Pandemic fatigue is real. My family and I have been lucky in that none of us has gotten sick so far, but I still had a moment of grim contemplation when we started planning for our daughter’s eighth birthday for March – the second consecutive birthday she will spend in lockdown.
My colleagues and I have heard similar stories from our co-op and condo clients. Recent weeks have been particularly hard, probably a combination of the cold, dark days, the cross-currents of anxiety about the new virus variants and the stuttering rollout of the vaccines – plus the sheer mounting toll of time and loss.
The symptoms are showing. We’re getting more and more reports of residents resisting mask-wearing mandates and asking for pandemic protocols to be watered down. However, with all sympathy to frustrated residents suffering from acute cases of pandemic fatigue, now is not the time for co-op and condo boards to relax efforts to combat the virus. On the contrary, boards should consider tightening rules for what we can reasonably hope to be the final surge of the virus this spring.
One request we have heard repeatedly is for gym spaces to be re-opened, but we have cautioned boards about doing so. First, the science is clear that the virus transmits most efficiently in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, which describes most gym spaces very well. Second, in order for gyms to operate in compliance with the law, there are significant expenses required to get them cleared for reopening, and then to continuously monitor and clean them after they are opened. Safety aside, the end result is likely to be that the building incurs significant expenses for something that relatively few people will use.
Time to pick and choose. Boards also should not be relaxing any rules in place on visits or deliveries, because every close contact that can be avoided will reduce transmissions of the virus. On the other hand, for those buildings that have closed their terraces and roof decks of significant size, they might consider re-opening them. The same science that says that indoor spaces are risky says that outdoor spaces are relatively safe, at least with masking and social distancing. And access to outdoor space is likely to help alleviate pandemic fatigue.
Speaking of masks, boards should make sure that management is strictly enforcing existing mask mandates. Even those rules might not be enough with the new, more transmittable virus variants circulating. In fact, people are increasingly trading in cotton masks for medical-grade masks, or even “double masking.” Although boards might not want to issue such a requirement to their residents, they might at least consider upgrading the quality of masks supplied to staff.
Boards should also encourage vaccinations. Obviously, boards cannot force their residents to get vaccinated or make vaccination appointments for them, and even requiring staff to get vaccinated is potentially problematic. But anything that will help achieve mass vaccination is worth doing. This could include things as simple as posting information about vaccination sites, or providing paid time off for vaccination appointments and incentive pay to staff members who get vaccinated.
For co-op and condo boards and residents suffering from pandemic fatigue, I encourage you to hold the line a little longer. If the authorities can work out the logistical problems with the vaccines and convince enough people to get them when available – and if boards can help facilitate the process – we may be able to finally get out of this pandemic before too much longer. Continued vigilance is a must. Relaxing now is not an option. It’s true what they say: no rest for the weary.
William D. McCracken is a partner at the law firm Ganfer Shore Leeds & Zauderer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fifty-six percent of employed adults said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if available to them, according to the Feb. 3 results of a Morning Consult survey of 16,970 employed U.S. adults, conducted between Oct. 29, 2020, and Jan. 29, 2021. That figure rose to 61% during the survey’s final week.
Workers in higher education were the most likely to report they’d sign up for a poke in the arm, with 77% saying they would be willing. Willingness reached a low among food and beverage workers, at 47%.
The firm’s most recent weekly report found lower willingness rates among women, people without higher education and respondents from rural areas. Black and Hispanic respondents were less likely to say they’d get a vaccine as well.
Vaccine incentives may boost workers’ willingness to get vaccinated, but employers say they need need clarity over how incentives such as cash awards may interact with anti-discrimination laws.
Morning Consult’s findings closely mirror a January poll from analytics firm Perceptyx, which found that 53% of 1,000 U.S. workers would “likely” consent to a vaccination if one became available.
The Perceptyx poll indicated employer incentives may encourage more workers to receive a vaccine. Fifty-six percent said they would get vaccinated if they were encouraged by their employers. And 60% said they would line up for a shot if their employers offered a $100 award.
