Residential Magazine

Navigate Staffing Challenges in Turbulent Times

Finding and retaining talent can be difficult while dealing with one curveball after another

By Julie Fry

It can be hard to think back to the start of pandemic-induced lockdowns amid COVID-19 variant surges and continuing uncertainty. For human resources managers in the mortgage industry, the initial challenge was to suddenly oversee the effort to convert thousands of employees from in-office to remote work. It remains an evolving scenario to this day.

Many companies instituted a work-from-home policy of some sort, and while some companies are now asking employees to return to the office, others are choosing to stay the course. Some employees will prefer to work in the office and others will prefer to stay at home. Some mortgage companies are dedicated to leaving the choices of work-life balance in the control of their people.

The goal is to have the right people in the right jobs to get to the right results that the business is striving for.

Indeed, mortgage companies that want their employees in the office are facing pushback. That’s not a problem for companies that offer the work-from-home option. But it also doesn’t mean that companies with workers at home haven’t faced challenges to implement work-from-home policies or keep them going.
Maneuvering an organization of hundreds or thousands of employees through a business climate that can be very volatile is a process that requires nonstop attention. To be clear, this is true for all mortgage lenders, big and small. And in the current market dynamics where mortgage lending conditions are as turbulent as ever, it is not just a question of attracting the right talent to get the job done.

Engage employees

As the outline of a post-pandemic world comes into shape, it’s clear that the mortgage industry is facing a situation where the workforce is aging and fewer replacement prospects are available. How do mortgage companies retain employees and achieve their goals during the ups and downs of the cycle?
Many companies rely on enhancements that can or should be added. To do this, mortgage companies need to constantly remain engaged with employees. Over the past couple of years, of course, navigating through a pandemic and an unprecedented mortgage market has truly tested this strategy, primarily with the workforce moving away from the office to a work-from-home culture.
This has been a turbulent time for everyone working in mortgage lending — not just the executives, midlevel managers or originators. Everyone’s experience was different and meaningful. Mortgage companies not only had to survive a global pandemic, but they also had to make sure that their workforces were stable and had the support that they needed while also hiring in droves to support what was coming in from a sales volume standpoint.
Companies that were in growth mode before the pandemic had a decided advantage. There’s constant volatility with hiring, reducing and maintaining staff. But companies that were hiring when the pandemic struck were already looking at their benefits plan.
This goes beyond pay to outside-the-box compensation. For instance, for a company looking to grow, why not do something like offering scholarships for continuing education or even for family members? That’s a huge draw that an employer can offer when looking to attract employees, since many do have families, and the offer to enrich their whole community is quite enticing.

Right results

Another big part of making sure people in your organization are happy and content is to make sure your teams are well-balanced. How do you do it? Each year, evaluate your workforce to understand who’s coming in and what their demographics are (age groups and things of that nature) so you can ascertain whether you have the right balance of employees.
The goal is to have the right people in the right jobs to get to the right results that the business is striving for. Even for organizations that are downsizing or considering it, the need is apparent to be able to keep the employees most vital to the enterprise. These are the people who will help lead the company to success once the mortgage cycle turns positive.
Companies want to be able to provide their mortgage originators with the support to close loans as quickly as possible. Originators need to know that at any time throughout the process of working on a loan, they can get instantaneous support. The heartbeat of a mortgage company is its speed in responding to sales-support staff. From a retention standpoint, first and foremost, salespeople should know and feel comfortable with the fact that they have an umbrella over them to help them, upping their confidence to close loans as quickly as possible.
Another key to attracting, retaining and managing the right workforce — small or large — is communication. This means having a lot of touchpoints within the organization when employees first arrive. It also can mean multiple touchpoints for the first 90 days to assess feedback.
It is equally important to have methods to correct the course when things go wrong. The first step is to recognize that something is happening. One way to do this is to provide a forum where employees can offer feedback concerning operations. An anonymous call line that employees can use to share their experiences can be useful. If you have an option like this, make sure to circle back and do a deeper dive to get a better handle on employee concerns and what’s really happening out there.
It’s important to remain transparent as an organization, and this requires open and honest communication throughout the cycle of employment. The flexibility and nimbleness of making decisions is based on the best interests of employees, and not necessarily making “policy in a box” decisions. This foundation is what supports a corporation’s ability to reach major goals in normal business cycles as well as during challenging and unusual cycles. ●


  • Julie Fry

    Julie Fry is head of human resources and leads the learning and development department at Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. She brings a wealth of knowledge gained through her years of experience in the HR profession, ensuring the organizational strategy is tied to business strategy. Her areas of expertise include strategic planning, mergers and acquisitions, leadership coaching, organizational development and training, talent acquisition and retention, compensation and benefits, performance management, career and succession planning, and change management.

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