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Opinion Editorials

Explaining the controversy surrounding RealEstate.com

There is a medium-sized kerfuffle in the real estate industry that is raising eyebrows. We opine below as to whether or not it is worthy of all this fuss.

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Hubub about RealEstate.com’s re-launch

It’s been described as a market-disrupting “hail-mary” pass that will change the entire real estate industry and the beginning of “crazy town.” I, however, believe that Bruce Lemiux’s thoughts about Market Leader re-launching the RealEstate.com domain with data from the associated brokerages licenses it also acquired last year from Lending Tree were most accurate when he said, “Yawn.”

It’s an 8.25 million dollar example of the larger industry debate about data sharing and how business models for online success in real estate will integrate with (or bypass) real estate agents – “bricks and mortar” if you will. And quite frankly, as has been noted elsewhere, if the website as it stands today represents the “re-launch” that was touted in the company’s buzzword-compliant and SEO-optimized press release, then they just spent a lot of money to very publicly embarrass themselves.

A quick illustration:

As I’ve written about before, I don’t believe that the raw data provides the same amount of value as the local, friendly individual that puts that data into context, and can dynamically filter and adjust it based on something as slight as a client’s non-verbal cues. To make this less personal, let me take an example from my car that might put this all in perspective.

I drive a reasonably-recent hybrid car brimming and whirring with electronics. There are a bunch of computers processing raw information to coordinate the electric motors, battery charging, and gasoline engine status while ensuring my safety through a coordination of a bunch more things like the airbags and brakes. If my car alerted me every time something happened with one of these systems, I would quickly become so overloaded with information that I would promptly park the vehicle and walk away.

But last week my vehicle’s dashboard illuminated the check engine light with a message about my hybrid system. My car was programmed with a philosophy that sometimes less is more and that it should alert me only when it has meaningful and actionable information. In this case I took my car to the repair shop and it was repaired under warranty.

I appreciate that my car spares me the reams of raw performance data and only alerts me when necessary. I do not want information unless it is personally meaningful to me and actionable in my particular situation – and I believe real estate shoppers feel the same way. Knowing a house is for sale is a commodity.

Long before Z/T/R

Long before Zillow, Trulia, or Redfin came along the chatty neighbor would also tell you that for free. Knowing that a house is for sale that fits their bedroom count and can be purchased with their particular financing requirements is more valuable and actionable.

Knowing that a great house is for sale that fits their bedroom count but they should ignore it because of something particular to their search moves even farther up the value chain. Finding a way to successfully overcome, fix, or work-around that one (or three) things that stands between a potential buyer and the house they want notches the value up dramatically.

The Siri era is here

We live in the age of Siri – decades of research and billions of dollars spent have finally delivered a phone that can tell me the weather when I ask conversationally. Someday someone will successfully build an algorithm and launch a business model that takes the raw data of real estate and transform it into meaningful and actionable information that makes sense to consumers in the way they want at the moment they need it (if your Realtor doesn’t promplty return your phone calls, texts, and emails you should fire them, but that’s another story).

Given how long it has taken the technology and telecom industries to build a phone that can answer a simple question about the weather, I feel secure that agents like myself will have an important role to play in the real estate value chain for a very long time.

Zillow, Trulia and other real estate “innovators” aren’t real estate companies that derive their income directly from the purchase and sale of a particular house but are instead advertising companies that derive income when individual agents voluntarily agree to pay them money so they can appear prominently on a page that most likely features someone else’s listing. Zillow, Trulia and similar websites and brands have spent years redesigning and subtly improving their product so that they can sell more advertising and generate more income in their core business – which is selling advertising.

Quite frankly, the realestate.com website looks to me like it was slapped up by a collegiate insomniac who spent $99 dollars for some clipart and $99 for a wordpress theme and pulled an all-nighter to put together a rather sophomoric effort. If this took them a year to design and code, I’d like to know what they did with the other 364 days?