Several household names have announced plans to tie bonuses to vaccines. Kroger, for instance, announced it will give a $100 one-time payment to workers who get the vaccine.
It’s questionable whether such incentives will play nice with anti-discrimination laws. The Society for Human Resource Management and 41 other business groups asked the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to clarify “the extent to which employers may offer employees incentives to vaccinate” without infringing upon the boundaries established by the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws in a Feb. 1 letter.
Some employers have opted to incentivize vaccinations by offering workers paid time off to receive the vaccine and deal with any side effects. McDonald’s, for example, said it will give workers at company-owned restaurants four hours of PTO, and Chobani announced it will cover up to six hours of time for employees to receive the vaccine.
Incentives involving PTO are less of a concern for employers; in fact, some state and local laws may require employers to provide PTO for workers to recover from the side effects, according to management-side attorneys.
New research suggests that productivity for some remote workers has risen since 2019—and identifies what part of the week is the most productive.
By Stephanie Vozza for FAST COMPANY
Could the office be detrimental to our productivity? Since many companies shifted to remote working arrangements, workday hours have shrunk, however employee productivity remained steady and even increased, according to data collected by Prodoscore, provider of employee visibility and productivity intelligence software. Looks like we’re accomplishing more in less time.
The study found that calendar time had dropped nearly 23% compared to the year prior, registering an average of 116 minutes of productive time per day. However, productivity levels from May to August 2020 were up 5% compared to the same timeframe in 2019.
Prodoscore also pinpointed when its users are getting more done, with the window of greatest productivity from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday is the most productive day of the week, followed by Wednesday and Thursday. And it’s no surprise that productivity is the lowest on Friday.
The data challenges the assumption many managers had pre-pandemic that employees would be less productive when working from home than they are in an office, says Tom Moran, Prodoscore’s chief strategy officer. “Leaders adapted quickly, offering flexibility for their workforce,” he says. “With fewer in-person meetings eating up their day, employees have more opportunities to be productive. The cut down on interruptions allowed more time for executing. Employees could get more done in a shorter period of time.”
BUT THERE’S BAD NEWS
Flexibility does have a downside. Working hours may have declined, but the Monday-through-Friday workweek became a thing of the past as more employees put in time over the weekends. The study found that employees worked 42% more on Saturdays and 24% more on Sundays in 2020 than they did on those days in 2019.
The always-on mentality can lead to burnout, and managers should be aware. “People torching out is a reality,” says Moran. “Companies need to keep the humanity piece top of mind. It could come back to taking a digital detox, empowering employees to walk away when they need to reset their digital health. Organizations need to make sure their employees feel comfortable disconnecting.”
For example, Moran suggests combating Zoom fatigue by having occasional “walkie-talkie” sessions instead of video conferences, connecting with team members during a walk outdoors.
“Look for ways to stay real and stay present as a human,” he says. “What’s challenging with video is that it can become robotic. It can feel that our personal life and our work life are not separate, but they were never really separate. When something bad happens at home, it often carries over into work, and a bad experience at the office carries into your personal life.”
KEEP THE PRODUCTIVITY MOMENTUM GOING
Once companies start returning to the workplace, leaders can take the lessons they learned during the pandemic and use them to develop a high-performance culture for their unique workforce. “Culture isn’t esoteric,” says Moran. “It’s not a physical space. It’s how employees engage and come together in a real way for common objective”
Having the workforce together can provide a false sense of collaboration benefits, says Moran. “Some people operate more efficiently at home while others may do better on-site or at a Starbucks,” he says. “Understanding where people are most productive can empower employees to do what’s best for them by in the environment of their choice.”
It’s important to remember that people join company to be part of something bigger than themself. “Leaders who have this awareness can have a new way look at their workforce,” says Moran. “If technology is leveraged in the right way, it helps organizations overall with continuance of culture.”
By Bill Morris in Green Ideas/New York State for HABITAT magazine
Electrification – it’s a word that should be in the vocabulary of every co-op and condo board member. It describes the coming shift away from fossil fuels to the electrical powering of just about everything, from building heating and cooling systems to public transit networks to private motor vehicles. In order to combat climate change, that electricity will have to come from green – that is, renewable – sources, including solar, wind, geothermal and possibly even nuclear power plants.
