By Laura Bos, General Manager of SCAQ
There is no doubt that we live in an age where we are under enormous pressure to respond immediately to any communication we receive; especially client communications (or those from teenage children looking for money!). All of this is of course due to our increased accessibility fuelled by the technology age.
Whilst it is important to embrace technology and understand the benefits it can have, only a fool would deny many of the drawbacks. Email, mobile phones and Zoom are all fantastic tools if used correctly. But many of us, strata managers included, do not use tech to manage. If we are honest with ourselves, we are, in fact, ‘managed’ by tech.
I asked my SCAQ professional strata members how many of them felt tired, burnt out, exhausted and drained because the clients they service expected (demanded) that a response to an email must be instant or near instant. After all, it can be… so why shouldn’t it be? The response was unanimous – all felt tired and exhausted. This has genuinely disturbed me, and it has to stop if we are to build a thriving sector.
We all know people who have left the industry due to constant and excessive client demands. When you conform to these client expectations, work can get very tough, very quickly.
For a few reasons, I would urge members to take stock of a few realities and seek better balance in their work. I would also encourage business leaders very strongly to take heed of some interesting economic and psychological observations that support some practice change - given they are borne out by extensive research and data.
One observation is Solow’s Paradox. To put it simply, Solow’s Paradox is the observation that digital tools and communication have not enhanced productivity over the past 40 or so years like previous society shifting technology (think the mass production line, or the invention of electricity). Why this is occurring is disputed and discussed at length, but ‘why’ is not nearly as important as understanding the ‘what’. What is clear, is that firing off relentless emails, responding to text messages and calls whilst out and about and digitisation for its own sake isn’t making you more productive or helping enhance the value you deliver to your clients.
This isn’t to say that you should leave your inbox full, and client calls unanswered but begs the question, how do you manage the constant communication? This brings me to a second important learning - Parkinson’s Law.
To give a quick summary - this observation states that often the amount of time allocated to a task is the amount of time that it will inevitably take to complete a task. If you give yourself an hour to workout in the gym with a specific set of exercises in mind, you’ll get it done in an hour. If you allocate two hours, it will likely take two to do the same set of exercises. This applies equally to telephone responses and emails. Rather than being available and accessible all the time, give yourself a dedicated response time of say, one hour per day and respond efficiently. Sure, one hour may not be enough, but the point is that if you reset the expectation of clients that you respond immediately to a new response pattern, they eventually learn this new pattern, and you feel more in control and less overwhelmed. And importantly, they know you will respond – just not immediately.
The epidemic of burnout and attrition of strata managers is a ‘cause and effect’ situation in our industry, and it must end. We have to collectively say that the current trend is not acceptable and not sustainable. Losing quality, talented people from our industry is an issue and the next generations of employees won’t tolerate it.
I didn’t write this piece to give everyone bits of interesting information about psychology, technology and going to the gym. These observations work for all pursuits, and I encourage everyone from business leader to early career learners to implement some of these rules to their workplace to try and ensure that you can have a long prosperous career in the sector.
Whilst this may not change the world, we can hope that by implementing some sensible changes to how we frame expectations, we can get a better work/life balance. We need to retain talented, exciting people in the strata sector and respect everyone’s right to a balanced existence and protect their mental health.