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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.

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Energize Your Employees in 2018

The Roman god Janus, from whom the words “janitor” and “January” are derived, looks to both the past and the future.

The month of January is named after the Roman God Janus, the same god that we explained in this post is the god of “beginnings and ends.” It’s from Janus that the word “janitor” is derived, as he metaphorically represented doors and passages. In images, he’s depicted with two faces that enable him to look to the past and future.

As many make personal resolutions to kick off the New Year, January can also be the ideal time to look at what your department has accomplished in the past year and set goals for the future—much like Janus. A good place to start is by thinking about common issues you’ve experienced in the past and find ways around them for the future. For example, maybe you’re having issues keeping cleaning staff, or inventory keeps wandering off because cleaning workers hoard it. These are common issues facility management professionals face, but they aren’t issues that you can’t easily overcome with a little planning and organization.

A lot of common issues faced by cleaning professionals can be overcome with an empowered and energized staff. A good team is the basic building block of any successful cleaning operation. To help you get 2018 started off on the right foot, we’ve pulled together a list of easy ways you can energize your team:

1. Clean and organize your supply cabinets. You wouldn’t believe what we see in some cleaning closets and supply storage areas. In addition to old chemicals and unused equipment, we have found everything from leftover lunches, crumpled up papers and dirt that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the building. A lot of cleaning storage areas are downright filthy!

Rather than letting your inventory and storage areas become a place cleaning workers avoid, create a clean space that is well organized and allows them to easily find what they need, when they need it. Same goes with cleaning equipment—if it’s dirty, clean it up! Make it something your team is proud to use.

2. Start each morning with a warm-up. The Bureau of Labor statistics lists custodians as a top vocation for the highest rates of injury-causing days away from work in the U.S. Overexertion and repetitive motion injuries for custodial workers, resulting from common tasks such as pulling trash or lifting overfilled mop buckets.

Just one of the exercises in the University of Texas at Austin’s FIT START program.

Many of these injuries are preventable. The University of Texas at Austin has developed an award-winning program that helps custodial workers warm up for the day with exercises for arms, back, legs and neck. You can easily recreate this program to help your workers warm up for their day.

3. Bring recognition to your department. There are several awards given throughout the cleaning industry that showcase best-in-class cleaning operations. From industry trade associations, non-profits such as the Simon Institute and trade publications, such as Facility Cleaning Decisions and Sanitary Maintenance, there are several opportunities to bring much deserved recognition to your cleaning program, specific initiatives or individuals on your team.

One popular award we’d recommend is the Outstanding Cleaning Worker of the Year, which is presented annually at the Simon Industry’s annual Awards Banquet. This award recognizes hard-working individuals on your team who demonstrate a commitment to excellence in the profession. Click here if you know someone who would be a great 2018 award recipient.

Another way to bring recognition to your department and team is by celebrating #ThankaCleaner week or International Cleaners Week. Held annually on the second full week of September, you can invite the entire business to participate by finding ways to thank and recognize cleaning personnel.

4. Develop a system for tracking complaints. Oftentimes, complaints are treated like fires. We receive a call, dispatch the team and put out the fire. In a lot of operations, we can spend most of our day extinguishing these proverbial fires, which comes at a great expense to the cleaning manager’s time—and sanity. Yet at the end of the day, if you look at who is doing the complaining, it’s often just a handful of people doing the complaining.

As we discussed in this article, we often call these people the “potato chip people.” Why? Because they are the type of people who drop something and call custodial to respond. Overtime, the chronic complainers can put a considerable drain on your time and resources.

To reduce complaints, you need to first find out the source. Is the problem truly reflective of a deficiency in your cleaning program? Or, are complaints due to the fact that a handful of people don’t have a clear understanding of your scope of services? Developing a form to help track complaints can help you pinpoint the issue, saving you and your team both time and energy.

5. Provide independent employee training — with a certificate! A large majority of the training that happens in our industry is provided by manufacturer or distributor sales representatives. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it is often focused on a particular products and doesn’t give frontline cleaning workers a broader perspective into the hows and whys of their jobs.

An example of training that will help them better understand the science behind what they do is an introduction to microbiology. While they may know that most disinfectants require five to 10 minutes of dwell time to work, do they understand what organisms they are trying to kill, or how those organisms colonize and spread? Educated workers are empowered workers; this improves safety and worker retention.

You might also want to consider training programs that offer a certificate upon completion. What might seem like just a piece of paper can instill an enormous amount of pride and confidence in a custodial worker. It’s something they can share with family or friends, or just be something they put in their locker to remind them of their achievement.

As you can see, just a few small tweaks in your existing processes can completely change the energy in your department. When employees are engaged and excited, everyone wins.

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Our Top Seven Posts from 2017

As we wind down an amazing whirlwind of a year, we’d first like to thank you for taking the time to read our musings on cleaning. We’re almost a year into this blogging thing and have learned so much about what you want to read, how you read it and ways we we can continue to deliver great information to help improve the way you look at and manage your custodial departments.

Earlier this month, we also launched the first issue of “Cleaning Matters,” a monthly electronic newsletter with best practices related to cleaning management and information to keep you updated about what’s happening in our world. If you didn’t receive a copy of it and would like to subscribe, please click here.

As we work to develop our calendar for next year, we thought we’d leave you with a recap of our top posts from this year. Here are the five most “liked” and clicked on posts from 2017:

  1. Let’s Take a Minute to Thank a Cleaner: Our tribute to the hardworking people who work when most others are sleeping, cleaning the buildings where we live, work, learn, heal and play.
  2. What Happens When People Walk into a Building and See Dirt: A study found that 99 percent of people would have a negative perception of a business that wasn’t clean. When it comes to repeat customers, it turns out that appearance really matters.
  3. Think “Janitor” Is a Dirty Word? No, and Here’s Why: In this post, we dive into the origins of the word “janitor” and look at the profession of cleaning around the world.
  4. The Problem with the Way We’re Training Custodial Workers Today: Too often, custodial workers are handed a mop and told to clean without much additional instruction. We look into why that approach can yield big issues for a business.
  5. Provo City Schools – Part I: What is “Clean,” Anyway? We examine Dr. Jeffrey Campbell’s ground-breaking study on the impact of cleaning on public health in a three-part series; Part I looks at how we define cleanliness.
  6. A Look at Restrooms Around the World on World Toilet Day: From bayakou in Haiti to tsukaiyausa in Japan, a glimpse at restrooms and sanitation around the world.
  7. How You Can Use Data to Reduce the Threat of Outsourcing: How to get the data you need to prevent your custodial department from being outsourced.

Again, thank you for your support over the past year. We have some incredible things planned for 2018 and are so excited to have you along for this journey. If you have a topic you’d like to learn more about in the coming months, let us know and we’ll put it on the schedule!

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/.