In a major pivot toward electrification, General Motors recently pledged to stop making gasoline-powered passenger cars, vans and sport utility vehicles by 2035. With nearly 20 million electric vehicles (EV) expected to be on the nation’s roads in the next decade, New York State has just released major new incentives that will cover up to 100% of costs for EV charging stations at both privately and publicly accessed facilities, including garages and outdoor parking areas in co-ops and condos.
“This is a big deal,” says Michael Scorrano, the managing director at En-Power Group, an engineering and energy infrastructure company. “The state is trying to take the angst away from people who are hesitant to buy an electric vehicle.”
En-Power Group is a state-approved contractor that can secure the incentives and oversee the installation of all infrastructure, software and hardware at an EV charging station. The incentives come from two sources: Con Edison’s EV Make-Ready Program, which covers infrastructure costs, including wiring; and the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority’s Charge Ready NY Program, which pays for the charging ports.
“The problem for multifamily buildings that have EV charging stations is that they need to be able to recoup the cost of the service,” Scorrano says. “The software measures the amount of electricity used to charge each vehicle. We can handle all aspects of the process – scoping out the property’s infrastructure, filing applications, hiring licensed electricians and overseeing installation of the charging ports along with the software that will recover the cost of charging every vehicle.”
The incentives in the new state program cover from 50% to 100% of the infrastructure and installation costs. The level of incentives depends on such factors as whether the charging facility will be public or private, if it contains generic or proprietary chargers (such as those required for Tesla vehicles), and if the facility is located within one mile of a “disadvantaged” neighborhood. According to Con Edison maps, virtually all of New York City meets this last criterion.
As Scorrano points out, the incentives are designed to encourage more drivers to buy electric cars. The state wants 850,000 “zero-emission vehicles” on the road by the end of 2025; there were about 17,000 in 2019, according to The Albany Business Review. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also wants EV charging stations at every rest area on the New York State Thruway by the end of 2024.
HR technology vendors have unveiled new vaccine management solutions designed to help HR leaders track the immunization status of their workers, monitor vaccine supplies and assess the shifting COVID-19 risk status across their organizations. Workday, ServiceNow and Salesforce are among vendors that have released tools that combine vaccination information with HR data to help leaders improve workforce planning during the pandemic.
Creating Online ‘Command Centers’
Workday’s solution allows HR leaders to evaluate vaccine availability and worker vaccination status along with enabling employees to confidentially self-report vaccination information, said Barbry McGann, executive director, Office of CHRO Solution Marketing. The technology features vaccine management dashboards and compliance reports to track vaccine supply and distribution and can monitor the health and safety of workers by job profile, vaccine prioritization groupings, location and more, McGann said.
Companies using Workday’s analytics software can pull in immunization data from third-party systems, like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization, that can be combined with real-time HR data and immunization information for more-informed insights.
“HR leaders can use the solution for scenario planning, to prioritize immunizations, and to reopen and bring eligible and immunized workers back to the workplace,” McGann said. Such planning helps model factors like office space demands, personal protective equipment needs and workforce availability.
ServiceNow, which provides cloud-based platforms that automate HR processes, also has released a new solution designed to help organizations streamline their COVID-19 vaccination campaigns. The solution promises to address the challenges of vaccination at large volumes, which includes distribution, administration and monitoring of the vaccine.
The application creates a “command center” of sorts on ServiceNow’s existing platform that deploys self-service tools to enable vaccine recipients to gather information, schedule appointments, and receive pre-visit information and appointment notifications from vaccine providers.
The technology also can send appointment reminders to employees, notify organizations when more COVID-19 vaccines are available and communicate when new segments of the population are being prioritized for vaccination.
“Distributing, administering and monitoring vaccinations is the greatest workflow challenge of our time,” said Bill McDermott, president and CEO of ServiceNow.
