Tailoring Training to Retain Talent in 2023
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By Doug Pike |

6 minute read

Increased wages and enhanced benefits aren’t the only things driving team member retention.

Recruiting and hiring talent has grown into an exceedingly exhausting and tedious task in the current labor climate, spurring many multifamily management companies to shift their focus to associate retention. In fact, a 2021 Rental Housing Market Study revealed that 53% of property management companies list employee retention as their top concern. To keep their employees, apartment operators have been forced to significantly increase wages and enhance benefits. But compensation isn’t the only catalyst to retain team members. 

Retaining top talent requires a holistic and proactive approach, which includes customized training to empower and engage employees. According to The Engagement Institute, disengaged employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion each year. By implementing practical training programs and actionable steps, operators are strategically retaining and even growing their associate rosters and creating a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Engagement Begins at Onboarding

Concerning associate retention, delivering a positive first impression is just as important for employers as providing a positive on-the-job experience for associates. Providing new hires with immediate resources, not only to do their jobs well but to advance beyond the position they were hired for, promotes longevity.

“Retention starts with onboarding our associates correctly, not solely with their supervisors but all departments relating to the new hire,” said Cayce Coon, Vice President of Operations at Madera Residential and Rockwood Multifamily. “It is vital that we offer them an abundance of access to various education offerings, as well as a clear understanding of our vision and culture, to help them get acclimated.”

Operators like Sentral are tracking the success of onboarding processes through post-training surveys and enablement platforms to tailor the experience for new on-site associates. According to the Kingsley Index from Grace Hill, employees with high levels of engagement are five times more likely to indicate that they will still be working at the same company in a year, meaning employers need to make sure associates are engaged from the beginning. 

“Associate engagement is a huge part of our multi-pronged approach to associate retention,” said Lisa Yeh, Sentral’s Chief Operating Officer. “We believe each of our associates has a voice and encourage the sharing of new perspectives and candid feedback on how we can improve the Sentral enterprise. That starts on day one of employment.”

To optimize engagement, operators are not only moving quickly to identify associate needs, but also potential career paths. Proactively providing support and empowering employees’ professional aspirations increases engagement. 

Supporting Career Ambitions

Yeh said Sentral has designed detailed training tracks to facilitate associates’ career ambitions. It also conducts public forums where associates can learn about a host of different topics pertaining to potential career development opportunities. Recorded webinars, periodic training updates and various technology courses help to keep the workforce engaged and evolving.

“We are committed to developing a robust internal pipeline of talent, so we can always look to promote from within,” Yeh said. “The opportunity for career growth is a powerful incentive to stay, so continual training and associate development is essential to our retention efforts.”

Coon said Madera has issued more internal promotions over the past two years than it did during the previous decade, thanks largely to a comprehensive training initiative that prepares and positions associates to take the next step within the company. A critical component of that training comes through a peer mentor program, which assigns each new hire a mentor for onboarding and frequent touchpoints throughout the first year. Mentorships also help to establish personal workplace connections for new associates and accelerate their assimilation into 
the team.

“We assign several months’ worth of scheduled meetings after the initial mentor training program is completed to make sure nothing was missed and the new associate is genuinely comfortable,” Coon said. “The mentor and mentee also review each other so we can continually update the program to better meet our new associates’ needs. Mentors essentially write the script for us, with an open forum to provide suggested additions and changes to the program.”

Sentral, which deploys and tracks its own mentor program, continually gauges associate sentiment via pulse surveys throughout employment. The engagement effort measures up to 27 categories and is designed to ensure associates have the tools and resources they need, as well as career growth information.

Commitment to Feedback, Engagement and Recognition

“Every team member also has regular monthly check-ins to gauge progress and measure impact,” Yeh said. “Quarterly goals for each team member are loaded into an employee engagement platform, and we review those goals during those check-ins. We believe in providing real-time feedback to employees to assist them in achieving their goals, but we 
also want to make sure that we’re providing prompt guidance and support 
when needed.”

Regular touchpoints throughout an employee’s tenure help to combat “quiet quitting” – where employees mentally check out at work without resigning. Multifamily hasn’t been immune to the labor trend, which significantly affects company performance. The Kingsley/Grace Hill survey showed the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is currently 1.8 to 1, the lowest in almost a decade. 

“Whether it’s quiet quitting or quiet firing, these dynamics have been happening for years. This was not just during the pandemic; this is not new,” said employee retention expert Clint Pulver during Grace Hill’s recent webinar, “The Impact of Employee Silence: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You.” 

“It’s important to know the status of your employees,” says Pulver. “Create an opportunity with your people to do a status interview. Ask them, ‘What can I do to keep you here?’ ‘What is standing in the way of your success?’ And ask, ‘What can I do to help get you there?’ The crazy thing is, those three questions are usually only asked in the exit interview.”

Madera implemented an electronic “help desk” that enables associates to provide feedback and suggest improvements and submit basic requests for help. Coon said immediate and visible response to associate feedback is critical to demonstrating that their voices are heard and respected, which helps to build loyalty.

While investments in associate training and engagement help to create a culture where associates feel valued, formal performance recognition is still essential to employee retention efforts. Each month, Sentral invites its associates to nominate peers for its values awards, which recognize teamwork, humanity and achievement. Recipients of values awards receive prizes and companywide acknowledgment in an official awards ceremony. Sentral also created an internal celebrations channel where associates can submit and receive impromptu recognition for various achievements and milestones. 

Madera teams regularly play virtual games and host competitions throughout the year to keep the atmosphere light and build camaraderie. The company also hosts community service days and annual positional outings where everyone in one job position throughout a market gets together for a day of fun and networking.

“The stress level onsite seems so much higher than ever before,” Coon said. “The resident demand has increased since the pandemic, and our newer generations of renters have quicker expectations for answers and solutions. In a fast-paced competitive industry, you are missing a massive piece to success if you aren't making time for fun.”

Creating an enjoyable and engaging corporate culture helps to build associate buy-in and establish teams that employees don’t want to leave. By staying in touch with associate needs and sentiment, operators remain agile and proactive in their efforts to retain talent. 

“As an industry, we can’t be stagnant. The preferences and demands of our team members are continually evolving, and as multifamily operators we need to stay one step ahead,” Yeh said. “When we can keep our associates engaged and our property teams intact, it is reflected in the performance of our assets. Anything we can do to promote associate retention benefits both our residents and our bottom lines.”


Doug Pike is Content Manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing.