Almost two thirds of real estate agents find it hard to maintain a healthy work-life balance. With poor market conditions forcing agents to work harder, stress is a serious issue
STRESS IS part of every job. In healthy doses, it can have a positive effect on your work. Some real estate agents say it comes with the territory, and although they may be right, learning to cope with stress is an important skill.
Associate professor Cameron Newton, from Queensland University of Technology Business School, says his personal experience with agents has made him acknowledge the increased levels of stress experienced by the industry.
“I live in an area which is highly sought after, and I have agents contacting me at different times of the day or night asking if I’m selling. Often I think, ‘They’re always at work, they spend an hour at my home trying to convince me to sell, even though there’s no chance I will’,” he says.
“Agents are always investing in potential leads, with 90 per cent of them being dead ends. This type of work obviously goes hand in hand with rejection. At least, that’s my experience.”
Mr Newton is currently working on a project that monitors the effects of stress on the cardiovascular system by measuring patients’ heart rates with an ECG, and designing interventions to help the individuals’ health and attitude.
Motivational speaker, physiotherapist and master practitioner of neurolinguistics, Amanda Gore, believes agents have had their work cut out for them since the global financial crisis (GFC).
“Before the GFC, stress for agents was probably not a lot worse than most other jobs. Despite the irregular hours, they still operated independent offices so there was still a sense of control with what they did,” she says.
“Stress is all about perception. It’s about the beliefs we have, the unconscious fears we have.
“This is why you can have two agents in identical situations: one will say he is stressed to the eyeballs, while the other might say, ‘It’s tough but I’m coping’. It’s as simple as the story you choose to tell yourself.”
SPOTTING THE SIGNS
Just like any other health problem, there are symptoms associated with chronic stress.
“Some earlier signs could be that the individual is not satisfied or engaged with their work,” Mr Newton says.
“They could become very cynical about their work. They might not take pride in their personal accomplishments.
“These are all indicators of ‘burnout’. They might take a lot of time off, or talk about quitting.
“Performance is the first victim to stress; the individual in question tends to make more mistakes.
“It can cause blood sugar imbalances, which can result in diabetes. Stress can decrease muscle tissue and prolonged exposure has more long-term effects, such as high blood pressure.
“It’s also important to be aware of your own physiology. Do you catch yourself grinding your teeth, or clenching your fists?
When you drive, are you holding the wheel, or are you strangling it?”
But chronic stress doesn’t just affect the person experiencing the condition.
“It can result in interpersonal conflicts; people suffering from stress are often less tolerant and snappier,” he continues. “So it doesn’t always lead to immediate heart attacks or strokes, but these can become long-term effects.
“All of this has a flow-on effect to your home life as well.”
Ms Gore says stress is a contributing factor in almost every illness.
“It affects your immune system, which is why when a stressed person goes on holidays, they get sick. That’s a classic sign of chronic stress. When you go on holidays, the adrenaline that has been keeping your immune system boosted drops, and you get sick.
“Lowering levels of patience, sleep disorders, skin conditions, and digestive problems; almost any condition that appears on an ongoing basis could be a sign of stress.
“Ask your friends and family. Do they feel you’re calm, relaxed and healthy? Or do they feel you’re different to how you used to be. You need to give them permission to be honest, and you need to listen to them.”
ADDRESSING THE ISSUE
Identifying stress as an issue is a big step towards creating a healthier lifestyle. Some of the best ways to combat stress are also the easiest.
“Eating breakfast is a huge part of it,” Mr Newton says, “as are fruit and vegetables, fish and other foods high in Omega-3. You should avoid foods that contain a lot of saturated fats and sugar.
“Another thing to avoid is excessive amounts of alcohol. There are some obvious things we can do in terms of what we put into our bodies, but we also need to engage our bodies with exercise. This can be active or passive.”
“Yoga or meditation can really help your mind and body,” he advises. “Even just 10 minutes three times a day will stop any build-up of stress – you’ll change the way your heart is beating and you’ll begin to decrease tension. It stops that ‘fight or flight’ response”.
“I also find that a more active exercise regime is more beneficial. Going for walks or running can be an outlet for frustration. I find it hard to stop and do the deep breathing, which is why I prefer the more active approach.”
Principals who notice one of their agents displaying some of these symptoms can also enrol them in an assistance program.
“People can be sent off to talk about issues that might be affecting them. That way their employer can provide the assistance without invading the privacy of the employee,” Mr Newton says. “Another thing employers can do is try and engage the workforce, or encourage individuals to maintain more healthy lifestyles. This might mean sponsoring gym memberships, or at least making time available to go to the gym.
“This helps build a culture and identify the value associated with good health and productive employees.”
CREATING AN ACTION PLAN
Mr Newton suggests compiling a questionnaire or finding one online to see how you feel about your work-life balance.
“That way you can reflect on your own emotional responses by running your own checklist once a month with around 20 questions, such as: ‘Are you cynical?’ ‘Are you satisfied?’ ‘Do you intend to leave your job?’ ‘How committed are you?’
“What you need to do is look at your answers to these over a period of time. You might be able to determine if stress is starting to set in that way,” he says.