Zillow and Trulia are recognized brands at this point, regardless of your feelings about syndication, IDX, or data sharing. I’d be willing to make a friendly bet that when Lending Tree wanted to dump their realestate.com domain and brokerage licenses, they got in touch with every player in the market. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Zillow, Trulia, and others passed on the opportunity to spend so much on a domain name because they’ve built enough name recognition that they don’t need the “obvious” domain name to redirect to their own site. NAR would have made a perfect buyer for the domain, but that’s its own column…

Getting to the crux of the controversy

The part of all of this that is fascinating – and probably “smells” the most offensive – is how a company with a valuable domain name and brokerage licenses that once was in the business of earning income on the purchase and sale of individual homes has suddenly transformed into something else entirely: an advertising company with a lot of brokerage licenses that provide it with IDX data feeds so it doesn’t have to rely upon syndication for the data it needs (real estate listings) to sell its new product – contact data for consumers browsing on their very expensive URL.

To me this just smells like bare-knuckle American capitalism at work. We live in a country where Google (the website folks) can buy Motorola (the old-school hardware company) while Apple and Samsung are busy litigating each other senseless. We could wake up tomorrow to headlines of Apple buying AT&T or Wells Fargo buying PayPal from eBay. After all, a coffee company just made a major play in the retail payment processing space (Starbucks and Square). Anyone can buy their way into another industry – but buying your way in the door is entirely different from succeeding once you are there.

Bloggers’ support and criticism of the move:

Matt Fuller brings decades of experience and industry leadership as co-founder of San Francisco real estate brokerage Jackson Fuller Real Estate. Matt is a Past President of the San Francisco Association of Realtors. He currently serves as a Director for the California Association of Realtors. He currently co-hosts the San Francisco real estate podcast Escrow Out Loud. A recognized SF real estate expert, Matt has made numerous media appearances and published in a variety of media outlets. He’s a father, husband, dog-lover, and crazy exercise enthusiast. When he’s not at work you’re likely to find him at the gym or with his family.

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14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. J Philip Faranda

    August 14, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    While I tend to feel that it is a mistake to underestimate your adversary, I think Matt here is probably right for a variety of reasons.
     
    In my experience, the best way to be profitable in real estate brokerage is to list and sell lots of homes. I have yet to see this uber-IDX business model be organically profitable on its own.  Millions in venture capital makes a splash, but does not equate to sustainable long term profitability. . 

  2. J Philip Faranda

    August 14, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    While I tend to feel that it is a mistake to underestimate your adversary, I think Matt here is probably right for a variety of reasons.
     
    In my experience, the best way to be profitable in real estate brokerage is to list and sell lots of homes. I have yet to see this uber-IDX business model be organically profitable on its own.  Millions in venture capital makes a splash, but does not equate to sustainable long term profitability.
     

    • MattFullerGRI

      August 14, 2012 at 9:57 pm

       @J Philip Faranda I think “ogranically profitable” goes to the heart of this debate about various business models. Venture capital or other external funding can be a great starter or source of leverage, but if you can’t pay the bills then the lights eventually have to go out…

  3. StuSiegel

    August 14, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    @gregrobertson How does that explain anything?

  4. JonathanDalton

    August 14, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Real life lesson – I get a ton of IDX rental leads. Clients that come through on the IDX, because they are shopping homes and not agents, tend to be more than a little flighty. And that’s okay, as long as you know what you get.
     
    RealEstate.com’s plan isn’t much different than what I’ve long planned should Arizona ever open a state-wide MLS. I’ll be the most referringest mother you’ve ever seen. Still won’t pay the mortgage on its own, but it’ll give a little bit of a bump.IDX is very, very helpful in obtaining the David Knox prototypical “just be there” transactions. But since it all comes down to being in the right place at the right time, sustainability is tough. A consistent listing base still is the key – the buyers agents can do whatever they want to attract buyers and, honestly, we ought to root for them. Because when they do their job, we get paid. Not a bad set up.(Quick note – please spare me the b.s. totals about the tremendous number of leads you get through IDX, okay? You’re like the guy in Singles who collected 20 numbers of 20 women you’ll never call, never see in the daylight, 20 numbers you got just so you can say you got 20 numbers.) 