Salesforce, a customer relationship management platform, also announced a new vaccine management solution to help organizations more efficiently and safely manage vaccine programs at larger volumes. Called Vaccine Cloud, the technology allows government agencies to monitor their vaccination progress with improved data and insights, including securing enough doses and monitoring patient outcomes; helps healthcare organizations streamline vaccination processes such as inventory management, staff training and education; and enables businesses to use a simplified registration and appointment scheduling process, personalized communication and reminders about second shots for employees. The solution also will let people choose whether to share their vaccination or health status, which can help bring employees back to offices.
Data Privacy and Security Issues
Experts say using these technologies to collect, store and analyze employee vaccination data comes with legal risks and requires appropriate care in handling.
“Whatever tool is used, employers should be careful to ensure that in receiving the vaccine data, they are not also receiving other medical information from or about employees,” said Adam Sencenbaugh, a partner with law firm Haynes and Boone in Austin, Texas.
Sencenbaugh said in collecting vaccine-related data, employers should ensure that whatever technology or process they use isn’t making any disability-related inquiry covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stated that simply asking for proof of receipt of a vaccine is not such an inquiry, but further questions, such as asking why an employee did not or perhaps could not receive a vaccine, might be,” he said.
Elisa Lintemuth, an employment attorney with Dykema Gossett in Grand Rapids, Mich., said organizations using vendors to manage and track vaccine information should be mindful of state data privacy laws. “We recommend that employers securely store immunization records in confidential medical files separate from personnel records,” she said.
Dan Clarke, president of IntraEdge, a privacy compliance platform in Chandler, Ariz., said it’s important that organizations keen on collecting and monitoring employee vaccination data not overlook such data privacy and security issues.
“Vaccine data should be treated as sensitive medical information, and companies need to remember they have to comply with specialized COVID-19 laws in addition to existing data privacy and security regulations,” Clarke said. “Tracking and storing vaccination records is more complex than simply asking employees whether they’ve been vaccinated or not.”
Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor based in Minneapolis.
As CAMICB Board of Commissioners Chair, Drew Mulhare, CMCA, AMS, LSM, PCAM, said in a letter to CMCA credential holders in May, “ The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has impacted our businesses, our communities, our educational institutions, our families – every aspect of our lives – each of us has been faced with the challenge of defining new ways to work, interact with our colleagues, protect and serve our client communities, and keep our families safe and connected. I believe we are all realizing that our futures will, in many ways, be shaped by meeting the challenges of the present. And the stories of perseverance, courage, commitment, and compassion that are emerging all around us are powerful and heartening.”
More than eight months later, those words continue to ring true.
Also during this time, hundreds of CMCA exam candidates felt the weight of the pandemic through a different lens that meant preparing, studying, and taking the CMCA examination under extraordinary circumstances.
CAMICB caught up with a few CMCAs who recently took and passed the CMCA exam during the COVID-19 pandemic. They generously shared their experiences during this time: how they prepared for the exam in the pandemic environment, the experience of actually sitting for the exam amid pandemic restrictions, and the advice or tips they would offer current candidates who are studying and preparing to take the exam.
While many missed the opportunity to study at libraries or with colleagues at coffee shops, each of the new CMCAs we spoke with navigated a new normal to earn their CMCA credential.
Cathy Baldwin, CMCA, Owner of Baldwin Management Resources on the resources she found most useful in preparing for the exam:
“For starters, the M100 text book was a great resource. However, I wanted more detail on Risk Management & Governance, so I took an M200 level class to supplement my knowledge. In addition, the CMCA practice exam was an excellent way to determine my areas of weakness. Finally, the CMCA exam Quizlet was also a useful resource.”
Cathy also recommends, “scheduling to sit for the exam well in advance, as changing conditions during the pandemic may cause a delay. Then, I suggest allowing one hour a day, five days a week, for several months to get ready. When testing, be sure to take your time and read and re-read the test questions.”
