How to Keep Your Real Estate Team from Burning Out

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There’s nothing like the feeling of closing your first real estate deal or hitting that first major revenue milestone.

The highs in this business are so amazing — addicting, even. But what about the lows?

Stress, overwhelm and burnout are very real in real estate. And although so many Realtors and agents go through it, not many are willing to openly talk about it.

We reached out to leading agents, brokers and coaches to get real-world insights on why burnout is so common in real estate and what to do when you find your team stagnant, struggling or slump-shouldered as a result of chronic stress.

What is Burnout?

Burnout can be tough to put into words, but you definitely know when you’re in it.

But if we manage to put a finger on what burnout actually is, we’ll have a much better chance of stopping it before we hit the wall. Here are a couple straightforward definitions from experts who have researched this productivity-killing phenomenon inside and out.

According to the psych department at UCLA, burnout is:

“A prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, and is defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.”

And if you ask the pros over at Mayo Clinic, burnout is:

“A special type of job stress — a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”

Special is right. Stress, exhaustion, doubt — burnout is rough.

But the worst thing about burnout is how sneaky it is. Burnout creeps up on you, slowly stacking a little more stress and fear onto your daily mental load — until you finally (and often brutally) bottom out. And it can take a long time to bounce back.

That’s because burnout actually alters our brain chemistry, making it more difficult to find the way forward.

In a study led by Armita Golkar at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and cited by the Association for Psychological Science, burnout was shown to change neural circuits in the brain, damaging our ability to cope with stressful situations and making burnout the proverbial Catch 22.

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In the study, researchers found that participants who experienced long-term work-related stress and burnout, had an enlarged amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for fear and anxiety), making it even harder to cope with negative emotions. You can read more about the study at PLOS.org.

The High Price of Burnout

In a January 2017 study by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace®, 95% of HR leaders admitted employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention.

And they had zero idea what to do about it.

Unrelenting pressure, workloads and deadlines are all factors cited as key stressors leading to burnout. Some experts even go as far at to call burnout an epidemic in the American workplace, as stress levels at work have shown no decline over the past 5 years.

So what happens when working professionals are so stressed that they quit or miss work?

In short, the economy picks up the tab.

It’s estimated that burnout costs the US economy roughly $300 billion in sick time, long-term disability and excessive job turnover. And the healthcare bill is also pretty high. Experts estimate that burnout costs the US about $190 billion in healthcare expenses. Worse than that, there are approximately 120,000 deaths attributed to stress each year.

Burnout is a big problem everywhere but in the cutthroat world of real estate where your bread and butter are made on commissions and your ability to be available 24-hours a day for your prospects, it can sometimes feel impossible to get out from under it.

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Why do Most Realtors Get Burnt Out? (Advice From the Pros.)

We took a look at what the research has to say about what the most stressful jobs are and though you won’t find “real estate agent” in the top 10 list of burnout careers, you will find “senior corporate executive”.

And make no mistake, a senior business leader is exactly what a Realtor is — especially if you’re the type of highly-driven top producer who’s really gaining momentum in this business. Yet, many rainmakers have been through burnout and successfully made it out the other side.

We asked 9 rockstar brokers, team leaders and coaches for their secrets for battling burnout. Here’s what they had to say about it.

#1 – Lack of leverage

“Realtors get burnt out for a few reasons. But mostly due to lack of leverage. For example, they have their hands in so many things that don’t make them money, like pushing paperwork around, creating marketing materials, going to inspections, etc. Their main focus should be lead generation and going on appointments. When you don’t leverage everything other than that, you will hit a ceiling and never have a life. As soon as you have the business to justify it — hire an admin.”

Nick Baldwin, Co-founder, Lab Coat Agents

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What to do about it:

Nick is the co-founder of Lab Coat Agents, the largest real estate Facebook group in the world. He also has a team at Keller Williams NJ Metro Group in Montclair, NJ, and runs Keller Williams Premier in Clarkston, MI, which has 135 agents.

To tackle burnout for both you and your growing team, Nick recommends using leverage to buy back time spent on non-money-making activities. “Team leaders can offer that leverage so their agents can be on the front lines — lead generating, prospecting and going on appointments. Having leverage in place to take much of everything else off the agents hands is extremely valuable to the agent. It’s also one of the main reasons they join a team,” he says.

If you’re a team leader, hiring the right team and using a CRM to automate your lead generation and follow up are just a couple of powerful ways you can inject more leverage into your business and empower your agents to do more of what they’re good at — which almost always results in less stress and more revenue.

