My friend Doug works for a temp agency. Careening toward sixty, he was ready to try a new career and had followed the advice and recommendations of a few friends that apartment leasing just might be a good fit. Doug likes people and has a strong work ethic; he’s sort of old-fashioned that way–or so it increasingly seems to me. Without buying into the cheap corporate team-building lingo, he genuinely likes working with others toward achieving goals both large and small. He also has trouble sticking up for himself, which is how he got stuck in retail for too many years. But anyway.
The agency that hired Doug has encouraged him to learn as much as he can from each client/ placement, which sounds promising in theory but hasn’t exactly panned out in practice: he’s been placed four or five times over the past few months, sometimes for one or two weeks, sometimes a couple of months, but never in a location that has any time or willingness to mentor him in learning even the basics of leasing, with its specialized software, application processes, recertification rules. He spends a lot of time answering phones and asking others how to manage walk-in situations. His general feeling is of treading water; it’s hard to feel like he’s making real progress toward a leasing career.
Doug was invited by a previous client to come back, and he jumped at the opportunity, even though the property manager warned him they would be leaving to start a new job just a few days after he arrived. The property is generally managed by a staff of three: the property manager, the leasing agent, and the maintenance supervisor, sometimes with additional part-time or temporary help. Doug was to start as a temp (through the same agency that had placed him previously) and was promised that the client would then buy out his contract with the temp agency; in effect, he would be hired on as the full-time replacement for the leasing agent.
He didn’t realize that the maintenance supervisor had already left. Or that the leasing agent was also leaving on the same day as the property manager. In the middle of his first week and with a shallow, hurried orientation, he was left alone with the keys to the property and a brisk “Good Luck!”
That was three weeks ago. Problems are mounting. Residents are freaking out because no one is able to adequately address their concerns, such as annual recertification issues (which Doug hasn’t been trained to do), maintenance emergencies (no maintenance person on site). Prospective tenants are applying online but Doug hasn’t been shown how to manage their application files, so weeks are going by when the standard is to respond within a day or two. Everything is spiraling out of control. Doug goes to work each morning, unlocks the property, answers the phones, greets each walk-in, texts or emails corporate with pressing issues, and tries to hold the place together. Help is coming, he’s told. Someone from corporate has flown in twice but has been completely overwhelmed with finishing reports and tasks from their home location and hasn’t given Doug what he needs, which is clear and understandable instruction and training on how to steer this dumpster fire out of disaster. A new property manager was hired and showed up three days ago. Two days later, they turned in their keys and left Doug alone again. So he went to work the next day, Saturday, for several hours, trying to make sense of the overdue files left piled on his desk.
Oh, yeah: Doug is doing all this for $11.50 an hour. The temp agency had been paying him $11 but a month ago he got them to raise it a tic.
This is completely insane, I tell him. No one should be exploited like this. Can’t you just get a new assignment from the agency and walk away as it burns behind you? And of course, he can’t. He cares. These are people, not numbers. These are people who’ve been lied to and put off for weeks and sometimes months, who feel, justifiably, a growing sense of outrage at how they’ve been mistreated. And they direct this rage at Doug, who shows up every day, who stays late, who takes a ten-minute sandwich break instead of an actual lunch. At Doug, who increasingly wishes he could bring himself not to care.
Doug is in the deep end. His employer threw him there.