Bruce Hill, CMCA, Community Manager for Elite Management Professionals, AAMC made the most of the extra unplanned study time:
“I was prepared to take the exam and felt I was ready in early March. As things went into lockdown around the country, I searched for a testing site near me and they were all closed for the foreseeable future. At that time, I was only 5 months into my job, though I come from years in Real Estate and Property Management. It turns out the additional months waiting for test centers to reopen enabled me to study more, and allowed my portfolio to grow. I was able to dig deeper into the different types of communities – so the extra study time was beneficial to me – both academically and applying the concepts in real life scenarios.”
“The CMCA Practice Exams were a huge help in switching from the test questions in the preparation/study guide to what the actual test questions would look like. I’d recommend the practice exams to anyone who is preparing to take the exam. I spent $40 for the pair of tests, and took one in March, then I saved the next for the week before my exam so it was fresh in my mind. It worked out very well!”
Wade O’Hara, CMCA, Association Manager, Classic Property Management AAMC echoes Bruce’s sentiment on the practice exams:
“The practice exams were very informative.They familiarize you with the wording and language as the exam uses similar phrasing. You have a year after registering to take the exam, so make sure you’re ready – there is no need to rush in unprepared.”
Marla Elkon, CMCA, Community Manager, Clagett Management WV VA, LLC found herself as busy as ever during this time:
“I’ve been just as busy during the pandemic between taking on new house projects and balancing the needs of my kids. I really had to make time for myself. I would carve out very specific blocks of study time and my husband and kids were terrific and supportive. For me, the key was using multiple resources to prepare including the M100 textbook, the CMCA study guide, the CMCA Exam Prep E-Learning course modules, and the CMCA practice exam – twice online and once written! I also reviewed the Community Association Management Best Practice Reports and the CMCA Exam Quizlet was excellent – it was a different way to keep the material current and fresh in my mind. The variety of resources each had different approaches and angles, which was helpful.”
CAMICB has recently added a brand new resource for exam candidates – the CMCA Exam Preparation E-Learning course. The course is a free on-demand resource designed to strengthen test strategies and prepare candidates for the CMCA exam. It offers constructive test taking tips, examines the composition of exam questions, offers study tips, and provides an interactive self-assessment tool to help candidates develop a study plan specific to their needs. To learn more and get started – go to: https://www.camicb.org/Pages/CMCA-Online-Learning.aspx
As Cathy, Bruce, Wade and Marla have demonstrated – along with hundreds of other exam candidates who recently earned their CMCA credential – there are a variety of tools and resources available to help candidates properly and successfully prepare for the CMCA exam even in the midst of a global pandemic. This latest cadre of CMCAs have passed a rigorous exam, demonstrating they have a proven and solid understanding of the many diverse business operations involved in being a community association manager. Despite an extremely challenging environment, they’ve earned this internationally-recognized credential that serves as the cornerstone of their career as a professional community association manager.
CAMICB is tremendously proud to celebrate a quarter century of commitment to professionalism in the field of community association management! Take a moment to check out a preview of a short video highlighting the CMCA credential — the Essential Credential for community association managers. Please share the preview with your colleagues. The release of the full video later this year will be a highlight of our 25th Anniversary celebration. CAMICB is gearing up for a year of activities marking a remarkable milestone. Watch the CAMICB website and our social media for updates!
Free Online Resource Helps Candidates Successfully Prepare For The CMCA Exam
By Madeline Hay, CAMICB’s Manager of Exam Administration
Underscoring a quarter century of commitment to professionalism and excellence in community association management, CAMICB is excited to continue to celebrate the organization’s 25th Anniversary with the launch of a free, interactive online CMCA Exam Preparation e-Learning course.
The three-hour course, featuring a series of eight modules, is divided into two components. The first component features four learning modules focused on creating an examination review and preparation plan. The second component includes three scenario-based learning modules that are designed to put several of the knowledge areas tested on the CMCA examination in context using real-life scenarios. The three modules address knowledge areas that are challenging for many CMCA candidates: Risk Management & Insurance; Financial Controls; and Governance, Legal & Ethical Conduct. A final module is intended to offer some perspective on the exam preparation process and next steps.
