By now, we can probably all agree that the “Great Resignation” is real. Workers are quitting jobs at record rates. Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total nonfarm quits rate ended at 3% of all labor as of the end of the third quarter, resulting in 12 million people leaving their jobs—the highest percentage since data was first collected back in December 2000.

Carlos A. Gonzales
Carlos A. Gonzales

As it relates to the rental and leasing sector in real estate, October’s quit levels (the most recent month for which there is data) were at 48,000, which is 17% and 30% higher when compared with August and September, respectively.

One could argue that this “hot labor market” means workers have the confidence to quit their jobs knowing they will be able to find new and better ones. But what this means to affordable housing— specifically property and asset management sector—is that we are probably juggling two pressing challenges: 1) actively searching for new staff to fill in positions for those who have left and 2) attempting to keep up the heavy workload with a post-pandemic short staff. The bottom line—very few candidates for too many jobs.

Working in affordable housing during the pandemic might have meant placing undue demands on staff responsible for continuously visiting worksites or residents. The health crisis also ushered in work-from-home mandates, an ideal situation for some and less so for others. And, we are still in an ever-changing world of COVID-19 variants and changing policies. This time period also exposed deeper and deeper racial and social schisms within our country and our workplaces. Many employers took a good look at policies and implemented fresh ideas to create positive changes on hiring and retention.

I was recently part of a panel tackling 2022 trends in the multifamily industry where we talked about the best ways to lessen the tsunami of attrition and increase retention. Here are five recommendations we believe will strengthen a housing provider’s ability to attract and keep top-flight employees.

1. Shake up employee assignments. Of course, you want to be the organization offering competitive pay and benefits, but here’s a high-reward, low-cost perk that employees really respond to. We find it valuable to assign team members to other disciplines to promote exposure to different areas within the company. One other way we expand employees’ range is via participation in thought leadership and public relations efforts. Our staffers, regardless of titles, are often given the opportunity to co-write bylined articles, speak on podcasts, and engage in other activities that promote the organization and themselves as well.

2. Create a clear path to promotions and raises—and then go beyond. Effective leadership includes communicating to staff exactly what is needed for one to excel and rise in the organization. Formalized protocol such as written policy and annual reviews are vital, of course, but go beyond. Find additional ways to assess employee work—have staffers gone above and beyond in a nuanced yet still measurable way? Did they help with assignments their supervisor might not even know about? Keep an “open door” policy to encourage those who report to you to converse often about their holistic experience at the organization. Supervisors can then gauge performance and encourage more of the same or course-correct early if necessary.

3. Mentor across disciplines. It’s easy to mentor a direct report since people in the same division automatically spend time and have their daily work in common. More challenging and often more rewarding is to develop mentoring relationships between staff in different departments. At The NHP Foundation (NHPF), we have a program devoted to this kind of strength building. For example, a manager in finance will mentor someone in external affairs, and both participants’ knowledge is broadened. It is showing great promise in terms of deepening education and opportunities for growth.

4. Implement meaningful DEIJ policies. Creating a more equitable environment for employees of color creates a vastly improved workspace for all employees. While many organizations seemed to jump on this bandwagon recently, if the effort is less than earnest and viewed as performative, it will ring hollow. Staff have to see and feel the effort reflected both internally and externally, and results have to be measurable and reported. Examples include tailoring or, in some cases, completely overhauling hiring practices and implementing revised vendor and partnership requirements. The work is also only as successful as the participation—at NHPF, it was key to shoot for 100% involvement up and down the organization when creating and implementing DEIJ policy changes.

5. Inject more fun into your workplace. The last 20-plus months have been grueling. If we are to believe there is a Great Resignation and potential employees will be exercising scrutiny like never before in determining where they’d like to work, a little levity certainly can’t hurt. We found that safe, in-person group gatherings have been invaluable in raising spirits and engendering much-needed camaraderie. And that’s why we created the Emerging Leaders Forum, a platform for NHPF middle management and support staff that allows a venue for discussion and engagement on a wide range of topics regarding personal and professional development. Tokens of appreciation to staff also go a long way, particularly as many of us work remotely. So, be the workplace that offers up lunches, dinners, and other extracurriculars designed to “promote fun.”

Luckily at NHPF, we continue to be successful in finding, attracting, and retaining talent. We are seeing more and more qualified candidates interested in mission-driven organizations like ours. Take charge—identify the root causes of attrition within your organization—and then take proactive steps, involving the entire team, with the goal of developing programs that will allow you to bring new employees in and retain the employees your organization values.