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Revitalizing the Mortgage Workforce

Editor’s note: This feature originally appeared in the November issue of MReport, now available online.

“Granted, maybe this was not the best, but at least we care enough about our employees that we are willing to fight for them.”

Steve Carell’s Michael Scott, the often ill-spoken leader of the fictitious Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in the TV series The Office, never had much luck with words. However, the quote above demonstrates a rare moment of Scott showing compassion and care for his employees. While Dunder Mifflin might not exist, the quote touches on a challenge every company must tackle: ensuring that its employees feel that sense that they are more than a number, and that the company views them as such.

With the workforce changing as millennials—and millennial priorities and values—become more prominent, how are the companies within the mortgage sector working to adapt? What are the challenges and changes that are underway as suit-and-tie culture is forced to adapt to a generation that places a premium on not just a paycheck, but on the experience of earning it?

A Changing Culture

There is no denying the fact that the workforce has changed dramatically, and quickly—and the landscape of the mortgage industry is no exception.

Entrepreneur.com published an article in 2018 on how businesses are making the shift from being customer-centric to employee-centric.

“While the employers once ruled the market with the privilege of being able to hook the best candidates, the priorities have changed to focus more on development, transparency, and work-life balance,” the article states.

Kevin Hamilton, President and CEO of Bron Inc., agrees with this sentiment, saying he and his company believe in “taking care of your people.”

“We had this adage in the military that was, your people eat before you do. It's just one of the things that we do,” Hamilton said. “By taking care of your people, raising them up, making them better when you go into battle means that you have a better team.”

“It's about taking care of everybody else,” he added.

Aaron Samples, CEO of First Guaranty Mortgage, pointed out that it’s a company’s employees that usually make up the biggest line item in a profit-and-loss document. As such, it only makes sense to take care of them.

“It's our biggest investment and we take it very seriously,” Samples said. He told MReport that First Guaranty actually created a role focused on learning and organizational development to help create a more positive working environment.

“We're focused on employee retention and trying to be the firm that attracts the top talent in the industry,” Samples said.

In the past, Hamilton said that, to some companies and even executives, employees were often regarded “just numbers.” However, Hamilton said he believes in the importance and the benefits of providing better care and training for employees.

With that in mind, Bron Inc. launched the “Bron Better Brain Program,” which encourages employees to get their MBA, finish their college degrees, or take courses to help them become a better person.

“I've always believed in education is a never-ending process,” Hamilton said. “I want to make sure my clients know that the associates care about them and that they are professionals.”

Bron enrolls every new associate each year in Five Star Certification. Hamilton said that 85% of enrolled Bron employees are certified within four months of being registered.

James Wade, VP of IT & Security at the Tampa Bay, Florida, office of Mortgage Contracting Services (MCS) suggested that there are two aspects that make a company a great place to work. The first element is people, plain and simple.

“Without great people by your side, it would be difficult to come to work each day and produce at a high level,” Wade said.

The second aspect Wade cites is “technology and the pursuit of continual improvements in the areas of IT security and network performance. With the changing technology roadmap and changing client needs, staying ahead in the technical game is both exciting and challenging.”

Bethany Ockerman, VP of Operations for the Lewisville, Texas, office of MCS, said MCS encourages employees to work together to solve problems, as communication is key to leadership.

“[At MCS], employees are able to reach out to any senior leader to provide ideas or discuss difficulties whenever necessary.” That chain of reliable communication can be critical within any business when it comes to ensuring that employees feel heard,f valued, and capable of achieving at their highest level.

However, the challenge of providing a work-life balance along in a high-stress industry is not lost on Nickalene Badalamenti-Kalas, acting President of Five Brothers Asset Management Group.

“It's a demanding job, and the greater the number of employees, sometimes that morale can be affected by a single individual on a team.” However, Badalamenti-Kalas suggested that an even bigger challenge can be ensuring that employees receive accurate information “from the top down.”

Badalamenti-Kalas also emphasized the importance of mentorship and support, and of having leaders within an organization who understand how important work-life balance is to their employees morale and productivity.

“There are no nine-to-five concrete rules anymore,” Badalamenti-Kalas said. “We can be a lot more flexible and make life easier for everybody if their situation calls for it.”

Managing Millennials 

An article by Inc.com earlier this year reported that millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are expected to make up half of the American workforce by 2020. By 2025, millennials are forecasted to make up 75% of the global workforce.

Companies such as Ernst & Young and Accenture have already reported that millennials make up more than two-thirds of their entire employee base.

Hamilton said, unlike older generations, those in the younger workforce want more of a say in their workplace and want to feel like they're making a bigger impact.

