In the last of our series about bullying and harassment in the world of real estate, we called a few Fraser Valley brokers to get their perspectives on the issue. The following are excerpts from those conversations.
“I do think bullying is an issue with a lot of Realtors in the industry,” says one experienced broker. “But it has nothing to do with competition with the market or anything. It’s more about a person’s inherent personality to be that way.”
This managing broker has found that the majority of workplace conflicts actually occur between staff and Realtors, more so than between Realtors.
“In our office, we’ve seen a kind of superior attitude from some Realtors. Some people seem to think that because they’re paying a fee to the brokerage, it’s okay to treat our staff like crap.
“I’ve seen quite a bit of sexist talk as well, though more so from the boomer generation, I guess because the older men grew up when women didn’t have as much status.”
“We’ve had Realtors that have been inappropriate and then when it was brought to their attention, they were very much taken aback by it because they didn’t seem to realize how their behaviour was causing a problem.”
“Sometimes the behaviour is not dealt with in the way that it should be–which is directly with the Realtor. In fact seldom have I seen a Realtor being kicked out of an office because of their bad behaviour, though I think they should be. Sometimes the broker’s role is to terminate people.”
“It’s important to have workplace policies in place. We created a policy manual 20 years ago and whenever we had a new agent come to the office they were given that policy manual to read.”
“If I had staff telling me things that were a problem, I wouldn’t bring up specific names, but I talk about the issue at our office meetings.
“As brokers we have a responsibility to look after our people. It is our office, and we have to do what’s right.”
Case in point: a male REALTOR® was spending hours chatting up one of the administrative staff, or just sitting and staring at the young woman. The office staffer was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and distracted. The managing broker became aware of the situation and intervened.
“I sat him down and I said, ‘Listen. There’s a perception that there may be some sexual overtones here.’ I told him to cease and desist.” Though the man became defensive about it, but his behaviour stopped.
“My job as a broker is to address that kind of thing. I can’t ignore it.
“Realtors may be independent contractors but they’re still working under my license. So it’s my duty to address those issues.”
Another Realtor used his size to intimidate others to get what he wanted, when he wanted it.
“He was bullying our administrative staff with bravado and attitude and swearing. I pulled him in to my office and told him it had to stop.” The Realtor protested and suggested that since he was paying a commission, he could behave as he liked. That did not go over well.
“I leaned across the desk and said, ‘I don’t give a ________.’ He just looked at me as though he never heard a woman use language like that before. But he fell into line.”
The broker said bullying and harassment problems should be nipped in the bud.
“Our office policy manual cover things like professional courtesy, how you dress and talk and act. We also talk about those things at office meetings.”
“It’s important to set the tone, right off the top. Respect is a big thing. I talk about it at staff meetings. I always insist that any interpersonal conflicts are dealt with through me and no one else.
Although this broker doesn’t believe that bullying and harassment has ever been an issue in their office, statistically it is unlikely that this is realistic. Managers and employers are not always privy to incidents of harassment that occurs.
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the United States estimates that as much as 75 percent of workplace harassment incidents go unreported.
- According to a recent survey from CareerBuilder that polled 809 people, 72 percent of those who said they experienced sexual harassment on the job, have not reported it. The biggest reason for not reporting it was fear of being labelled a troublemaker.
In an Employment and Social Development Canada survey of 1,350 respondents, the reasons given for not reporting an incident of workplace harassment were mixed.
- afraid their manager/employer would retaliate against them
- afraid reporting would hurt their career advancement
- concerns about the complaint process (for example confidentiality, how long it would take)
- afraid to lose their job
- not sure if the incident would be considered harassment/sexual harassment/physical violence or sexual violence.
In the online HuffPost, Margaret Gardiner explained why so many people are reluctant to report harassment.
“It affects one’s sense of self, but you need the job, you need the money, and until a better opportunity comes along, you endure. You are going to need that person for a reference for your next job. Telling a prospective employer that you left because you were being sexually harassed does not make you an attractive hire.”
Many people, including supervisors, managers and employers, do not have a clear understanding of what sexual harassment is from a legal perspective.
“If someone places their hand on someone’s shoulder, can they say it’s sexual harassment?” asked the broker.
The answer to that question can be found in the Canadian Labour Code.
As explained in last week’s article in NR, there’s a difference between normal human contact in a social or professional context versus sexual harassment. Placing a hand on someone’s shoulder is not a sexual gesture in itself. But if that hand on the shoulder is part of an ongoing pattern of behaviour of sexual advances, any physical touching from that person would be consistent with a sexual harassment problem.
Broker four said there hasn’t been any harassment in the office except for an instance when someone started disparaging another Realtor on social media and the broker had to ask that the posts be taken down.
“I’m very involved in the office and with my agents. If someone was harassing them, believe me it would be dealt with, very intensely.”
“When I first started with this brokerage I hired a lawyer to draw up contracts and documents and included a workplace harassment policy that I got from Workplace BC.”
This broker’s concern is that if there is a workplace harassment issue, there is no centralized resource for a broker to turn to for procedural or legal support. It’s yet another procedural task that falls entirely on the broker to handle because unlike other industries, there is no human resources department to take on the paperwork, the investigation, and the processes that would be needed to resolve such issues.
This broker would support the Board taking a greater role guiding members in this area by providing awareness and information, and making it available online as the Board does for advertising and other best practice topics.
“The bottom line is that everyone should get treated equally, and everyone deserves the same kind of respect they would want as well.”
As one of our brokers put it:
“An organization is a living and breathing entity. Sometimes you have to remind people of what’s acceptable and not acceptable. It’s an ongoing thing.”
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