Said Chair of the CAMICB Board of Commissioners Drew Mulhare, CMCA, AMS, LSM, PCAM, “CAMICB is always working to identify new tools to help CMCA candidates succeed on the exam. We’re excited to launch the CMCA Exam Prep e-Learning course – a free resource intended to put candidates on the path to the CMCA credential.”
The Course Modules
The exam preparation modules offer constructive test taking tips, discuss the composition of examination questions, give preparation advice, and provide an interactive self-assessment tool to help a candidate develop a study plan specific to that candidate’s needs and goals. The content-based modules ask the candidate to solve problems and answer questions using downloadable sample documents.
Each module takes approximately 10-25 minutes to complete. The course is designed to accommodate busy schedules and to allow candidates to work at their own pace, so they may stop and resume the modules as their schedule permits. Below is a brief description of the different modules and what candidates can expect.
Module 1: An Introduction
Learn what it takes to pass the CMCA exam. Get advice from working CMCAs about what worked for them as they were preparing for the test – and what didn’t. Find out some common misconceptions about the CMCA exam and uncover the key for understanding how to approach the exam questions.
Module 2: Devising a Study Plan, Part 1 – Prioritizing Topics
Discover how to establish and follow a solid study routine that’s tailored to your experience level. Get an in-depth look at the topic areas covered on the test and participate in a self-assessment exercise to determine which topics should be prioritized in your study plan.
Module 3: Devising a Study Plan, Part 2 – Strategies and Tips
Find out how to put your study plan into action. Learn practical tips and tricks to make the most of your prep time and take a closer look at some of the study resources available to you.
A recent course participant shared, “The study resources provided in the CMCA exam prep course are excellent. It gave me a much better understanding of what material to really focus on.”
Module 4: Test-Taking Strategies
Learn how to maximize your potential on exam day. Find out how taking practice tests can improve your performance on the exam, get some guidance on strategies to overcome test anxiety, and see what to expect when you go to the testing center.
Modules 5 and 6 use real-life scenarios that help you learn from detailed feedback. They also make use of downloadable sample files including Lakeside Terrace’s insurance declaration and financial documents to inform your decisions.
Said one course participant, “For me, the CMCA exam prep course was so much more effective than simply reading different texts.”
Another real-life scenario allows you to visit Willow Grove Estates, where you have been hired as the association’s first community manager.
Module 8: Looking Back and Looking Forward
An opportunity to recall what you’ve learned and consider what you want to keep working on.
At CAMICB, we’re committed to offering a combination of study tools to enhance candidate performance. Therefore, we encourage exam candidates to develop a personal study plan incorporating a wide range of resources and reference materials. CMCA preparatory materials are all available online – most at no cost – to managers employed anywhere in the world. We’re thrilled to add our newest offering, the CMCA Exam Prep E-Learning Course, to our portfolio of resources.
Earning and maintaining this internationally-recognized credential propels a manager’s career forward, allowing for more advanced career opportunities and salaries that, on average, are 20 percent higher than non-credentialed managers. To get started and to learn more about the CMCA Exam Prep E-Learning course, visit www.camicb.org.
Stop Keeping Score She who dies with the most checked boxes wins, right? Wrong.
By Arthur Brooks For The Atlantic
I am an inveterate scorekeeper. I can go back decades and find lists of goals I set for myself to gauge “success” by certain milestone birthdays. For example, in my 20s, I had a to-do list for the decade, the items on which more or less told the story of a penniless musician who had made some dubious choices. It included quitting smoking, going to the dentist, mastering my pentatonic scales, and finishing college. (I hit them all, although the last one mere days before my 30th birthday.)
There is nothing unusual about this tendency to keep score. Google “30 things to do before you turn 30” and you will get more than 15,000 results. Researchers writing in the journal Psychological Science a few years ago observed that people are naturally motivated toward performance goals related to round numbers, and birthdays in particular can often act as landmarks to motivate self-improvement. We naturally seek outside sources of quantitative evidence of our progress and effectiveness—and, thus, our happiness.
