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Eliminating the Toxic Workplace

Brokers leave companies for many reasons. According to a recent release from Lee & Associates’ Chesapeake Region of Maryland (with information from executive coach firm Cindy Spivack International), one of the reasons why brokers switch firms is due to a toxic work environment.

In response to that release, Connect CRE asked Allan Riorda (Lee & Associates, Chesapeake Region) and Cindy Spivack about workplace toxicity and the impact on brokerage and other commercial real estate firms.

Connect CRE: Is workplace toxicity a new issue? Or has it been around for a while?

Riorda & Spivack: Toxic workplaces have always been around. But COVID allowed it to become more pronounced. This is because people feel more comfortable expressing their feelings about it, as not everyone goes to the office every day.

Brokers are less willing to put up with toxic environments; the younger generations thrive in collaborative environments and shrink in toxic environments. Money is not always the bottom line with the younger generations; being happy matters. If there is a toxic environment, brokers are more likely to leave than to stay and work it out.

Another factor is a tight labor market. This has allowed brokers to look beyond the commission splits being offered, with more of a focus on a “home” where they can collaborate, be supported and ultimately thrive.

Connect CRE: What is the cause of workplace toxicity?

Riorda & Spivack: The main answer is poor leadership. Going  little deeper, some companies – especially larger one – haven’t really focused on culture before. Sometimes this can hamper individuality and creativity, which ultimately causes frustration. Also, brokers tend to be competitive with one another; this tends to be the norm for a sales-oriented culture. This is fine, there’s nothing wrong with competition. But if it isn’t kept in check, or if it ends up weaponized, it can go sideways and become toxic.

Other causes of workplace toxicity include a lack of communication, shared vision or expressed expectations; bullying; envy of more successful brokers; secrecy and lack of collaboration. Another factor is brokers that decide to work off site. Not showing up can lead to overall poor morale, so it’s important that brokers come to the office regularly. Another issue to consider is that workplace toxicity can be caused by one individual.

Finally, many assume that such toxicity is directed at women or people of color. This is true, but it can also be directed toward any “outsider,” especially if a firm is particularly “cliquey.” Newer brokers could be at the end of this; they might find it very challenging to break in.

Connect CRE: How should workplace toxicity be handled?

Riorda & Spivack: There should be zero tolerance for toxic staff members from leadership. This starts with the recruitment phase. Pay attention to the potential employee’s attitude or reputation, and if there’s any red flags, move on. Also, putting profit above people tends to generate toxicity; with a people-first culture, profits will follow.

It’s also important to provide tools to work out issues between brokers before they snowball into larger problems. Leadership shouldn’t assume that it will work itself out; this rarely happens. Instead, provide open communication and rely on mediation, when necessary.

The best way to handle workplace toxicity is to take steps to avoid it by investing in a good culture. This involves broker/staff buy-in, and clear communication of the company mission and vision. It also includes setting a specific, 12-month plan for the company. Limit isolation or feelings of isolation; collaboration helps people thrive and become energized.

Within the office area, provide comfortable places to gather with amenities like coffee or games. These common areas help informal collaboration.

Additionally, company gatherings outside of the office can promote togetherness. It lets staff mingle outside of work and have fun. It also lets everyone see their co-workers as human beings.

Finally, leadership can help by setting good examples of inclusiveness and open communication. Leaders are ultimately responsible for setting the culture, and it’s up to them to foster teamwork and collaboration. This can lead to happy brokers. And happy brokers are more productive and can earn more.


Inside The Story

Cindy Spivack Inc.'s Cindy SpivackLee & Associates' Allan Riorda

About Amy Wolff Sorter

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