Ms Gore’s theme in her motivational talks is about increasing happiness and joy.
“We’ve all got the capacity to be joyful, but it’s our fears and doubts that stop us.
“Real joy is about understanding you’re not alone, there are people who want to help. All you need to do is ask.”
And if joining a gym, eating healthily and practising yoga a few times a week sounds too difficult, Mr Newton believes the alternative is undoubtedly worse.
“Someone like myself might strap you to a heart rate monitor and tell you, ‘You’re heading towards a heart attack,” he says.
CASE STUDY > SUSTAINABLE ENERGY
PAUL TONICH is one of Western Australia’s most celebrated selling principals. He maintained the number one spot in the Real Estate Institute of WA (REIWA) excellence awards for six years running – all while training for a dozen marathons.
Energy is the key, he says.
“Sustainable energy means that if an appointment is at 8am or 8pm, the client shouldn’t even know the difference,” he says. “During all the years of pitching for business, which I still do today, no one ever said they chose me because I’m the best. They say it was because of my energy, and energy creates trust.
“For six years straight I was the top salesperson, and in that time I ran something like 10 or 12 marathons. I was writing between $1.5 and $1.7 million a year in commissions, and I draw it down to being fit and able to sustain that energy in all aspects of my life.
“Now everyone is saying, ‘we’re going to grow this year’, but how can you sustain the growth if you don’t grow your energy? If you’ve increased your goals for this year, then you need to increase your energy. If you don’t, ‘burnout’ occurs.
“To sustain a high level of output, and to have it not collapse in on itself, without some sort of training schedule it isn’t going to work.
“But one thing that always needs to be at the back of your mind is, when you pull into that driveway, do you have enough energy left for your family?” “For six years straight I was the top salesperson, and in that time I ran something like 10 or 12 marathons”
CASE STUDY > CREATING BOUNDARIES
JAMES RUBULIS, CEO of Aro Software, understands why agents feel they need to be available 24/7. However, he claims this doesn’t need to be the case.
“I know because I used to be one of them. Working 12-hour days seven days a week, the stress eventually consumed me so much that I came dangerously close to having a heart attack. Fortunately, I saw the light before it was too late and discovered the secret to getting my life back.
“I now control my diary instead of my diary controlling me, and I have precious time back to watch my kids play sport, go for a surf or catch up with friends. The best thing is I’m also more productive than ever and my earning capacity has grown beyond belief.”
Mr Rubulis believes establishing boundaries is good for agents, and clients generally respect and understand them.
“Plan your week by setting your days off and the hours you will be on call. Make sure your staff and clients have a clear understanding of when you are and aren’t available. Most people will appreciate and respect you for this clarity from the outset.
“Once you’ve allocated your time, stick to it. Don’t be your own worst enemy by overcommitting yourself.
“Your marketing, client management and follow-ups are all processes which would benefit from the implementation of a database software management system. With all your clients inputted into your database, you’ve got an easy-to-access and searchable system.
“Many agents operate in a system of anarchy, with a confusing mess of sticky notes, diary entries and email reminders that result in follow-ups and revenue slipping through the cracks. Your database streamlines everything into one failsafe system.
“Plenty of agents are guilty of being reactive instead of proactive when it comes to managing their time. Your proactive work is best prioritised by what is dollar productive – the things you do that help your business grow. Next, take a look at the things you do that don’t directly generate income, but are still necessary. Ask yourself if you can delegate these duties to someone else. It may even mean hiring a new staff member.
“Before saying you can’t afford it, ask yourself what your time is worth. What is your hourly rate? If you could create more hours in the day to do more work that is dollar productive, then incurring some minor expenses may not be too difficult to manage.” “Once you’ve allocated your time, stick to it. Don’t be your own worst enemy by overcommitting yourself”
STEVE LITTLE CASE STUDY > CHANGING FOCUS
STEVE LITTLE currently works for his own commercial property agency, but he worked in residential property for 25 years and was principal for the largest office in Coffs Harbour until 2005. Mr Little’s health and home life were put in jeopardy when he began to be overworked.
“I had become irritable and would snap at staff,” he recalls. “It was usually over fairly simple things like not putting the welcome mat out.
“It just about killed me. I had a huge business, and I was lucky enough to have someone pull me aside and say, ‘You’re killing yourself you silly bugger. Sit down and let’s have a chat’.
“The first thing was getting my home life under control. I didn’t realise that I had challenges at home – I was causing stress for my wife. When we sat down and had a good talk one night over a glass of red, she was heading in a totally different direction to where I was heading.
“One of the interesting things I found was that she was concerned that I was working six days a week as a real estate agent, doing lots of overtime and so on. She told me it was good to have nice things, but not if she was going to lose me as a result. After our talk, I realised it didn’t matter if the house took another five years to pay off and so we chose to align our goals.
“We made a conscious decision that I would come home for lunch every day. So into my diary went the commitment at 1:00pm every single day to come home for lunch.
“The other thing that helped me with my stress was that she got me onto a really good diet. We eliminated processed food and anything with chemicals in it.
“You just don’t want to kill yourself for the sake of a few dollars – it’s just not worth it.”