    • MattFullerGRI

      August 14, 2012 at 9:52 pm

       @JonathanDalton 

    • MattFullerGRI

      August 14, 2012 at 9:55 pm

       @JonathanDalton In my experience, the leads I get from a certain unnamed partner program tend to be the most skeptical and hardest to win over, but depending on the complexity of the transaction they can quickly become big fans. I’d very much agree with you that building a business on IDX is all about volume, and definitely a challenge. My experience with IDX leads hasn’t been that they are more flighty, just less serious shoppers overall. Which is perhaps a different way of saying the same thing. You can only sell a house once (unless you want it to cost you more than your commission) so I’ll take 1 solid lead over 50 flaky ones any day of the week…

      • 365frederick

        August 15, 2012 at 11:13 am

         @MattFullerGRI We’ve flitted about from various third party partner programs over the last 20 years, some have paid off for a while, some not at all. The leads from those sites are not the best leads, no doubt. I do think, however that the actions of consumers have changed, and the days of the domination of the Trulia’s and Zillow’s are numbered. Melinnials have grown up with search, and are seeking much more in-depth information. Information about neighborhoods, lifestyles and local expertise. These are the specialty of the local agent, not the big national information brokers. Just having massive amounts of listings on your site, although a draw, isn’t enough.

  5. kenbrand

    August 15, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Human nature views competition as threat.  But is it really?  I guess it is if you don’t have Top Of Mind Awareness as a trustworthy go to pro within your network.  Or you don’t have a network your rule, or people don’t like you, then you have to rely on leads from strangers. If you do rely on leads from strangers than instead of earning trust and choice, you pay for a contact and take your chances.  The challenge is if you don’t rule a network and people apparently don’t trust you, you’re not going to hot-dog your way to the bank chasing strangers because as most research, experience, observation and feedback from actual consumers at events like Hear It Direct all point to the same thing – the vast majority of consumers (me and you) we don’t like to be harassed by strangers.  Strangers chasing strangers who don’t like strangers is a hard road to hoe.  Bottom line, who cares.  Care about the people you know, the people you work, play, socialize with and around.  Make yourself the go to person for everything home, family, community, lifestyle and real estate.  Sure people may shop around the interent to dream and research, when it comes time to buy or sell, most of us would chose  a trusted pro……if we know one.  The question is are we know that way.  My 2 cents.  Back to work now people.  

    • MattFullerGRI

      August 15, 2012 at 2:51 pm

       @kenbrand Ken – I think most agents would agree with you. I guess the question is do you think it will be possible (in the next 5 – 10 years) to replicate the trusted network you describe with an online site along the lines of something in the ZTR model? 

      • kenbrand

        August 15, 2012 at 4:40 pm

         @MattFullerGRI Who knows Matt.  We have to keep our head on a well oiled swivel and minds and imaginations wide open, even when we think some of the satellite schemes are dumb things for dummer people.  It’s not likely that ZTR will replace what it takes to create Top Of Mind Awareness anytime soon, but it does prey on the an army of hopeful soliders who have to buy attention and opportunity, instead of earn it or create themselves. Facebook is an example of a modern tool that when used well helps to create Top Of Mind.  So, who knows.  I sleep with one eye open.  cheers
         

  6. michaeltudorie

    August 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    @RealtyNinja very very informative articles. RT

    • RealtyNinja

      August 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm

      @michaeltudorie thanks michael 🙂

  7. Sean Goerss

    September 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Matt, just read this article after referencing a similar one my tech tuneup I do with agents, great stuff, I’m going to share it!I think we have to be real careful about differentiating a vendor from a competitor.  

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Opinion Editorials

Decision-making when between procrastination and desperation

(EDITORIAL) Sometimes making a decision in business can loom so large over us that we delay making them until it’s absolutely necessary. Why?

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decision-making between procrastination and desperation

I need to confess something to you

So, a little confession’s good for the soul, right? I feel like I need to confess something to you, dear reader, before we jump right into this article. What follows is an article that I pitched to our editor some months back, and was approved then, but I’ve had the hardest time getting started. It’s not writer’s block, per se; I’ve written scores of other articles here since then, so I can’t use that as an excuse.

It’s become a bit of a punch line around the office, too; I was asked if I was delaying the article about knowing the sweet spot in decision making between procrastination and desperation as some sort of hipster meta joke.

Which would be funny, were it to be true, but it’s not. I just became wrapped up in thinking about where this article was headed and didn’t put words to paper. Until now.

Analysis by paralysis

“Thinking about something—thinking and thinking and thinking—without having an answer is when you get analysis by paralysis,” said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Matt Bowman, speaking to Fangraphs.