Building a “30 by 30” list, however, is a misbegotten approach to happiness. Not that anyone in our material- and achievement-oriented society could be faulted for thinking this way, of course. Every cultural message we get is that happiness can be read off a scorecard of money, education, experiences, relationships, and prestige. Want the happiest life? Check the boxes of success and adventure, and do it as early as possible! Then move on to the next set of boxes. She who dies with the most checked boxes wins, right?
Wrong. I don’t mean that accomplishment and ambition are bad, but that they are simply not the drivers of our happiness. By the time many people figure this out on their own, they have spent a lifetime checking things off lists, yet are unhappy and don’t know why.
The economist Joseph Schumpeter once wrote that entrepreneurs love to earn fortunes “as an index of success and as a symptom of victory.” That is, every million or billion is another box checked to provide an entrepreneur with a feeling of self-worth and success. Given our finances, most of us don’t have this exact problem. However, we do the same thing all the time in our own way, whether it’s taking a certain job for what it says about us to others, or selecting friends for the social prestige they’ll bring us.
We have every evolutionary reason to want to keep score in life—passing on genes is a competitive business, after all. But there is no evidence that Mother Nature gives two hoots whether we are happy or not. And, in fact, this kind of scorekeeping is a happiness error for two reasons: It makes us dependent on external rewards, and it sets us up for dissatisfaction.
You can be motivated to do something intrinsically (it gives you satisfaction and enjoyment) or extrinsically (you are given a reward, such as money or recognition). Most people know that intrinsic rewards are the sweeter of the two. That’s basically what graduation speakers mean when they employ hoary nostrums such as “Find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”
But there’s a twist: Psychologists have found that extrinsic rewards can actually extinguish intrinsic rewards, leading us to enjoy our activities less. In a classic 1973 study, researchers at Stanford and the University of Michigan showed this in an experiment with preschoolers. The researchers allowed a group of kids to choose their preferred play activities—for example, drawing with markers—which they happily did. The kids were later rewarded for that activity with a certificate featuring a gold seal and a ribbon. The researchers found that after they had been given the certificate, the children became only about half as likely to want to draw when they weren’t offered one. Over the following decades, many studies have shown the same pattern for a wide variety of activities, across many demographic groups.
Relying on external rewards lowers satisfaction. You will like your job less if your primary motivation is prestige or money. You will appreciate your relationships less if you choose your friends and partners based on their social standing. You will relish your vacation less if you choose the destination for how it will look on social media.
The scorecard approach to life also feeds right into a known human tendency that drives us away from happiness: People often have trouble finding lasting satisfaction from worldly rewards, because as soon as we acquire something, our desire resets and we are looking to the next reward. Check one box, and another one immediately appears. And, of course, it’s always a bigger box. No one envisions life’s boxes in terms of downward mobility: “By 40, I aim to make less money and no longer own my home!” It’s always aspirational: We will have more, perform better, get richer.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with aspiration. But if your happiness depends on an escalating list of worldly accomplishments, you might soon find that your fear of failure supplants your ambition.
To increase our happiness, we need better questions than “What accomplishments should be on my scorecard?” Let me suggest a few that will lead to answers that can deliver authentic well-being.
1. WHO HAS INTRINSIC CHARACTERISTICS THAT I ADMIRE AND WANT TO EMULATE?
Money, possessions, and power are all characteristics extrinsic to a person. Therefore, emulating them in others will lead you to extrinsic motivations for your own activities, which, as we have seen, will likely lower happiness. Instead, look for admirable intrinsic characteristics in others—virtues such as compassion, faith, fortitude, and honesty. Imitating these characteristics cultivates intrinsic motivations. Thus, they are the best criteria for finding the right role models and mentors to imitate and learn from.
2. WHAT DO PEOPLE MOST NEED FROM ME, AND HOW CAN I PROVIDE IT?
The box-checking exercise tends to be about my wants. Shifting it to others’ needs brings greater well-being. This is straightforward: Decades of research—and millennia of common sense—have shown that self-centeredness leads to fluctuating emotions at best, while a focus on the needs of others can bring stable happiness. And lest you think this makes a person passive or unambitious, note that there is a significant body of evidence showing that a focus on the good of one’s institution (as opposed to oneself) enhances career success as well.
