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When Student Staffers Have to Deal with Angry Parents

By Les Shaver

When a parent visits the management office, students need to be prepared to diffuse the situation.

With parents becoming more involved in their kids’ lives than ever, student staffers at off-campus housing now need to be able to defuse situations that involve angry adults.

“How do you deal with it when you’ve got a parent, who may be a lawyer, and they’re on the phone or in your office and they’re not happy,” says Rick Jones, Vice Chairman for Management Services Corporation at the Listening Lab at CampusConnex in Orlando. “That’s a pressure [situation for a student employee].”

With a new generation of what Jones call “lawnmower parents” (those who clear out every obstacle in their kids’ way),” preparing student employees to deal with upset adults is more important than ever.

“It requires another level of workforce training,” Jones says. “At East Carolina, one of our really good property managers left. She said, ‘I cannot deal with the parents any longer.’ ”

At Landmark Properties, these difficult interactions are also viewed as a growth opportunity.

“We train our associates to understand that they are running this business, and we are there as a resource to help them,” says Kevin Howe, Senior Vice President, Operations. “We want them to work through problems as opposed to just transferring the call to us. We want to empower them to solve their problem.”

Angela Testa, ACC’s Sr. Regional Vice President, says the company’s goal is to empower its onsite team to handle issues with parents and to make sure their needs are addressed on the spot. “We constantly reinforce the strength and the capabilities of our onsite management team members who can communicate and respond quickly,” she says.

While empowering student staffers to solve problems on their own is important, student housing firms need to have more senior associates on call to provide help when needed.

“It’s incumbent upon us to provide support to them,” says Ronda Puryear, Senior Vice President for Management Services Corporation. “We try to make our regional manager available. And, I’m also only a phone call away anytime, for anybody, if they have a serious issue because we want to be there to support them.”

For student who can handle the challenges, there is opportunity for growth at Management Services Corporation.

“We are fortunate in that we recruit from the student population,” Puryear said. “They start as part-time leasing agents. And half of them grow up, and they’re then the ones who are running the office. They may be the leasing manager or the assistant property manager.”

In other cases, these students decide to move on. Heather R. Sizemore, CAPS, Vice President, University Relations for The Michaels Organization, Student Living, says many students don’t want to stick around after graduation.

“In many cases, it is just a part-time gig -- and that’s okay,” Sizemore says. “They’re just trying to make some money while they’re in college. And it’s convenient because we work around their schedules and they’re not working late nights like at a bar or restaurant.”