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The Heart of Cleaning: Recognizing the People Who Make It All Happen

If you’re reading this blog, you already know that it takes a special kind of person to work as a custodian or janitor. The work is hard and often thankless. Wages can be low and people often talk down to you like you’re not important. When you see a full coffee cup in the trash can, you can’t help but think of the little consideration people have for others that their actions might impact. It might be your second or third job, but cleaning is something you probably do in the evening, when everyone else in your family is at home sleeping. When your shift is over, there’s a good chance your shoulders or back ache—but you come back the next day and do it all over again. 

As if the work of a custodian isn’t tough enough, we often see negative portrayals of cleaning workers in the media.

A custodian is blamed for stealing or abuse. A housekeeper in a hotel uses the same cloth to wipe down the toilet and sink. These stories play into the negative stereotype of the profession and, as we see it, just aren’t fair—99 percent of custodial workers aren’t thieves or villains. That’s why it’s important to celebrate the positive stories that truly reflect the heart of most people who work so hard cleaning the buildings where we stay, work, learn, heal and visit.

Cleaning Workers with Big Hearts

The first story comes from Northern Kentucky, where a janitor who earned $3.70/hour or about $7,000 year in 1976—a little ore than midway through his career. Alvin Randlett never graduated from high school, but spent 32 years working for a local elementary school before retiring in 2001. Known for his hard work and dedication to the school, his close friend shared that people all around town knew him and would yell out to him in passing, often giving him a hug. Never touching a dime of his pension, Randlett willed his life savings of $175,000 to child abuse victims through the Kentucky Child Victims’ Trust Fund. 

Across the river in Cincinnati, an elementary school janitor was recently named the 2018 Cintas Janitor of the Year. Beloved by students, parents and staff at a public elementary school, “Mr. Bob” received more than 182,100 votes to earn the title. In the week prior to the announcement, Mr. Bob worked with students to build bird houses for their mothers for Mother’s Day. In thanking those who helped him win, Mr. Bob said, “Make no mistake, the $5000 is incredibly awesome and will go to great use; however, the real prize is the way I was made to feel. That is priceless.”

Our neighbors to the north in Novia Scotia shared a story last week about a much-loved janitor who worked at a nursing home for 40 years. Johnny MacLeod lives with Down syndrome, but that had no impact on his performance or attendance. In fact, co-workers told the media that he never complains. 

“No matter what you would ask of him, he would never say to you, ‘That’s not my job,’” says support services manager Carolyn Zwicker. “He just takes it and just goes with it. He’s just amazing. We can’t imagine life without our little Johnny.”

Then there’s the story of Scott LaFayette, Sandia National Laboratories’ (SNL) 2017 Custodian of the Year and a 2017 Outstanding Cleaning Worker. Scott LaFayette retired from the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) after serving 22 with the department and joined the Sandia custodial team. Presently, Scott is assigned custodial duties within critical and high-visible buildings at SNL. He ensures that these buildings are always clean by adding a touch of excellent customer service in his work. Scott is ardently aware of the expected Engineering Safety culture pursuit within SNL.

He began his career at APD as a Patrolman, advancing up the ranks to Field Training Officer, Sergeant (four years), and retiring as a Lieutenant (seven years). Scott received his Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

There are so many incredible people who keep the cleaning industry moving. Without the custodians and janitors, there would be no one to use the cleaning products that are manufactured, no one to remove dirt from our buildings to keep them healthy, no one to train and use the cleaning systems we design.

Whether you see this job as a transition in your life or a full-time career, whether you work in a school, a hospital, a hotel or an office building, know that we see you. We understand the hard work you do. We know it can be painful at times. But we also know that to do the work you do, it takes incredible strength, patience and perseverance. It takes a special kind of person to be a custodial worker. A person with a lot of heart. Thank you for all that you do.

Nominate a custodial worker you know who demonstrates excellence in everything they do for a 2018 Outstanding Cleaning Worker award by July 16, 2018. These awards will be presented during the 2018 (OS1) Users Symposium in Park City, UT, Aug. 6-8, 2018.

Think “Janitor” Is a Dirty Word? No, and Here’s Why.

Janitor University is a three-day, instructor-led class that introduces cleaning organization executives to introductory principles of the (OS1) Cleaning Management Program. When we teach the class, we’ll periodically receive feedback regarding the name of the course. People think that because facility directors, CEOs of large building service contractors and other leaders responsible for cleaning that it shouldn’t be called “Janitor University.” Moreover, they feel that the title of “janitor” is an outdated and even derogatory term for people responsible for performing cleaning responsibilities. They suggest alternative titles like “custodian” or “cleaner.”

While we have no issue with those terms, we encourage any professional cleaner to proudly wear their “janitor” badge.

You see, if you trace the etymology of the word “janitor,” it doesn’t take much research to find that the term is tied to deity. “Janus” from which “janitor” is derived, was a Roman god of beginnings and ends; metaphorically he represented doors and passages. In images, he’s often depicted with two faces that allow him to look to the future and the past.

In the English language, first signs of the word “janitor” date back to the 1500s and originally signified an “usher in a school.” In the 1600s, the word evolved to denote a “doorkeeper” and eventually referenced the caretaker of a building. Modern use of the word denotes someone who handles general maintenance and cleaning responsibilities in a building.

For some people, the term “janitor” is derogatory because it indicates a low-skilled, low-paying position. This is a context that our culture has assigned to the position over time, and not one that is truly reflective of the job description.

Many Americans don’t understand that the job not only requires extensive knowledge of chemicals and proper handling protocol, but that it also is essential for protecting public health.  They don’t know that in Germany, janitors are required to attend cleaning school and serve an apprenticeship for three years before becoming a janitor. Switzerland requires four years of schooling before one is able to seek employment as a professional cleaner. In London, there’s a membership organization for environmental cleaners that is a livery company, meaning that it descended from the medieval trade guilds and is supported by the Lord Mayor and Alderman of the city.

Considering that Janus looked both to the past and the future, it seems only appropriate we recognize the origins of the title of janitor and give those who clean our buildings the respect they deserve as we look to the future.

For more information on Janitor University or to attend our upcoming class Oct. 25-27, please go to https://managemen.com/training/janitor-university/.