“That’s what happened… I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, or if I was doing anything wrong. I had no idea.” It happens to us all: the decisions we have to make in business loom so large over us, that we delay making them until it’s absolutely necessary.

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Worse still are the times that we delay them until after such a time as when making the decision no longer matters because the opportunity or market’s already moved on. So we try to find the avenues for ourselves that will give us the answers we seek, and try to use those answers in a timely fashion. Jim Kaat, the former All-Star pitcher said it well: “If you think long, you think wrong.”

Dumpster Diving in Data

In making a decision, we’re provided an opportunity to answer three basic questions: What? So what? And now what?

The data that you use to inform your decision-making process should ideally help you answer the first two of those three questions. But where do you get it from, and how much is enough?

Like many of us, I’m a collector when it comes to decision making. The more data I get to inform my decision, and the sufficient time that I invest to analyze that data, I feel helps me make a better decision.

And while that sounds prudent, and no one would suggest the other alternative of making a decision without data or analysis would be better, it can lead to the pitfall of knowing how much is enough. When looking for data sources to inform your decision-making, it’s not necessarily quantity, but an appropriate blend between quantity and quality that will be most useful.

You don’t get brownie points for wading through a ton of data of marginal quality or from the most arcane places you can find them when you’re trying to make an informed decision. The results of your ultimate decision will speak for themselves.

“Effective people,” said Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, “know when to stop assessing and make a tough call, even without total information.”

Great. How do I do that?

So, by what factors should you include (and more importantly, exclude) data in your decision-making?

Your specific business sector will tell you which data sources most of your competitors use already, as well as the ones that your industry disruptors use to try to gain the edge on you.

Ideally, your data sources should be timely and meaningful to you. Using overly historical data, unless you’re needing that level of support for a trend line prediction, often falls into “That’s neat, but…” land. Also, if you’re wading into data sets that you don’t understand, find ways to either improve (and thus speed) your analysis of them, or find better data sources.

While you should be aware of outliers in the data sets, don’t become so enamored of them and the stories that they may tell that you base your decision-making process around the outlier, rather than the most likely scenarios.

And don’t fall into this trap

Another trap with data analysis is the temptation to find meaning where it may not exist. Anyone who’s been through a statistics class is familiar with the axiom correlation doesn’t imply causation. But it’s oh so tempting, isn’t it? To find those patterns where no one saw them before?

There’s nothing wrong with doing your homework and finding real connections, but relying on two data points and then creating the story of their interconnectedness in the vacuum will lead you astray.

Such artificial causations are humorous to see; Tyler Vigen’s work highlights many of them.

My personal favorite is the “correlation” between the U.S. per capita consumption of cheese and people who died after becoming entangled in their bed sheets. Funny, but unrelated.

So, as you gather information, be certain that you can support your action or non-action with recent, accurate, and relevant data, and gather enough to be thorough, but not so enamored of the details that you start to drown in the collection phase.

Trust issues

For many of us, delegation is an opportunity for growth. General Robert E. Lee had many generals under his command during the American Civil War, but none was so beloved to him as Stonewall Jackson.

Upon Jackson’s death in 1863, Lee commented that Jackson had lost his left arm, but that he, Lee, had lost his right. Part of this affection for Jackson was the ability to trust that Jackson would faithfully carry out Lee’s orders. In preparing for the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson approached Lee with a plan for battle:

Lee, Jackson’s boss, opened the conversation: “What do you propose to do?”

Jackson, who was well prepared for the conversation based on his scout’s reports, replied. “I propose to go right around there,” tracing the line on the map between them.

“How many troops will you take?” Lee queried.

“My whole command,” said Jackson.

“What will you leave me here with?” asked Lee.

Jackson responded with the names of the divisions he was leaving behind. Lee paused for a moment, but just a moment, before replying, “Well, go ahead.”

And after three questions in the span of less than five minutes, over 30,000 men were moved towards battle.

The takeaway is that Lee trusted Jackson implicitly. It wasn’t a blind trust that Lee had; Jackson had earned it by his preparation and execution, time after time. Lee didn’t see Jackson as perfect, either. He knew the shortcomings that he had and worked to hone his talents towards making sure those shortcomings were minimized.

