What Makes a School Dirty?

Should we care about dirty schools? Well, the short answer is yes, but probably not for the reasons you think. While visible dirt may keep students and staff from feeling positive about their environment (known as topophilia), a growing body of evidence has found that dirty schools may pose larger challenges— resulting in things like lower test scores and increased absenteeism. 

This is an issue in normal times, but an even greater problem coming out of a pandemic. With a considerable number of children having lost valuable learning time, schools need every edge they can get to keep students engaged and performing.  

There are almost 130,000 K-12 schools in the U.S. and little oversight over how they are cleaned. In many schools, public and private, you’ll find vacuum cleaners that belch out dust, custodial closets that showcase a host of expired and outdated products, and custodians that wear a wide variety of hats—they do everything from keeping external walkways clean to vacuuming classrooms to stewarding after school events. 

As any parent, aunt, uncle or teacher knows, kids can be dirty. Really dirty. And within our public schools alone, there are more 50.6 million students, based on federal projections for the fall of 2021. 

In the effort to provide students with a safe and clean learning environment, what other factors should educators identify for that might contribute to a dirty school? 

  1. Poor maintenance of cleaning equipment. You have to clean your cleaning equipment. Replacing vacuum filters, regularly laundering microfiber or other cleaning cloths, cleaning out mop buckets are all preventative maintenance strategies that help make for cleaner schools and longer lasting equipment. 
  2. Cross contamination between areas. Most schools have kitchens, restrooms and classrooms. When the systems aren’t in place to prevent movement of cleaning tools and equipment between areas, the same cleaning cloth might be used to clean a restroom sink, kitchen counter and/or a desk. 
  3. Underestimating cleaning frequencies. In a recent study that analyzed microbes on desks in three Connecticut schools, researchers took samples and examined how cleaning impacted surface microbial concentrations. Study authors concluded, “Current school surface cleaning protocols and cycles may be ineffective at reducing student exposure to fungal allergens and microbes of human origin.”
  4. Limited training for custodial workers. In many school custodial, training encompasses a few days (or hours) of following someone around to learn the job. Very few cleaning operations have a comprehensive training program in place that not only teaches employees HOW to clean, but WHY they clean. Training should not only provide workers with the overall understanding of why their jobs are critical and how cleaning impacts the health of people in the buildings they clean, but also protocols for how and when to perform specific cleaning tasks.
  5. The absence of cleaning systems. Cleaning isn’t about pushing dirt around, it’s about removing dirt and unwanted substances from the environment. And without the proper cleaning systems in place (e.g. moving from the top of the room to the bottom, disinfecting without cleaning), there’s a good chance custodians in your buildings are just moving dirt from one place to the next. 

The pandemic has changed the way so many look at cleaning, and this is increasingly true in our nation’s school systems. How we clean and maintain our schools has a direct impact on our students. As organizations look to utilize federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and other funding resources designated to help schools successfully reopen, it’s a great opportunity to examine the equipment, processes and training used by custodial workers.

Successfully managing a school environment is a necessary educational investment. But it’s one that pays off.

Learn more about how you can work to clean up your school in this post:  Why Dirty Schools are a Big Problem—and What We Can Do to Clean Them Up  https://managemen.com/why-dirty-schools-are-a-big-problem-and-what-we-can-do-to-clean-them-up/

The Power of the (OS1) Community


During a “normal” year, my schedule would start to fill around February. I’d plan trips to many of your campuses and facilities, excited to conduct audits, catch up with you and your teams, talk about what’s new at the office and in the industry.

But… we’re still not at normal yet. While I’m starting to plan travel for this summer, it’s all tentative. Sure, the vaccine is on the way and there’s a good chance that we’ll regain *some* form of normalcy in the next six months, we have no idea exactly what that will look like. Further blurring that picture is the fact that the virus continues to mutate and evolve. No one can say for certain how will that impact immunizations and transmission? 

But that’s not stopping us. We’re embracing the uncertainty and focusing on what is certain: YOU. The (OS1) community is the foundation of what makes this cleaning system so effective. So, from the newly reconstituted Simon Institute to the Cleaning Industry Trainer’s Guild, you are all working so hard to organize communication and empower (OS1) users everywhere.

You won’t find another community like ours. We share. We network. We build relationships and trust. And most importantly, we’re dedicated to excellence in everything we do. 