What to watch out for:

If you’re leading a team and you’re feeling burnt out yourself, you’re probably fighting a very real temptation to look away and bury your head in the work. But rockstars like Nick warn against turning a blind eye to burnout.

“By not addressing burnout, you risk having your agents lose motivation and passion for what they do. When there is a lack of those two things, the slump and the burnout sets in and it effects the whole team and the other agents find themselves picking up the slack. It’s a domino effect. It’s so important for a team leader to be in tune to how their agents are feeling. When you take the time to talk to your agents on a regular basis — having one-on-one’s, it allows you to stay in tune with them. Team leaders have to remember that they work for their agents. It’s not the other way around.”

#2 – Time and/or money

“They work from sun up to sun down including weekends chasing the next deal. When they aren’t in the field with clients, they are shuffling papers and problem-solving. They quickly find there aren’t enough hours in the day. They miss their free time, and families. And most agents aren’t interested in learning how to build a team or hire help.

Many are living from one transaction to the next financially and when an expected paycheck falls out (which happens when real estate transactions fall apart for whatever reason), they are shattered. They don’t teach you how to truly budget your time and money in real estate school!”

Lori Ballen, CEO, Ballen Brands

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What to do about it:

Lori Ballen is the CEO of Ballen Brands and the fearless leader of the Lori Ballen Team at Keller Williams. With roughly 87% of agents failing within the first 5 years, Lori’s point about learning how to budget your time and money is definitely a BIG one.

Beyond that, Lori recommends team leaders, “Help them stay plugged into short term goals and long term goals so they always remember the ‘why’ of what they do. Keeping them off the roller coaster of 4 transactions one month and zero the next can help them keep a better financial pace. Most agents stop lead generating while they are busy and find themselves at zero quite suddenly. Time management is a skill, and one a leader can help teach and hold their agents accountable to.”

What to watch out for:

According to Lori, team members who are regularly burnt out may be tempted to jump ship. Much like the 95% of HR leaders losing employees due to work-related stress, you need to tackle burnout head-on if you want to keep your people with you.

“Agents could leave your team or the industry. If they are tired, broke, or overwhelmed, they may quickly buy into ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ and join another team or brokerage looking for a quick fix. They may also leave to find a ‘J-O-B’ with guaranteed income, more structure, or less hours away from their families,” she warns.

#3 – Inability to create income

“The agent doesn’t have enough income coming in and gets burnt out. I have never had a client who’s closing a deal every week complain of being burnt out. It’s exciting to help people make a great decision about buying or selling. The challenge is we get “busy” doing activities that don’t create income. If we focused more on creating income and the success that those activities bring we’d experience success and excitement.”

Mike Stott, Co-founder, Your Coaching Matters

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What to do about it:

Mike Stott is co-founder of Your Coaching Matters and one of Inman’s top 25 real estate coaches. He believes that coaching your team on how to create more income is the key to preventing burnout.

“Help them develop the habits that create income. Specifically focused on:

1) Lead generation

2) Lead follow-up

3) Going on previews and appointments

4) negotiating contracts and closings

Great training and accountability on points 1 and 2 ought to be at the focus for any team activity.”

What to watch out for:

Mike agrees that a team member leaving for supposed “greener pastures” is a major consequence of a lack of burnout resilience training within the team. But according to Mike, that’s actually not the worst possible outcome.

“The worst is they develop a negative attitude and infect others on the team. There’s lots that can be done to alleviate burnout. Recognition being chief among them. We suggest at least a weekly team meeting in which everyone has the opportunity to discuss what they did to “wow” a client and conversely what could have gone better. The leader should really hand out bravos and recognition and everyone else will chip in too.”

#4 – Low/no productivity

“If you have been in sales for months, even years, but your income was better at your last gig, watch out. Frustration and apathy may soon start to weigh you down. If you feel this way or notice a struggle with productivity, seek out a trainer/mentor/coach — stat!”

Dr. Lee Davenport, Founder, Learn with Lee

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What to do about it:

Dr. Lee Davenport is a nationally-recognized real estate coach and the Founder of Learn with Lee. She makes a point that many burnt out would-be rockstars would rather ignore:

Sometimes you just need help.

Burnout often starts as an increased level of frustration or annoyance. “Have you ever been so mentally tired that you can’t think straight? Or, where everything other people do, annoys you to no end (“Why are you breathing so loud”?),” asks Lee. And for most of us the answers is unfortunately, YES.