3. WHAT IS MY LIFE’S PURPOSE?
Heavy question, I know. But we all know that sooner or later, it has to be addressed, and the box-checking approach to success manifestly does not do that. It is little more than an exercise in answering the “what” questions of life: what you do for work, what you own, what people think of you. As my friend the management expert Simon Sinek likes to point out, understanding our purpose comes from answers to life’s “why” questions. These answers deliver both success and happiness, but they require serious thought and reflection.
Scorecards of self-focused, worldly rewards are easy to create by looking at any “30 by 30” bucket list. But they won’t lead any of us to happiness. For that, we need better metaphors for growth and progress than a list. I would suggest a light.
Instead of checking items off a list, the Buddha suggests shining a light on yourself and others. “Dwell as a lamp unto yourself,” he advised his disciple Ananda. He meant that happiness comes from the illumination of your greatest virtues, thus showing the way for other people, and making visible to yourself your true purpose. This ancient wisdom is a near-perfect summary of what the research says will bring us true well-being as we make our way through life.
ARTHUR C. BROOKS is a contributing writer at The Atlantic, a professor of the practice of public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, a professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School, and host of the podcast The Art of Happiness With Arthur Brooks.
Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin For The Herald Tribune
Q: Can a homeowners association have too much cash in reserves? If they do, what are the consequences?
A: Your question is interesting, because we haven’t encountered too many homeowners associations with reserves that are too high. We usually hear about HOAs that have no reserves or too little in the way of cash on hand. When something goes wrong or whenever there is a need for additional funds that are outside of the annual budget, these associations are quick to levy special assessments on their owners.
When an association’s cash reserves are high, the association has sufficient funds for repairs to the roof, tuckpointing, replacement of mechanicals and other items. Larger associations will engage the services of a company (or sometimes will hire several different types of companies with a variety of expertise) that specialize in determining what expenses will need to be made to keep up the property. Based on those anticipated expenses, the association can decide what sort of assessments will be needed to keep up with anticipated expenditures for the next five, 10 or even 20 years.
When an association has ample reserves, homeowners can relax with the knowledge that the property is well-managed and don’t have to worry about paying a costly special assessment for repairs or replacements of building components. We know of a 40-year old building in Chicago that levied a $50,000 special assessment on unit owners to re-pipe the property. No one wants to get a surprise like that slipped under their door.
You ask whether an association can have too much cash in reserves. So, what’s “too much”?
Associations that have high reserves tend to have lower monthly assessments. But Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the buyers of mortgages in the secondary market, usually require associations to contribute around 15% of the annual budget toward reserves. We’re going to guess that if you think your homeowners association has too much in the way of cash reserves, you’re wondering whether assessment can or should be cut.
Well, if the board was certain that additional contributions to the reserves are unnecessary, because any known expenses are fully covered and anything unknown wouldn’t be big enough to drain a significant portion of the reserves, There a number of ways a board can deal with the monthly assessment charge and the yearly contribution to assessments. At the highest level, the board has the power to waive the payment of a monthly assessment or to lower assessments in the future.
But in general, we don’t see a harm (or negative consequences) to an association that has high cash reserves unless the association is poorly run and the board goes on a spending spree to spend the reserves without a real plan or for the sake of just spending money.
The real question you should ask is: How much is too much? It depends on the property. Low maintenance properties may find that having a cash reserves that cover a year or two of expenses is plenty, whereas an older property with higher annual maintenance costs that is also facing a major expense (like a re-piping or new elevator system) might require a special assessment no matter how much is set aside in cash. Finally, with interest rates at historic lows, we know that some buildings will prefer to borrow the cash to make the repair, raising assessments slightly over a period of years rather than hitting residents up with a large single payment.
As a next step, you might want to talk with the president of your homeowners association about your concerns and ask for a copy of the last two years’ worth of board minutes. These will give you an idea of what sort of repairs or replacements are recommended and an understanding of what they are expected to cost. If after looking at the information you are still concerned about how much cash your building has in reserve, you can talk to the board and your fellow owners about lowering assessments.