Helen Keller once said, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” 

As we’ve said all along, the pandemic has thrust cleaning and public health into the spotlight. People everywhere want better cleaning programs that effectively remove dirt from buildings and protect their health. We have a powerful message, and it’s time for our community to work together to share it. 

Your pal, 
Ben

Want to learn more about (OS1) and our community of users known as the Simon Institute? Drop me a line at ben at managemen.com—I’d love to tell you more about it.


P.S. Follow me on Twitter at @BenWalkerClean

If We Want Cleaner Buildings, We Need to Start Respecting Cleaning Workers

As of Jan. 30, it’s been exactly one year since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global health emergency. At that point, we didn’t know much about the virus. No one had any idea how drastically their lives would change less than two months later.

From the start, the CDC has maintained that coronavirus can spread by respiratory droplets which can be inhaled, deposited on surfaces and objects and transferred by touch, or through airborne particles or aerosol transmission. While research has shown that transmission through hard surfaces isn’t as likely as previously thought, the potential for contamination has pushed many cleaning workers to the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19.

On March 18, a Bloomberg article asked “What about the Workers Cleaning Up Coronavirus?” Journalists shared Lilliana’s story, a day porter for a BSC who who was concerned about the lack of PPE and potential exposure to the virus. 

A BBC article asked, “Coronavirus: Are hospital cleaners forgotten heroes in this crisis?”

Journalist Marianna Brady writes, “Cleanliness and hygiene has never seemed of greater concern than it is now. So should the people making sure hospitals are free of germs be getting more of a voice?”

Yet as many worked in potentially risky situations to keep buildings, others lost their jobs. From housekeepers in hotels, resorts and schools to cleaners like Lilliana who cleaned commercial office buildings, when people stayed home, many cleaners lost. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Hawaii, where a report by the American Hotel and Lodging Association revealed that Hawaiian hotels would remain below 50 percent occupancy through 2021. 

Cleaner Buildings Starts with Respect

We’ve talked about showing appreciation for cleaning workers and elevating their visibility and profile throughout business operations, long before the pandemic hit. It’s the primary focus of our business—we believe all custodial workers should be treated like first-class citizens. This means providing training, living wages, opportunities for advancement, and most of all, decency and respect, for the people who clean our buildings. 

Sadly, despite all that custodians have given during the pandemic, we haven’t seen where that’s equated into more opportunity and respect. 

In a recent editorial for The Colorado Sun, Fátima Alhexia Boylen, founder and president of Boylen Cleaning Services in Denver, described a situation at a local grocery where employees were taunting a man who swept the grocery aisles. 

“Disrespect and invisibility is not something anyone should have to get used to. But sadly, for cleaning workers, it’s everywhere,” she writes.

Boylen’s experiences in the poor treatment of cleaning workers were reaffirmed by a recent study of environmental service workers (ESWs) in hospitals published in the American Journal of Infection Control. Lack of training and other barriers, including “low status” and lack of communication were listed as primary reasons why workers felt they provided little value to the organizations where they worked.

Study authors note that this lack of structure and poor treatment of ESWs can lead to the risk of infection. 

“To sustain improvements in disinfection practices, education/training sessions need to be continuous,” the study states. “The long-term commitment of an organization is also essential for continuous improvement in disinfection outcomes. While knowledge transfer is critical for behavior change, education/training also needs to focus on the skills and perceptions of ESWs.”

Jane Walker, a cleaner at a major pharmaceutical company, recently spoke to a journalist about the low morale of the cleaning team since the start of the pandemic. 

“The lowest of the low. I’ve never seen team morale like this. People call out [sick] all the time and their excuses are for the team, not management. But the whole team just doesn’t wanna be there. It’s funny man, we all say, “You don’t have to be here.”

A Better Clean for Us All

The pandemic will impact several facets of office life, with a demand for cleaner environments high on improvements. 

Mike DiBlasi, a managing director for CBRE in Tampa told a local reporter, “From better ventilation to greener cleaning procedures, everything’s on the table. A lot of the bigger landlords have already started implementing ways to provide a more sanitary and cleaner environment.”

But if we want cleaner workplaces, we need to start doing something about the way cleaning workers are treated. This starts with all of us.  