Lee points out that the right mentor or coach can help you set up the key business systems needed to break free from the vicious cycle of burnout. “Whether you are on a team or are a ‘solopreneur’, if you have not learned how to ‘set and forget’ your business process, your annoyance may rise to the level of ‘throwing in the towel’.

What to watch out for:

Letting your ego run the show is a sure way to drown under the weight of burnout. You need a team and system in place so you can get back to doing what you love — which is the ONE thing that will bring you the most success.

And there’s data to back this up.

“In my doctoral dissertation research published in the Journal of Real Estate Practice and Education, I had the privilege of studying some of the top 1,000 agents in the nation. Yes, these are the people exceeding half a million dollars in commission. What did the study find? That these top producers spend their time “playing to their strengths”. In other words, they do not go against the grain of their individual God-given personalities by doing taxing activities. Instead, they focus on their core competencies and give the rest away, whether to automation, assistants (college student interns are a favorite!), team members or even family members. There is no badge of honor in saying you are a 1-(wo)man shop,” Lee advises.

Lee gets asked about burnout A LOT. If you’re feeling snowed under, her video on this topic is an absolute must-watch.

#5 – Lack of balance

“I think life/work balancing is important and many Realtors fall victim to burnout because of the lack of balance. I don’t believe there’s any magical ratio of ‘80% this and 20% that’ but rather I believe that you can feel when you need time for yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself and your health, everything else will fall from underneath you. Sometimes I am more work then play, other times I am more play than work — it depends on the the day/week/month/season. Adjust your life according to what you need vs. what you read is the right thing.”

Samantha DeBianchi, Owner, DeBianchi Real Estate

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What to do about it:

If you’re a fan of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing Miami”, you’re probably a fan of Samantha DeBianchi. By the time Samantha (a.k.a. Sam) was 32, she had already built 2 companies and an awesome client roster, including some big-name athletes and celebrities.

You can’t do ALL that amazing stuff, without getting a little stressed out from time to time. Sam’s advice for fellow big dreamers on the verge of getting burnt out to loosen up a little.

“Mix in aspects other than work and create a ‘team feel’ in other realms. Make work fun! I incorporate company workouts, catered lunches, sending agents to real estate technology conferences, and other things that make agents remember real estate isn’t just selling homes, but also being a ‘lifestyle ambassador’.”

What to watch out for:

Like Lori, Sam warns that burnt out agents may leave your team for greener pastures.

Everyone goes through a period of feeling that the grass is greener on the other side — especially agents who are going through a burnout phase. In reality, the grass is greener on the side where it’s watered and taken care of. If you don’t take care of your agents, they’ll find a new lawn to grow in.”

#6 – Not enough rest

“Most realtors get burnt out because they don’t realize that stress demands rest, and rest supports stress. They find that out much later in life, sometimes too late.”

Tristan Ahumada, CEO, Lab Coat Agents

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What to do about it:

If you’re one of the tens of thousands of agents who follows Lab Coat Agents, you’ve probably heard Tristan talk about the importance of work/life balance. Tristan’s a successful broker, CEO and dad.

And at the end of the day, there’s only two ways to look at that:

  1. As a major burden.
  2. As a major blessing.

You can probably guess which way Tristan sees it. To avoid burnout within your team, Tristan suggests, “Continually making it [burnout] a topic of conversation in calls and in meetings. Also, celebrate time off just like we celebrate closings. Time off should be celebrated.”

When was the last time you took a day off to celebrate yourself and all the awesome roles you embody as a leader in your home, business and community? If you’re stuck in the “everything’s-a-burden” mindset, taking even a small amount of time to recharge can lift the burnout veil and bring you face-to-face with all the blessings that are right there in front of you.

What to watch out for:

What happens if you don’t hit time out?

“Burnout can lead to depression and in some cases can lead to health issues,” Tristan warns.

He’s totally right. There is a large body of evidence proving that chronic stress and burnout can lead to a myriad of life-threatening illnesses. Better to take a day off tomorrow, than succumb to a debilitating disease that could put you out of commission completely

#7 – Working too hard

“Like many business owners, real estate leaders work too hard. One of the reasons agents seem to work too much and too hard is a feeling that by ‘handing off’ their clients to an administrator or assistant the client is getting less than ideal service. Unfortunately, our ego makes us think that we are the only people that can help our clients to perfection and this results in an agent being a bottleneck for all work that comes into the business.”

