Elite Agent

Reviving Industry Wellness: Why the Real Estate Industry Needs to Take Action

In real estate, the traditional model of profit-first may be doing harm than previously thought; but it's a difficult conversation where vulnerability can be taken as weakness.

AS PROVIDERS OF PROFESSIONAL services, the wellness and well-being of people in real estate needs to be a core consideration of industry sustainability. We’ve been focused on the digital and the dollar while a silent epidemic affecting the physical and emotional health of our agents, principals and property managers appears to have crept in at higher rates than other industries.

A LOT OF PEOPLE have had a ‘knowing’ that the model of profit-first real estate may be doing harm, but that is a difficult conversation to start in a competitive industry where vulnerability can be taken as weakness. While aspects of physical health for optimum performance are front and centre of the national conversation, it is the emotional and psychological cost of labour in the industry which, in the absence of human sustainability measures, could see our most precious resource strained and depleted.

Revive 2017 is an initiative of Jet Xavier, which began with a vision for a ‘different’ type of event that focused on people and the wellness and wellbeing of the agent as a key differentiator of real estate success. Through preliminary scoping, the scale and the need for more complete research emerged and so The Revive 2017 Project took shape, with the principle objective being to understand, support and value the wellness and wellbeing of people in the real estate industry. The research took place over three phases:

  • A broad, national self-report anonymous survey which yielded over 1,000 responses.
  • A series of roundtable meetings held in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney with industry leaders, frontline practitioners and experts to discuss the results of the survey and the experience at ground level.
  • A first-of-its-kind wellness and wellbeing summit, Revive 2017, held in July 2017.

Revive (v) – To return to life, consciousness, vigour, strength, or a flourishing condition.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) define ‘health’ as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. They define ‘mental health’ as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. This holistic understanding of wellness and wellbeing frees the issue up for everyone in the industry to participate.

1 Emotional and mental wellbeing is good business
While physical fitness and nutrition seem to dominate the national conversation on ‘health’, the roundtable participants have found that mental and emotional wellness and wellbeing is just as important – although the industry lacks a blueprint for how to build protective factors for wellness into an organisation. Most states and territories have parallel legislation in place relating to workplace health and safety. However, in deliberations at the roundtables few employers were aware of the obligation on them to provide mentally safe workplaces – indeed, many felt under-qualified or at stretched capacity with existing responsibilities.

A national study in 2014 by PwC, commissioned by Beyondblue, placed the direct economic cost of mental health to Australian businesses at around $11 billion annually. That same report also suggested that for every dollar spent on mental health initiatives, the returned benefit to the organisation was around $2.30, and higher returns for small to medium workplaces.

“We started an employee assistance program… whereby corporate at Laing + Simmons pays for counselling for any of our team, confidentially…” said Leanne Pilkington, Managing Director of Laing + Simmons and President-elect of REINSW. “I launched it at a regional meeting on a Tuesday morning and Tuesday afternoon they had already had two phone calls. It’s not that we get a huge volume, but we are getting people on a regular basis.”

“We have to lead by example,” said Nathan Casserly of Ouwens Casserly. “If I am expecting my team to come to me… then I need to be leading by example, showing some vulnerability back to them.”

2 Alternative narratives of ‘success’
A critical theme from the discussions was the lack of diversity in ‘success’ stories. Where we are geared to emulate one path to success in a rigid sense, there is a lack of available role models for achievement on other terms than GCI or financial outcomes. In the study of motivation, the prospect of financial reward as an external contingent motivator has been robustly tested (Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan. Self-determination. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010) and found to be a pale and impoverished form of motivation – even demotivating.

Success in family and personal relationships is perhaps something that the industry should be placing more focus on. Valerie Timms, Director of Timms Real Estate (South Australia), said, “The industry only seems to recognise the top 10 per cent and the spotlight is always on those people. So there isn’t reward for those doing consistent good business; the spotlight is always on the million-plus earners – for a reason… everyone wants to emulate them, but maybe there isn’t recognition for other successes.”

There is also the issue of not getting the full picture. “Balance is the issue and it is the message that is the problem,” said Doug Driscoll, CEO Starr Partners. “We put people on pedestals and we ask the wrong questions… We hear about the 15-hour days but not the two months they have off a year. We focus on the 15 hours a day then the young up-and-comers think, ‘I’ve got to do 15 hour days’ and they literally work themselves to the bone.”

“There is a pervading disease in our industry at the moment and it is the ‘hustle and grind’ movement. No doubt hard work is required to achieve anything, but this misinformed, unresearched or studied, Hollywood blockbuster movie-perpetuated message focused on financial success is creating unhealthy work practices,” says Jet.

In the same vein, the onboarding of new agents ought to include frank and realistic discussion about the financial realities of beginning a career in real estate. There is a great disparity between tales of fame and riches and the reality of the sales commission or debit-credit model – both of which involve a gruelling start-up phase of very little income for a lot of output.

“As the market turns a lot of people are going to bail because they just can’t cope,” added Glen Coutinho, Director of RT Edgar Boroondara (Victoria). “I always want to find out what [a person’s] financial commitments are before they join me… it is a pretty open conversation… I think the onus is on a principal to find that out and they need to be skilled at having that conversation before they put a [debit-credit or commission only] noose around someone.”

3 ‘Harden up’ doesn’t cut it anymore
The real estate industry in 2017 has faced a grueling expansion in the scope of work and responsibilities. Increased access to personnel through technology, public expectations of service, disrupters and emergent technology as well as increasing legislative and regulatory burdens all require greater output from agents and a higher expenditure of emotional and mental labour. The need for industry-specific resources, programs and assistance was also highlighted in deliberations, due to the unique challenges faced in real estate and the insular nature of the industry.

You don’t need to be dealing with a mental illness or have some physical ailment to become involved in a movement that is about thriving and reaching potential.

“It [real estate] is a different environment and I think we need to treat it as such,” commented Rob Caruana of Toop & Toop. “You are selling a service, you aren’t selling a product. When you are selling a product and the customer doesn’t want that product, it is easy to say that it is the product. You can’t help but take it personally when you don’t get that listing, because it is me… You can work for five months on weekends and nights and not get paid.”

“Technology has turned up our expectation on everything and the world just isn’t coping,” said Tim Longmore, Director of Noel Jones Mitcham. “There are too many things and all that noise can overwhelm people… I also feel that everyone has the glasses of judgment on; there is not much care.”

In Queensland, Rachel Byrne, REIQ Property Manager of the Year, and National Property Management trainer Stacey Holt highlighted that, even within the industry sectors, there are diverse needs for support. “Property managers have to deal with exposure to trauma, death and domestic violence as par for the course,” said Stacey, who noted that in other professions dealing with this type of subject matter there is a wide range of support and counselling available.

If you would like a copy of the Revive 2017 Project white paper, or want to stay updated with news and resources on wellness and wellbeing in the real estate industry, click here to join a growing community of agents, principals and property managers who are committed to creating a more positive industry.

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Sarah Bell

With a background in research and investigations, Sarah Bell married into the real estate industry in 2009 and has found a passion for both the business and its people.