As research Zach Mercurio so eloquently shares in his editorial, “It’s Time to Stop Dehumanizing Frontline Workers”:

People in stigmatized jobs are part of your routine, their invisibility a byproduct of both their indispensability and good work doing the things most of us have the luxury of forgetting about, the work that enables us to live.

They comprise the workforces of the companies we love. They ensure safe roads to drive on, ship our Amazon packages, clean our doctor’s offices, ready our hotel rooms, decontaminate our drinking water, and dispose of our trash.

As individuals, organizations, and society, we should thank them, but above all, we should respect and revere them and their important occupations.

Want to KEEP Cleaning Workers? Start Here.

When you were a small kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? A race car driver? A doctor? A park ranger? 

Did you have hopes of joining the millions of people in the professional cleaning industry?

Probably not.

Heck, ask most people in the cleaning industry how they ended up in it, and most will say they fell into it. They answered a job ad, took a second job to pay for a big expense or offered to help out a friend for a weekend.  

Current figures suggest approximately 2.5 million people work as cleaners in the U.S., and that’s probably a conservative estimate. But a lot of the people who begin working in the industry quit shortly after they start. 

This happens for a lot of reasons—reasons you already know. 

It’s hard work. 

It doesn’t pay much. 

It gets little respect. 

Another thing we know? We’d be totally screwed without cleaning workers. Cleaning is essential for any high-performing organization—and society. 

And right now, we’re experiencing a big issue of attracting and retaining talent. In Facility Cleaning Decision’s 2018 Reader Survey, staffing challenges were one of respondents’ top areas of concerns.

Historically low unemployment rates and stricter immigration policies are causing employers to look for alternative solutions, such as reducing frequencies and cross-training employees to cover labor shortages.

Changing Perceptions: It’s More than Just Dirty Work

Cleaning workers are an essential part of an organization. We know that, but in order to change the perceptions cleaning workers have of the work they do requires involvement from others within the organization.

A recent study looked at the social interactions of hospital cleaners and how those interactions impacted their perceived self worth. It looked at what researchers called “valuing acts” that cleaners experienced throughout the day and how those experiences made them feel. 

Researchers stated, “A hospital’s effectiveness depends on the work of the cleaning staff…Those who clean hospitals ensure a safe and sanitary environment for the execution of routine and complicated medical procedures.” (p. 14)

So while the researchers recognized contribution of cleaners, they found their critical role wasn’t recognized by other people in the hospital.

Here’s what they found:

  • Many cleaners recognize the importance of their work and take “great pride” in it. 
  • Their self worth is tied to social encounters they experience on the job — encounters with other people in the building, such as patients, nurses and doctors. 
  • Simple acts, like a doctor or nurse getting out of the way when the cleaner is pushing a cart through the hallway or acknowledging their presence with a simple nod contributes to a cleaning worker feeling valued.
  • On the opposite side, acts like not cleaning up after themselves (e.g. not picking up paper that has fallen beside the waste basket or a spill for which they’re responsible) along with not involving them in a hospital wide event may contribute to the cleaners feeling unappreciated.

Ultimately, seemingly small gestures can leave a big impact on cleaning workers and can help them feel more valued—or devalued—within an organization.

How can we KEEP more cleaning workers?

Few people grow up wanting to be in the cleaning industry. The goal is to KEEP them in our industry once they get here. 

How can you do this? Try following the KEEP acronym:

Keep employees at the forefront. Take the time to talk to your staff members and get to know them. Listen to them and learn the names of people in their families. Ask them questions and show you’re interested in them as a person, not just as a work. 

Explain the importance of what they do. Help them understand the importance of their role. Make sure they know that cleaning isn’t just about helping a building look nice, but it’s about keeping people in that building stay healthy and safe too.

Empower them with training and advancement opportunities. Cleaning workers are one of the best customer service tools in your building. Empower them with training so they understand how to interact with others in the building and strategies to do their jobs better so they can be promoted and grow within their career. 

Preach their importance to other people in the building. In a hospital, that might be doctors and nurses, in a school, that could be students and teachers. The key is that other people in the facility have a greater appreciation for how cleaning workers help them. 

Studies routinely show that more engaged workers are higher performing. Showing workers that you truly value them will help KEEP them on your team in a competitive job market. 

Check it out!

