Alba Management MD Tom Dawson recently wrote a piece about mental health in property management for Flat Living Magazine. The whole piece can be seen below of on Flat Living Magazine.
Despite increased awareness of the prevalence of mental health issues in society in general, the impact of this and the preventative steps that can be taken are often overlooked in the workplace. This article will investigate the specific factors affecting mental health problems in the property management industry and the importance of the need for employers and employees to take steps to mitigate the negative impacts of mental ill health.
Mental ill health is the leading cause of absence through sickness in the UK, costing an average of £1035 per employee, per annum, but research shows that 95% of employees taking sick leave due to stress will give a different reason for their absence. Work related stress accounted for an average of 23.9 work days lost per person affected in 2016/17.
Although stress is not defined as a mental health illness itself, it is recognised that it can lead to the development of mental ill health including; depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide. A survey commissioned by UK charity The Mental Health Foundation and carried out by YouGov, polled 4169 adults in 2018 and found that 75% of people polled have at times felt so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. It is estimated that 500,000 people in the UK are currently experiencing work related stress.
Stress is defined as the feeling of being under abnormal pressure. When this occurs for short periods of time it is unlikely to cause health problems, but when stress is experienced for pro-longed periods it can result in the development of serious mental ill health. Increased workload, arguments and dealing with difficult people or problems and financial worries are all potential stressors (things which can cause stress to develop). Other recognised stressors include; taking work calls and dealing with emails outside of normal work hours, working long hours and difficult relationships with line managers. A 2017 survey carried out by Unison found that 92% felt under too much pressure at work at some point and 67% considered excessive work demands as the source of their stress at work.
Anyone working in the property management industry will recognise that these stress inducing conditions can occur frequently in the workplace. Taking the average working day of a typical Property Manager into consideration, they are likely to encounter; high workload, dealing with demanding clients or lessees, working long hours including attending (sometimes challenging) situations such as client AGMs, and the possibility of an expectation from employers to be available to answer emails outside of normal working hours. Considering these factors, it seems possible that the incidence of stress, and potentially therefore mental ill health, may be higher amongst workers in the property management industry than in the workforce as a whole. This raises important questions about what can be done to help alleviate this situation for the combined benefit of the individuals and their employers.
From an employer’s perspective, the benefits of creating a work environment which nurtures staff and challenges the stigma of discussing mental health seem to be clear; taking positive steps to reduce workplace stress are known to reduce sickness absence rates, increase employee wellbeing and productivity and improve staff retention rates. These changes can provide long-term financial benefits to a business, but they require a sustainable plan of action and tackling some of the issues which cause stress to staff are more difficult than others. Fast paced work places with high individual workloads are the norm rather than the exception in property management. As a highly competitive industry, with pricing an oft used tool to secure new clients, it is not surprising that the workload of property managers is high; put simply, were it not, many agencies would not remain viable businesses. This is a big problem with no easy answer, but one which the industry as a whole would be wise to consider investigating solutions for.
It should be achievable for businesses to implement changes focused on the wellbeing of their staff by;
- encouraging positive work life balance by making working overtime the exception not the norm and let staff know it is OK to leave emails until working hours.
- provide access to training and learning; both are known to increase self-esteem, encourage social interaction and the process of setting goals can enhance levels of wellbeing.
- encourage team members to talk rather than email one another; conversations are more engaging and enjoyable and provide a sense of connectedness that can be lacking when email is the primary method of communication.
- make sure team members feel able to talk openly to their line managers about their work without being judged.
- Consider offering flexible working / working from home to reduce time pressure and commuting stress.
Some companies are going further by making a “Time To Change Employer Pledge”. Time To Change works with businesses to develop action plans to get employees talking about mental health.
More than 900 UK employers have currently signed the pledge and the potential benefits of doing so may encourage many more to follow.
The benefit to individuals of reducing stress exceed the benefits gained by business, and therefore it is logical for individuals to make changes to positively influence their wellbeing and reduce stress and potential mental ill health. It is possible for employers to assist with this by signposting employees to helpful resources.
For example, the mental health charity, MIND, offer the following advice for staying well at work;
Reclaim your lunchbreak; have a picnic with colleagues, hold a group activity, take up a challenge, listen to relaxing music.
Improve work life balance; be disciplined about working hours and do not feel pressurised into staying late; there is a growing body of evidence that reveals that working longer hours reduces productivity and that more can be achieved in shorter, more focused efforts.
Write a to do list at the end of each day; by getting things onto paper you take them off your mind and reduce the likelihood of dwelling on work matters in personal time. Use your commute home from work as time to wind down from the pressures of the day.
In addition, The New Economics Foundation has created Five Steps to Wellbeing;
Connect; speak to someone new, ask how someone is and really listen to their answer, give a colleague a lift to work. Employers can encourage these steps with their internal policies.
Be Active; there is lots of scientific evidence indicating lower incidence of mental ill health amongst people who exercise regularly. Employers can offer subsidised gym memberships to staff, or arrange a weekly group walk for the team.
Learning; continued learning boosts morale and people’s sense of worth; again employers can help by offering industry related training.
Give; individuals who report a greater interest in helping other are more likely to rate themselves as happy. Again, employers can help encourage these activities by participating in volunteering initiatives.
To assist with managing and reducing stress, individuals can take the following actions; think about when something is causing a problem and identify the causes, review lifestyle choices; eat healthily, be aware of smoking, drinking and caffeine intake, take exercise. Build supportive relationships and social networks both inside and outside of work. Take time out when needed. Get some restful sleep. Don’t be too critical of yourself.
Due to the scale of the impacts of mental ill health, not just to individuals and employers, steps may need to be taken at a governmental level to assist in tackling the route cause of the problem. The Mental Health Foundation’s 2018 report, “Stress: Are We Coping?” concludes that the government and Health & Safety Executive should ensure that psychological hazards in the workplace are treated the same as physical hazards.
It is clear that mental ill health is a big challenge to society as a whole, but if employers and employees in the property management industry work together to reduce the known triggers, the benefits will surely be felt by all.