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Divisive Politics Cost Our Economy, But Maybe There’s A Silver Lining

Dru Armstrong

Families and friendships were tested and possibly in some cases broken as we marched through the holidays and into the New Year. We’re under pressure from even more divisive politics ahead. Now pour on top of that fear of the unknown and the specter of coronavirus looming over our communities and the places where we gather.

We don’t talk enough about the economic cost of divisiveness, beyond how to avoid politically vulnerable stocks and sectors. As pandemic worries drive us away from each other and into siloed existence in the middle of an election cycle, this can only get worse.

We need to understand how conflict is eating at the fiber of our national strength. There may be an opportunity for a silver lining. There may be a chance we can learn how to build communities that are more resilient in the face of societal anxiety and in the face of hearing things we don’t want to hear from those around us.

Apartment complex politics

In my corner of the world, property management for apartment complexes and condos, December is a little different than it is for the rest of the economy. While most of us were out shopping for gifts or planning trips, the search for apartments and condos slows down.

That means the relatively few working days in December are an opportunity to jam in much needed training for the teams that maintain, sell and run multifamily housing. According to our own data, last year we saw 21 percent more training being taken by employees per-working day across the U.S. in December compared to the rest of the year.

But we’ve noticed something this year. Property management companies started off 2019 delivering less training than last year, but as we got further into the year more and more companies were signing on to more training and we saw a nearly 10 percent increase year-over-year by the time we reached October and November.

Politics

Well, last week was the end of the last December training window before November 3, 2020. And with increasing friction over gender, race, affordability and what you can and can’t say in the places where you live and work, it’s a little scary out there.

Not just in terms of anxiety, but our research has found a 30 percent increase in compliance costs for large property management companies. We believe this same situation is playing out in other industries. Not surprisingly the companies we track have made “reducing compliance, legal and operational risk” their second priority for training this year, behind “giving employees the skills to thrive.”

Last year compliance and legal risk was the fourth priority. Employees themselves have put “following the law and reducing risk” as their top goal for training.

Place and politics

Where you live is wrapped up in who you are politically. Questions about inequality can spring up, including fair housing rules, anti-discrimination and rent control. Certain suburban markets are bristling with the impact new and growing tech companies have and whether they are paying their fair share for housing.

The #MeToo movement is spilling over into housing and beyond, especially in certain states like Connecticut, New York and Illinois which have just recently updated penalties for sexual harassment.

Businesses are on trend to focus on certain topics this month. If you focus on anti-sexual harassment training for supervisors, there is 27 percent more training for that in December. Supervisors see a more than 50 percent increase in workplace diversity and harassment training. There is a 161 percent jump in training to tamp down office politics.

Not surprisingly there is a 45 percent increase in stress management training. While you were out gift shopping, property management companies were “mystery” shopping, which is to say engaging their own employees as customers to see how well they handle tough situations.

Silver lining?

All of this costs more. All of this represents a cost to the economy. But what if we can come out the other side stronger, more confident, and better able to engage each other at work and at home? I think we have no other choice but to aim for that.

The aim should be to link training that helps us stay inside the law with training that helps us build better business relationships and make customers happy. We’re not there yet, in our industry 50 percent of companies do not link compliance training to performance, or specifically employee success.

But that is changing, and more companies are checking how well employees can navigate challenging interactions in a way that makes their brand and business shine. I am more than hopeful that is something we can learn in 2020, we are in fact seeing it happen on an expanding basis.

Ad-buying firm Magna announced recently that ad buying in the U.S. should see growth this year, fueled by the presidential election. That’s good for advertisers who can use all the help they can get. It could be that additional stress around coronavirus would amplify that further.

But for those of us who failed to avoid talking about impeachment hearings, and can’t get coronavirus out of our head, here’s our chance to try to learn how to come together where we work and where we live and try to come out stronger.

We had better get it right. There was also 242 percent more active shooter training for apartment complexes as last year closed, than there was at the beginning of the year.


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Dru Armstrong
Dru Armstrong is CEO of property technology company Grace Hill LLC, which focuses on policy, training and assessment software designed to develop, retain and build talent. Dru Armstrong is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or connect on LinkedIn.