When you fly into a city at night, one of the first things you notice is all the lights. Lights from the street lamps, illuminating the roads so drivers can see where they are going. Lights from stadiums, shining brightly on athletes so fans can watch them play. Lights from high-rises and skyscrapers, illuminating rooms so janitors can clean.
When we are done working for the day, the majority of janitors are just beginning their shifts. They work through the night to make sure our offices, stores, schools and hospitals are ready for us to return the next day. As we’re spending time with our loved ones, enjoying nice meals, watching television or entertaining friends, janitors are vacuuming floors, emptying trash and wiping down surfaces so the dirt from today doesn’t carry over into tomorrow.
When we go to bed, janitors are still working. For many of them, it’s a second job. It’s a way to support their families. Families who don’t see them as much as they would like, because they are working.
While we rest, cleaners are lifting heavy trash bags and mop buckets, pushing vacuums and pulling overstocked carts. But this effort doesn’t come without a price. Due to the labor-intensive nature of their work, janitors have one of the highest rates of job-related injuries. Injuries from slips and falls or musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that cause extreme pain in areas such as their backs (46 percent of all custodial-related MSDs), shoulders (15 percent of custodial-related MSDs), necks and legs. Injuries that can potentially impact their ability to work their other job or enjoy what free time they have with family.
Because much of their work happens at night while we are away, we don’t often think about them. They are invisible heroes who make sure our buildings don’t fall into disrepair and harmful bacteria doesn’t spread. They play a critical role in providing an indoor environment that allows us to focus, breath easily and do what we came there to do. Commercial buildings account for almost half of the 150 million tons of waste generated in the U.S. each year—if janitors weren’t there to remove that waste, can you imagine what our buildings would look like?
Their work is critical to the overall success of a business, yet in many operations, they receive very little compensation for what they do. In fact, in the U.S. cleaners have one of the top 10 lowest paying jobs. In most custodial operations, janitors receive little to no recognition for the work they do.
It’s time we shine more light on our cleaners. If you manage a custodial operation, make sure to dedicate time to recognizing your team. Host an awards ceremony. Provide a meal. Encourage other departments in your business to show appreciation for the people on your team. Put a spotlight on someone on your team each week so everyone can have a chance to get to know them a little better. Your team deserves recognition.
If you see a janitor in the buildings where you work or visit, take a moment to thank them. Let them know how much you appreciate what they do.
Share your ideas or pictures of the ways you show appreciation for your cleaning staff with us on social media. Use the hashtag #thankacleaner. It matters. They matter.
* This blog post was inspired by the work and leadership of Jim Ginnaty, a man who continually worked to recognize and improve the plight of custodial workers.