Making trust pay off for you

We all deserve to have people around us in the workplace that we can develop into such a trust. When making decisions, large or small, having colleagues that you can rely on to let you know the reality of the situation, provide a valuable alternative perspective, or ask questions that let you know the idea needs more deliberation are invaluable assets.

Finding and cultivating those relationships is a deliberate choice and one that needs considerable and constant investments in your human capital to keep.Click To Tweet

Chris Oberbeck at Entrepreneur identifies five keys to making that investment in trust pay off for you: make authentic connections with those in your employ and on your team, make promises to your staff sparingly, and keep every one of them that you make, set clear expectations about behaviors, communication, and output, be vulnerable enough to say “I don’t know” and professional enough to then find the right answers, and invest your trust in your employees first, so that they feel comfortable reciprocating.

Beyond developing a relationship of trust between those who work alongside you, let’s talk about trusting yourself.

For many, the paralysis of analysis comes not from their perceived lack of data, but their lack of confidence in themselves to make the right decision. “If I choose incorrectly,” they think, “it’s possible that I might ________.” Everyone’s blank is different.

For some, it’s a fear of criticism, either due or undue. For others, it’s a fear of failure and what that may mean. Even in the face of compelling research about the power of a growth mindset, in which mistakes and shortcomings can be seen as opportunities for improvement rather than labels of failure, it’s not uncommon for many of us to have those “tapes” in our head, set to autoplay upon a miscue, that remind us that we’ve failed and how that labels us.

“Risk” isn’t just a board game

An uncomfortable fact of life is that, in business, you can do everything right, and yet still fail. All of the research can come back, the trend lines of data suggest the appropriate course of action, your team can bless the decision, and you feel comfortable with it, so action is taken! And it doesn’t work at all. A perfect example of this is the abject failure of New Coke to be accepted by the consumer in 1985.

Not only was it a failure to revive lagging sales, but public outrage was so vehement that the company was forced to backtrack and recall the product from the market. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way they’re supposed to.

You have to be comfortable with your corporate and individual levels of risk when making a decision and taking action. How much risk and how much failure costs you, both in fiscal and emotional terms, is a uniquely personal decision, suited to your circumstances and your predilections. It’s also likely a varying level, too; some decisions are more critical to success and the perceptions of success than others, and will likely cause you more pause than the small decisions we make day-to-day.

In the end, success and failure hinge on the smallest of factors at times, and the temptation is to slow down the decision making process to ensure that nothing’s left to chance.

Go too slowly, however, and you’ve become the captain of a rudderless ship, left aimlessly to float, with decisions never coming, or coming far too late to meet the needs of the market, much less be innovative. Collect the information, work with your team to figure out what it means, and answer the third question of the series (the “what”) by taking action.

#TakeAction

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Opinion Editorials

Managing bipolar disorder and what I wish my employers understood

(EDITORIAL) This editorial offers a perspective on living with bipolar disorder in the workplace, giving employers insight into how to support similar team members.

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I met Jacob Martinez (Jake) a few years back at one of our offline events. He is an eager and ambitious person that always wears a smile (and seriously, it’s an infectious smile), always seeks to help people around him, and is kind and positive at every interaction.

In his most current effort to help others, Jake asked what I thought about his writing about his new bipolar disorder diagnosis, something that most people hide and pray no one discovers. But not Jake. As he dug deeper into the rabbit hole of available information, he realized there was little available discussing how this diagnosis impacts career paths, and almost nothing available to help employers to understand the nuances.

And let’s face it – there are plenty of people hiding their diagnosis, and employers that could be missing amazing talent simply for not understanding how to accommodate.

The following is about Jake’s journey with his diagnosis, how it has impacted his career, and his ideas on how hiring managers and business owners could interact with people living with bipolar disorder in a way that keeps their talents in full use on the job. This isn’t scientific and the suggestions aren’t based on some HR seminar, no, it’s meant to give you unique insight that most people don’t share – I want you to read this through Jake’s eyes. It’s a brave look into working with this challenge:


As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, I’ve struggled to find resources that would help individuals like myself jumpstart our careers and learn to navigate working full time with a mental health disorder. Most generalized stories about mental health disorders and the workplace focus more on how things didn’t work out and not on how they started or advanced their careers.