Barry Jenkins, Broker/Owner, Your Friends in Real Estate Team

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What to do about it:

Sometimes the biggest thing keeping you from gaining more is simply holding on too tightly to what you already have.

Barry has led his team to incredible success (like, 240 transactions in a year success!) based on two simple principles: Compassion + leverage.

We’ve written about just how far the right principles can take you before. So when we asked Barry for his best advice for how team leaders can protect their agents from burnout, we weren’t surprised by his answer.

“Leverage and support. By leveraging our agents’ time by utilizing systems, processes, admin support, and sales support, the agents are able to focus on the one thing that makes them money: Buying and selling real estate.”

What to watch out for:

And what happens if you don’t give your agents the support they need?

“The worst that could happen is your agents will not be better as a result of being associated with you. Your agents will not be successful and neither will your business. Lastly, your clients will get less than stellar service which is exactly what you were trying to avoid,” Barry warns.

#8 – Not knowing what to systematize

The best way to keep your Team from Burning Out is to get them OUT of doing the parts of the job that are drudgery or stressful and keep them doing the high energy positive activities.

Donna Stott, Co-founder, Your Coaching Matters

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What to do about it:

When you and your team are working under what feels like an avalanche of both critical and totally menial tasks, it can be hard to know where to start systematizing.

Donna is a rockstar real estate coach who has led brand new agents to over 80 transactions a year, and helped plenty of seasoned agents break through their revenue ceilings, improving by up to 500%.

She believes it’s the team leaders responsibility to provide the staff with the highest-energy tasks only, namely:

1. The Listing Process and all the stuff that comes up with that (signs, lockboxes, doors left open, flyers, marketing, updating Sellers regularly, etc). Agent handles Offers and price reductions if needed…always asking if the staff is doing a great job for them. I recommend this person is licensed to handle minor price reductions and changes to the listing.

  1. Contract to Closing Process – the toughest part of the transaction. Having ONE licensed person handle this for the Team (works up to about 150 deals a year, then you need a 2nd one) frees your Agents from high drama.  Yes, the staff will need to keep them updated and they may have to step in on SOME things but as this staff person gets more experience, that becomes fewer and fewer. They can just sell a house, check in with the client from time to time, close and get paid!
  1. When your Database is big enough, you want a person maintaining that as well on behalf of the Agents. Marketing to them up to and including calling them “Agent A asked me to check in with you and see if there is anything he can do for you this year?” – This job included assigning contacts to be made by the Agents that make sense rather than just cold calling.
  1. An ISA or 2 can do other calling and pre-qualifying for leads too. FSBO’s, Expireds, Circle Prospecting, Neighborhood farming… and then spin hot leads to your Agents.
  1. If you’re big enough and calls come into the office, having receptionists (2 almost full timers) that cover 8am-6pm M-F and alternate Saturdays 9-2pm will handle a lot of nitpicking calls that agents have to field and annoy them.”

What to watch out for:

According to Donna, you can expect 2 things to happen if you fail to address burnout in your team:

“1)They quit the team since they can likely do less deals and make similar incomes outside the team and don’t feel the tradeoff is worth it.

2) They quit the business altogether.

Either way, the Team Leader loses.”

#9 – Not setting boundaries

“Realtors get burnt out because they don’t run their business as a business. It’s important that they have great systems in place to remain organized.  

On top of that they don’t have a daily plan. Every day should be structured so they a completely in control of their business instead of the business controlling them. 

Finally, and probably most importantly, is they don’t set expectations with the customer. For instance, when I was selling 80 homes per year, I took Sundays off to be with my family. I told my customers that they had me from 8am-8pm Mon-Sat, but Sunday was my family day. I never lost a customer and had a great day off each week. Set the expectation and they will respect you as a professional.”

Mitch Ribak, Founder, Inside Sales Agents

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What to do about it:

Mitch Ribak is the Founder of Inside Sales Agents and principal broker of Tropical Realty in Brevard County, Florida with more than 45 agents. He’s also a true master of lead conversion.

Mitch reinforces what many other top producing agents have mentioned: Boundaries, business systems and a little fun are the best ways to prevent (or cure) burnout within your real estate team.

He believes team leaders should, “Firstly teach their agents how to be business people.  Then you have to keep it fun and pay attention. You have to see when an agent is slipping and then work with them to get them back in motion and positive. It’s an easy business to get burnt out. Be aware of what your agents are going through.”