The short film “Keepers of the House” aims to highlight the importance cleaning workers. Developed to educate others in a hospital about the vital role housekeeping/custodial workers play in developing an environment of care, the film will be used as a learning tool to help create better, stronger businesses.

Why We Clean

Cleaning gets a bum rap. Just try googling quotes about cleaning and you’ll find that most of them portray cleaning—specifically, house cleaning— negatively.

“I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again. – Joan Rivers

“Housework can’t kill you, but why take the chance?”  – Phyllis Diller 

“We dream of having a clean house—but who dreams of actually doing the cleaning?” -Marcus Buckingham

While a couple of these quotes hopefully made you laugh (just a little?), they still highlight the  negative association of cleaning. It’s an association that follows cleaning wherever it goes—at home, in the office, on vacation… This is largely why the profession also gets swallowed in a negative stigma. 

But for those of us who have made a career cleaning up, it’s important to remember why we clean. Sure, it’s a job, but the work performed has many benefits that extend beyond a paycheck. Cleaning is a service that benefits anyone and everyone who steps into the building.

Why We Clean

We recently ran across a list from Dr. Michael Berry, an evangelist of the critical importance of cleaning. In a presentation to the Simon Institute, he shared the following list of the tangible and intangible benefits of facility cleaning:

  • Reduces environmental risks
  • Creates a healthy condition
  • Prevents Illness
  • Provides living space
  • Breaks the transmission chain of infectious agents
  • Protects valuable materials
  • Maintains the value of real estate
  • Encourages “topophilia” or the love of place
  • Instills ownership
  • Promotes human dignity
  • Shows you care
  • Projects a professional image and promotes business success
  • Enhances human productivity and reduces direct costs
  • Prevents crisis and reduces the full range of costs
  • Accents aesthetics
  • Manages wastes and contributes to environmental protection

Dr. Berry’s assertions aren’t arbitrary claims. Several studies support his statements, also highlighting the health and business benefit effective cleaning:

Sometimes we get so caught up in the daily routine of cleaning, that we forget to step back at the bigger picture of WHY we clean. And as the data shows, cleaning has big implications for not only people’s health, but also business. 

So the next time someone asks you what you do for a living, tell them proudly that you’re in the professional cleaning industry. And keep our list handy so you’re always mindful of why what you do is so important.

Here’s to the Janitor

As we close out this decade, we wanted to send a quick thank you to all the hard working people who keep our buildings, homes, streets and cities clean.

Here’s to the Janitor, who works in the shadows.

The person who pushes a mop,

Takes out our trash,

And removes the dust

To keep the buildings we visit, learn and heal clean.

Here’s to the Janitor, whose name we don’t often know.

The person who works as a housekeeper,

A cleaner,

Or a custodian,

People who perform important work that impacts us all.

Here’s the Janitor, the person at the front lines during an outbreak.

The person who dons the mask,

And sprays the disinfectant,

Deep cleaning and decontaminating spaces.

Whenever Norovirus, influenza or another serious virus strikes.

Here’s to the Janitor, who never stops moving.

The person who is constantly lifting,

Bending, 

And pulling,

Often taking home more than just a paycheck.

Here’s to the Janitor, whose hard work often goes unappreciated.

The person who helps us breathe better,

And focus better,

By removing the germs, dust and mold

To keep our indoor environments healthy.

Here’s to the Janitor and cleaners all around the world. 

To the person in Tokyo who starts their shift

When the cleaner in New York goes home.

Here’s to all the cleaners!

We see you, and we thank you. 

How the University of Michigan Makes Sure Custodial Workers Are Seen — and Appreciated

It started with a random Google search. Now it’s a growing program that unites building occupants with the people who clean their buildings, giving them an opportunity to connect and get to know one another. And most importantly, it gives the people who work in that building an opportunity to say “thank you” to their custodians.

Three years ago, when John Lawter, Director of Custodial Grounds and Services at the University of Michigan, began looking for ways to recognize his team, his Google searches led him to Custodial Appreciation Day, which is held annually in early October. 

“I never knew something like this existed,” he said. “I knew it could be a great way to say thank you to the people on our team.”

This team was presented with U of M scarves for chilly Ann Arbor winters.