Many give examples of individuals with mental disorders in high-ranking positions who end up leaving their specialized field to work as part-time cashiers or other less stressful and less triggering roles in order to seek a better work environment for their mental health.

I’ve also found that there is a lack of resources for employers when it comes to helping employees with mental disorders. Not many employers are prepared to do so, nor have this skill in their wheelhouse. Without this knowledge, training, and experience, how could they understand the struggles of what it’s like to work with a mental disorder and be expected to provide the necessary support to help their staff?

Many factors contribute to this being overlooked or left unaddressed, such as the stigma behind people with mental disorders in a work environment, or simply because no one knows how to talk about it. When I apply for jobs, I always ask myself “Do I put in an application that I am someone with a condition that needs reasonable accommodations? Is that even an option?” How would I even begin to ask an employer to understand what I am going through? And while I’m still figuring this out and working through what my diagnosis means for my career, I’d like to share my experience and start talking about it.

Like many young individuals, I started college bright-eyed and with a hopeful outlook. I navigated internships, jobs, and full course loads but only to exit with a mountain of debt and depression that can be best described in a meme. Many, with no prospects out of university and an average GPA, end up working menial jobs to get by, hoping for their big break.

For me, this time was spent at Torchy’s Tacos, a local Austin Texas favorite. My luck finally came through when I found a new opportunity. I thought to myself, how hard could it be to deliver packages to people? Especially in a city like Austin where anyone could make a business out of cleaning cat litter boxes. This company, I thought, was going to be my lucky break – my jumping-off point. And it was for about a year. That is until my bipolar diagnosis came in.

Suddenly dealing with bipolar disorder…

I experienced sporadic shifts between depression and hypomania. With my diagnosis came a new understanding of what my limits and strengths were. I understood that stress only made it worse but that physically moving around was the best way to cope with it. Working in a warehouse-type environment allowed me to run around, helping to melt my stress away physically.

But when it came down to job performances, some weeks were better than others.

When I did well, management would make comments like, “I like this new you,” or “whatever is happening, don’t change it.” But nothing was said when I didn’t do so well. Comments continued to dismiss the real issue that I was heading towards an uphill climb of mania. And as I climbed higher and higher, more mistakes began to happen – small ones that added up beyond anything I could control. With each and every episode of mania or depression I had, the trust I had taken time to build and cultivate slowly began to fall apart.

Then came the drop – an episode of depression so deep that it’s hard to recover from. For myself, this began as a result of multiple episodes and when several “options” were laid out on the table by my employer.

First, my employer recommended that I take Family Medical Leave Assistance (FMLA). For someone like myself who never knew what FMLA was, I didn’t know where to start and what this meant. No one told me I would not be getting paid and that I would have to use my sick and personal time off to supplement my income. As someone who has built their identity around working, taking time off felt like an attack on my identity at the time.

Subsequently, I was also told I could be released for making any mistake (no matter how small or slight), attempting to change the work culture, or requesting anything unreasonable such as requesting time off for anything other than medical. My manager also called my episodic shifts a “stunt.”

Every time he said this, I lost faith in him, and he lost trust in me.

Some of the hardest words someone with a mental disorder can hear from a manager or mentor are, “When you pulled that stunt, I can’t trust you anymore” and “we will no longer be working together if you do that again.” His words cut deep and only made each episode worse—finally leading me to turn in my two-week notice.

During my time there, none of my managers ever asked if something was wrong when warning signs showed up. They just assumed that I had already checked out and given up. I felt like a cog that was replaceable and could easily be overturned. Trust was required to help me battle my mental demons, and in this case, that trust was broken on both ends. No one came out of this on top, coping skills were not utilized as they should have, and no one reached out like they said they would.

After reflecting on this experience, here’s what I’ve learned and wished my employer did:

Trust: Trust is earned, not given as the adage goes. But for an employee living with bipolar disorder, trust is given before it is earned. I made the choice to trust my employer (and my entire team) by opening up about my mental health and battles – I had to. And while not everyone may be prepared to open up about what they’re dealing with internally, it can help.

Doing this tells people that you’re asking for help and are making yourself ready to receive it. It signifies your willingness to allow others inside. This can be beneficial to you as it helps your team members become better at recognizing warning signs and understand when to check in to see if you need help. My recommendation here to anyone working with someone who has a mental disorder: Listen if we choose to open up, don’t be dismissive of our efforts, and trust us when we ask to carry more for the team.

