Are your on-site employees at risk of suffering from compassion fatigue? If you have hired the right people, the answer is yes. One of the greatest strengths a leasing professional brings to their position is the capacity to engage customers and develop a compassionate connection with them. Yet it is also their greatest vulnerability. Compassion fatigue is a type of high stress burnout resulting from the constant demands of caring for and servicing others.
According to a 2017 Udemy Report, “Workplace Confidential: The Real Story Behind Stress, Skills, and Success in America,” all generations are admitting to having increased stress levels at work, and Millennials and Gen Z employees feel more stress at work than any other generation in the workplace. Property management revolves around servicing a customer who lives with us. Their geographical closeness can compound stress, as their personal lives often creep into our leasing offices. On a daily basis, our employees are engaging with customers and often get sucked into their emotional ups and downs. As trainers, we are in the business of filling up those leasing professionals’ compassion tanks and hoping our employees have enough in reserve to make it to the next class. How can we help?
Here are 3 tools to avoid compassion fatigue in the leasing office:
1. Set Boundaries
The challenge for trainers is to teach employees to remain compassionate, empathetic, and supportive of others without becoming overly involved. They need to learn how to draw the line rather than build a wall between personal and professional. This is not a common topic taught in leasing classes, but it is an important one.
- Keep it Professional. A leasing professional does not have to be friends with everyone to be successful, but they should have a friendly demeanor. Those who confuse the two may find themselves in the middle of sticky situations. While getting to know customers on a personal level can be beneficial in some cases, there are also times when it can prove to be a problem. Customers are not looking for a friend. They want someone to help them navigate through the maze of confusion that is in front of them. They need a consultant, not a pal.
- Choose Empathy. There is a difference between empathy and sympathy. Knowing how to communicate empathy in sales will strengthen rapport and grow the connection between the leasing professional and the customer. When we sympathize with the customer we become part of the problem, but when we empathize we are still outside of the problem and can offer solutions. In other words, we can stay out of the emotional side of it. Leasing professionals must maintain a level of detachment to be able to objectively guide the customer and not get too caught up in their emotional baggage.
2. Manage Stress
Managing stress is an essential job skill for the successful leasing professional. High stress environments are not uncommon and can result in a less compassionate team who is responsible for servicing customers on a daily basis. This is a high-stress business, and those who learn how to minimize and manage stress are more likely to be survivors.
- Realize it’s not personal. It is important to remind employees that the customer’s frustration has nothing to do with them. While a customer might explode while in an emotional state, they often do not realize the impact they are having on the leasing professional. We should never take it personally even if the outburst is personally directed at us.
- Remember this, too, shall pass. Sometimes even the reasonable customer crosses over into unknown irrational territory. Something sets them off and they start screaming. Remind employees that there is a nice person in there someplace, and if they keep calm and work with them, they will uncover that nice customer again.
- Do what you can do. When customers are frustrated, their behavior is often a reaction to unmet expectations. Uncovering their expectations will help defuse the emotion and keep the conversation focused on problem solving. Keep focusing on what you can do to close the gap between their unmet expectations and reality.
- Walk it off. A simple change of environment can do wonders for a person’s mental state. Remind employees that whatever they leave behind will be waiting for them when they return. They will be amazed how much happier and nicer they are when they return from even a short break.
Stress cannot be entirely eliminated, and a healthy amount of stress leads to productivity and creativity. The goal is to manage it so that compassion fatigue does not set in and go on display for your customers.
3. Recognize the Issue
Compassion fatigue does not appear overnight. It builds up over an extended period of time as the reserves of empathy and energy begin to drain from the employee. Unfortunately, without empathy and compassion toward customers, the customer experience is severely damaged. The good news is that according to the Udemy survey mentioned earlier, Americans are actively addressing the problem by learning new skills. Nearly 58% are turning to company-sponsored skills training to combat this stress epidemic. Expecting employees to recognize the issue on their own is unrealistic because self-reflection is not one of everyone’s strengths. Having systems in place such as the Ellis Mystery Shopping and Ellis Resident Surveys programs provide a snapshot of employee performance and their level of customer focus. Are they simply going through the motions or lacking lack excitement in their presentations? Are they impatient or rushed with customers? If so, it is highly possible they are experiencing compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is not a common topic of discussion in our industry, but it lurks around in many leasing offices. Compassion fatigue takes a toll not only on the employee but also on the entire team, causing decreased productivity, more sick days, and higher turnover. Among other stressors, leasing professionals must cope with terminal illness or deaths of residents, fallout from hurricanes, con artists, broken marriages, FBI surveillance, and death and bomb threats. When you work and often live at your place of employment, everything feels personal. As trainers, awareness and sensitivity to compassion fatigue is vital. By helping leasing professionals find ways to manage and overcome this problem, we help them attain and maintain the essential skill of compassionate connection with customers and help avoid compassion fatigue in the leasing office.
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions