employees were those of the management firm, there will most assuredly be employee turnover at the site.

The fact is that a management company seeks to establish continuity and accountability for their clients, and can insist that an employee remain at the site during critical periods where the employee might otherwise have left. Keep in mind that your community will turn over staff anyway because, just like you, employees need to grow professionally and financially.

However, when employees transfer within your management firm, historical community information is a simple phone call away – and you retain information that would in all likelihood be otherwise lost. The management employee will want to be as helpful as possible after they leave your association because their professional company has an interest in the outcome of their client’s issue(s), and therefore the employee’s success is affected.

As you can see, your professional management firm may have even more to offer your community than known. If you still do not feel this is an option for your association – or your community is self-managed –  you may wish to take note of the points above and perhaps make some internal changes that will benefit both your community association and your employees.

by: Lana Reynolds, CMCA