Our negotiators, administrators, property managers and even company owners have had to juggle huge workloads with more complications than ever before. Conveyancers and others in the transaction chain working from home, our own families coping with home tuition and worries about Covid, and the well being of our friends and loved ones. And, of course, we’ve all been concerned about the long term future of our businesses, too.
Pause for thought
So perhaps this is the moment to give some thought to the mental health of our colleagues and ourselves.
Yes, I know estate agency has a macho image plus a reputation - deserved or not - of long working hours, hard-nosed deal-making and sometimes partying when things go well.
Yet a survey conducted during the first year of the pandemic found that 64 per cent of agents felt they had suffered some form of mental illness triggered by that cocktail of personal worries and professional workload. The same survey found that no fewer than 89 per cent wanted mental health awareness integrated into the workplace culture.
It’s slightly too easy to dismiss this as ‘woke’ or a modern fad and I’ve been delighted that many individual agencies and some industry bodies have been taking a lead on the issue.
This relatively new foundation, run by and for agents, is ingeniously based on the belief that a healthy mind is essential for a healthy business, and vice versa - hence its emphasis on mentoring for individuals and their workplaces alike.
It’s gathered together an impressive list of industry figures to act as mentors (they’re doing this in their own time, for no financial reward) and its website is a resource hub for agents in need of non-judgmental help with all aspects of their personal and professional lives.
Agents Together directly works with agents to address their issues, collectively and individually - no service of this kind existed within agency until this foundation was created.
I’m privileged to be the patron of this organisation, so often called the industry’s charity because it’s for estate and letting agents and all our suppliers. It is hugely well-supported and links our industry with the communities in which we all work.
You probably know already but it raises tens of thousands each year through seed-funding charity work done by individual agencies and branches, and by coordinating large scale appeals - for example, donating to food banks and a winter coat drive for the homeless.
Agents Giving uniquely gives individuals and companies the opportunity to ‘give back’ and I’m always struck by how those agencies that allocate time and effort to this charity feel that their own staff benefit - perhaps as much as the good causes they fund-raise for.
What Agencies Can Do
Without getting too ‘preachy’ about this, I’ve been considering what agencies can do to help raise the issue of mental well-being in the workplace. Many firms will do this already, of course, but if not - how about these ideas?
- encourage staff to work sensible hours and take appropriate breaks (of course we all think we do, but these are easy to overlook when the market’s busy);
- make sure managers are available for one-to-one talks if they’re wanted (again, this is a goal we all aspire to but sometimes let slip if the workload is high…which is precisely when these might be needed most);
- putting well-being on the team meeting agenda (it costs nothing to ask “how are we all doing?” in a meeting, especially if it’s backed up by “don’t be afraid to speak with someone if anything’s wrong or the workload is too high”);
-make sure people know how to get support (some agencies have offered confidential counselling and support sessions for staff if they want them).
I know it’s difficult to reconcile some of these initiatives with the “let’s go!” sentiment of a modern estate agency in a busy market, but if we are serious about this being a people business then it’s time we put effort and thought into our greatest asset - our people.
Healthy staff mean a healthy business: it’s not easy to achieve but let’s try.
*Phil Spencer is a presenter, author, businessman and property investor. Phil’s consumer advice platform Move iQ, is a website, YouTube channel and podcast. Each preserve and reflect the same impartiality that consumers trust and base their property moving plans. Coming soon: Move iQ Pro, Phil’s resource to support the property community. Stay tuned ready for launch!