Like many custodial teams, Lawter’s team works mostly at night when students, faculty and staff are out of the office. Very rarely do the building customers have an opportunity to see the hard-working people who clean their building, let alone meet them. So Lawter and his team decided to dedicate the entire month of October to the custodial staff at U of M. 

The key difference to this program compared to other Custodial Appreciation events? He encouraged their customers, the people in the buildings on campus, to develop their own recognition events—it wasn’t just an event coordinated and attended by custodial department.

“It’s been pretty amazing to see the response to this program,” he said. “Each year, more buildings organize and find some way to recognize the cleaners in the building.”

Last year, 27 buildings on the U of M campus hosted their own events to recognize custodial workers. Lawter says that the more the word spreads about Custodial Appreciation Month, the more buildings participate. 

These events might include a pizza party, a potluck or a short ceremony where staff are given school swag, including sweatshirts or other apparel. Lawter makes it a point to attend each event, so the team recognizes how valued they are within the custodial department too. Several deans at the schools within the University have also been known to make an appearance. 

Branded apparel, like these long sleeved shirts from the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute, are a great way to say “thank you” to your custodial team.

“When you attend these events, it’s always wonderful to see the response from the people on our team,” he said. “There’s no doubt that the recognition from the people in the buildings where they work has a big impact on them.”

In addition to boosting morale and making cleaners feel appreciated, Lawter says that the events also help improve communication and relationships with the building occupants. 

As the program evolves, Lawter and his team is working with other groups on campus to grow awareness and resources for recognition to encourage all buildings to participate. But no cleaner goes without a party or some token of recognition in October. Lawter make sure of that.

“We’ll have a pizza party for the team when their building doesn’t host an appreciation event,” he said. “But the longer we do this, the fewer events we host internally. The entire campus community really appreciates the work of our custodial team and does a great job of showing it.” 

School Janitors: So Much More than a Line Item in a Budget

You don’t need to walk far into your neighborhood store to see it’s back to school season. With end caps of glue sticks and aisles of pencils, paper and folders with everything from kittens to Avengers characters greeting you, it’s a time of year that brings excitement and new beginnings.

But in the town of Saugus, Massachusetts, just north of Boston, 21 school custodians will not return to school this year. The School Committee recently ruled to outsource services, igniting what the local paper called a “firestorm” of protests from local residents.

After the firing of 21 janitors, residents of Saugus, Mass., ask what will happen to the health and safety of students in their district.

More than 3,300 local residents signed a petition calling for reinstatement of the janitors. A high school student spoke, saying that the custodians are a “vital part of the school community who make students feel safe and supported.” 

Despite the protests, the Committee proceeded with the vote to outsource custodial services to a private cleaning company. According to the Superintendent, the move was part of a “reallocation of resources” estimated to save the district more than $1 million. 

This may sound familiar, as it happens far too often.  

We’ve gotta give it up for the people in this committee for understanding the importance of the custodial workers in their schools. If you’re reading this blog, you know how important cleaning is to a community. This letter to the editor from Saugus resident Erin McCabe sums it beautifully.

To the editor:

I feel the safety of our children is being overlooked. With limited custodians our children are placed at higher risk of health issues. 

These are just some of my concerns:

1. With limited custodial services, dust will most likely accumulate causing an increase risk of asthma attacks.

2. With limited custodial services, who will be cleaning up vomit and blood? Will there even be a custodian in each school to clean these pathogens, or will staff and students have to wait for someone who is trained in cleaning blood-borne pathogens? Thus exposing our children and their staff.

3. With limited custodial services, what will flu season look like for our children, when stomach bugs flood our school, will we see absences rise? Clearly not what we want for our students……..right?

4. With limited custodial services who will be maintaining our brand new high school/middle school. Will it remain in pristine shape for all future students? Probably not.

5. With limited custodial services, will we be able to host after school events, events on weekends? Such activities as our town basketball leagues etc … these activities are important and necessary for our community!

6. With limited custodial services, what will be put into place to maintain our children’s safety?

To read the full letter, please go to: https://saugus.wickedlocal.com/news/20190624/letter-to-editor-safety-of-our-children-is-being-overlooked

Thank you, Erin and the entire Saugus community, for recognizing the important work of a well staffed, trained and equipped custodial program. School custodians are so much more than a line item in a budget. They are key to ensuring healthy and safe environments for our children, as well as maximizing the investment in the buildings they clean.