What to watch out for:

In this business, burnout can definitely come for you. But coasting is the real killer. You have to do your part to find the right balance for both you and your team.

Here’s a cautionary tale from Mitch:

“I saw this recently in a friend’s team. They were on cruise control and he was off on vacations every quarter and posting all over facebook. He bought a $100,000 car and bragged about that on facebook. Basically, he took his team for granted. Fast forward a year…his entire team quit and he is now back to selling houses. So basically, if you aren’t taking care of your team, they won’t take care of you.”

But how do you know if your team is really at risk of burnout, or if they’re just busy?

Let’s take a closer look at the tell-tale signs of burnout.

How Will You Know if Your Team is Burning Out?

If you’ve learned anything about burnout by now it’s that:

  1. We can easily spin out of control when we’re too busy
  2. We’re all “too busy”

The question then is, where’s the line?

Here are key signs of burnout to look out for in your real estate team:

  • Increased cynicism and detachment at work.
  • Irritability or impatience with team members and clients.
  • Inability to celebrate success.
  • Overeating, drinking too much alcohol, even drug abuse.
  • Insomnia or excessive sleepiness.
  • Unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical ailments.
  • Constant complaining, gossip or negativity.
  • Defensive body language (e.g., head down, shoulders slumped, arms crossed).
  • Unwillingness or disinterest in communicating with team members.

If a member of the team who’s typically dependable, suddenly stops being reliable, that’s a red flag. A decrease in productivity or a change in the quality of work can also be a sign of the type of apathy or disengagement that often comes as a side effect of burnout.

As with most illnesses, prevention and early detection are crucial to avoiding further damage as a result of burnout.

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Burnout Prevention Checklist

If you’ve spotted some of the signs and symptoms of burnout within your team, don’t wait.

Act now to get your people the help they need and stay on track to hitting their targets. Here’s a quick checklist based on the science, research and expert insights we’ve collected.

  • Address it directly.

Make work/life balance a part of your team’s culture by addressing this topic head-on in weekly meetings and one-on-ones.

  • Prioritise self-care.

Feeling good is contagious. According to a Gallup research report that surveyed 105 teams over six 3-month periods, individual team members who reported experiencing wellbeing were 20% more likely to have other team members who also reported thriving 6 months later. Greenery, team workouts and Fitbit fitness challenges are all fun ways to get healthy and build stress resilience.

  • Unplug.

Ever heard of “anticipatory stress”? A study from Colorado State University found that just thinking about having to answer email at home makes employees feel emotionally exhausted. Ask your team members to put their cell phones (or at least social media activity) for a nap when doing desktop follow-up.

  • Make time for sleep and relaxation.

According to science, sleep-deprived individuals are less productive individuals. They’re also more emotionally reactive and have worse memory. Make it a policy that any team member who needs a break (or a nap!) can go ahead and take one, no questions asked.

  • Take a holiday.

The average American employee who was eligible for PTO only used 54% of their available time in the last year. And of those employees who did take vacations, 66% admitted to working during that time. Go against the grain and let your team know you expect them to completely unplug during their next vacation.

  • Embrace mindfulness and meditation.

Meditation isn’t just for Berkeley undergrads. There is a large body of evidence supporting the role of mindfulness in systematically training the brain to promote resilience and productivity at work, come what may. Openly encourage your team to find the type of meditation, mindfulness or mindset practice that works for them.

  • Lead by example.

A sustained positive shift in attitude can literally rewire our brains. In fact, results from over 200 scientific studies on nearly 275,000 people (APA 2005) have found that every key business outcome improves when people are emotionally positive. And when it comes to emotion and energy, it’s literally follow the leader. Inspire your people with regular updates on why this work matters, then give them the tools, leverage and support needed to do their best work.

At the end of the day, this business can be a dream or a nightmare. As the leader of yourself and your team, it’s on you to make it worthwhile.

If you want take overwhelm out of the equation and help your team close more deals in less time, it might be time to think about setting up an automated lead follow up system. And for that, you know who to call.

Sign up today for a free trial of Follow Up Boss!

Who are We?

GrowthHouse is where ambitious agents and teams come to learn strategies and tactics to grow their real estate businesses.

The team behind GrowthHouse also runs Follow Up Boss, a sales driven CRM dedicated to helping agents and teams focus and follow up for more appointments and sales. Click here to learn more about how Follow Up Boss can help you accelerate your growth.