 

Don’t assume: Someone opening up about a diagnosis can’t expect everyone at work to have a background in psychology or psychiatry and to understand when comments like “I like this new manic you” are harmful and dismissive.

Not everyone is going to be interested in researching and learning how best to help a team member who is dealing with a mental health disorder. So, don’t assume that they know.

What would have helped me and maybe changed my situation would have been to be more honest and direct about my specific needs upfront. For employers, try to also understand our needs and limits with stress. Ask your employees directly what they need from you in order to make them feel more comfortable. Another way of tackling this would be to ask your employee about some of the coping strategies they are learning in group therapy sessions. If you know your employee is going to group therapy, if you feel comfortable with it, check in with them and encourage them to keep up with those sessions. When assigning unique projects or extra tasks, it’s also helpful to explain what you are asking and offer employees the best ways to achieve it.

 

Ask for and give reasonable accommodations: In my case, I eventually learned that taking time off was not an ‘attack on my identity’ as I had previously felt. I learned to accept it as part of living with bipolar disorder and know when to ask for it. Pushing for myself was empowering and was the best thing that could happen in that given moment.

So, if you’re someone who struggles with bipolar or other depressive mental health disorders, the best thing you can do to help yourself, while building courage and confidence, is to speak up and be your own advocate. Ask for accommodations.

For employers with a team member struggling with a mental disorder, when it comes to giving that team member time to themselves, it should never be a fight or argument. Change the schedule, do what you can to make accommodations, and support someone who needs time away for treatment.

 

Give helpful feedback: In my experience, my previous employer either avoided giving me feedback completely or made dismissive comments like, “I don’t know what the hell happened…”, followed by something positive. Like many others who suffer from bipolar disorder, ineffective and unclear communication can easily lead us to spiral from misinterpreting details and having self-doubt.

I would have benefitted from receiving clear and specific feedback, whether that was immediately after a mistake or as a conversation during team lunch. This small amount of open dialogue could have allowed us as a team to resolve conflicts, improve teamwork, help me build my self-esteem, and improve my performance.

 

Show appreciation and have open dialogues: What is equally important for employers to do is to let us know that you are paying attention to and appreciate our efforts, regardless of how small or large of a task we complete. In a warehouse, things are extremely routine, but it doesn’t take a lot to thank someone for trying.

A few small words and gestures could have been really helpful in breaking me out of a depressive funk or a manic episode and can certainly help someone else in the future.

 

Practice mindfulness: At this moment, let’s check in with our emotions. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT Therapy), some of the questions they ask are about checking in with your emotions and your thoughts. Are you in control of your thoughts or are they in control of you? Are we still in touch with our emotions? Perhaps we are cross at ourselves for playing the victim to our mind’s frustrations?

When it comes to mental disorders, employers need to be more understanding of what their employees are going through. However, we as individuals should also be able to look inwards and see what we are feeling. Core mindfulness is a skill to develop no matter what position you work in or what you’re dealing with. Mindfulness teaches awareness of thoughts and feelings, the focus on the here and now.

From my experience, learning to control my thoughts and emotions is an effective way of dealing with my bipolar disorder. While it took time to discover, I learned that my mindfulness practice was running around the warehouse and moving. This allowed thoughts to flow in and out of my mind without having to give them any power over me. Knowing this made me feel stronger and clearer. Finding a mindfulness practice to help you cope takes time and experimenting – so try different things and figure out what works for you.

 

Ask for help: If you’re struggling with a mental disorder at work, there is nothing wrong with asking for help. That help may look differently for everyone, be it talk therapy, telling a co-worker, or taking time off. Either way, sometimes the best way to help yourself is to start asking for help. If you’re someone who has a co-worker struggling with a mental disorder, pay attention and reach out to them if they need help.

While I’m still learning to navigate my bipolar disorder, this experience has taught me (and hopefully others) some helpful lessons. I have learned to manage it better and am continuing to advance in my career path.

My hope is that companies make a more concerted effort to improve their training on mental health disorders in the workplace. I also hope that by sharing my story, I can help others with bipolar disorder to excel at work.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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better equipment, better work

What is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes.

In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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