“They want to feel like they are providing a service and not just doing a lot of widget work,” Hamilton said. “They want to have some level of fulfillment and sense that they're contributing to a greater good.”

Millennials also communicate much differently than other generations, and are in general more technologically inclined than any generation before them. Pew Research found that 93% of millennials have a smartphone, 55% own a tablet computer, and 86% use social media.

Hamilton said Bron Inc. recognized these changes and implemented Facebook for the workplace as a platform to showcase the positive things the company is doing and discuss updates.

“Implementing things like instant messaging, and even text messaging and Facebook, has its place,” he said. “You’ve got to find different ways to be able to communicate, because that's what they want to be able to see.”

Samples said the workforce has certainly changed during his career—describing the atmosphere as “you come in, you put your head down, you work hard, you collect your paycheck, and you move on.”

That mentality, he said, doesn’t work for millennials—even the older millennials who are in their early 30s. He said millennials and the younger generation are more focused on the work-life balance, working at places that are positive, and places where “they feel like their work is good.”

Echoing Hamilton’s sentiments, Samples said his company has altered how it communicates to better suit the younger generation, offering them texting services, as well as configuring the office to have more open spaces, common areas, and amenities.

Another aspect to the millennial workforce, according to Ed Watson, Chief Culture Officer at Fay Financial, is that millennials have a strong focus on “giving back.” He said that 80% of Fay’s employees are enrolled in its charity program, which helped donate 1,800 backpacks in July.

“Every generation has a spectrum of performance within it, and it becomes so individual. Yes, we are garnering huge benefits from the millennials in our company contributing at every level across the organization. We would have a hard time being in business without that important generation,” Watson said.

Noting the differences in generations, Samples noted that he is used to coming to work in a tie. However, he told MReport that he was working on an email to his employees about a Halloween costume contest and potluck—a far cry from the “buttoned up” mentality of years past.

Driving Diversity 

Hamilton said that diversity is a strong focus at Bron, as 63% of his management team are women.

Hamilton said the majority of his bosses have been female, and he does believe there is a difference between how men and women are treated in the workplace. However, he noted that it is important for women to work with female leaders.

“I'm going to be so happy and so stoked when the women in my organization can be recognized like at The Five Star conferences and show that they're making a positive impact. Those are the things that I'm going to view as measurements of success,” he said.

Baladmenti-Kalas said that Five Brothers has a significant LGBTQ and transgender population within the company, and a strong focus on ensuring that those employees need to be “treated as though they’re not different.”

“People need to feel like they belong, and so we don't dwell on it,” she continued. “We just do what we do. You come to work, you do your job, and you acknowledge the people for or who they are and what they do.”

Ashley Taylor, AVP or Operations for MCS’ Ruston, Louisiana, office, said that a commitment to advancement from within is crucial in the modern workforce, but that hiring personnel from diverse backgrounds—and from other industries—offers many benefits.

“With a background in healthcare and higher education management, I utilize those skills to give an alternative perspective on a task or problem at hand,” Taylor said.

Watson said the biggest change he has seen in the workplace is centered around inclusion, suggesting that the shift has been “driven by both human and legislative initiatives.”

“People's attitudes and acceptance of differences is what has evolved the most,” Watson said. “Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that individuals don't deal with challenges today by any means, but the progress that we've made deserves positive acknowledgement.”

He added that it is important to make employees feel that they are being judged by the work that they do.

“There's so many more derivatives of what diversity is, and that's a good thing. We thrive on it. The diversity of a company’s people contributes greatly to its success, mostly because a culture of acceptance creates a safe climate for differences of opinion,” Watson said. “If you have that type of climate, then you're able to garner greater efficiencies and collaboration. You need a depth of experience just to see how beneficial it is to a company.”

Over his 35 years in the workforce, Watson said he has seen the industry and its workforce change significantly. While the scope of those changes could be lost on the younger generations, he suggests that “they own the continuance of its evolution.”

Watson noted that he has two daughters in their late twenties who are now in the workforce. “I'm excited for them and excited for all of our young employees for the opportunity to be in my shoes decades from now, so they can see how further change in diversity and inclusion has made their workplaces better then,” he said. “It's going to keep going, and it's what makes workplaces better.”

About Author: Mike Albanese

A graduate of the University of Alabama, Mike Albanese has worked for news publications since 2011 in Texas and Colorado. He has built a portfolio of more than 1,000 articles, covering city government, police and crime, business, sports, and is experienced in crafting engaging features and enterprise pieces. He spent time as the sports editor for the "Pilot Point Post-Signal," and has covered the DFW Metroplex for several years. He has also assisted with sports coverage and editing duties with the "Dallas Morning News" and "Denton Record-Chronicle" over the past several years.
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