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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.

Our 10 Most Read Blog Posts of 2018

The final days in December provide us with a wonderful opportunity to hit the pause button and step back for a moment. It’s a time when a lot of us dig into our drawers for the napkin where we outlined our goals and objectives for the year so we can see how well we did in accomplishing them. It’s also time to think about our professional goals for the upcoming year identify ways to get there—much as the Roman god “Janus” from whom the word “janitor” is derived looks to both the past and the future.

This year was a rough one for us. Despite the passing of our founder, John Walker, just a few months ago, we are more committed and inspired than ever to carrying out his legacy. The individual who cleans—the janitor, custodian, housekeeper, maid—whatever title you wish to use, was the focus of much of his work. He made it his mission to bring recognition to the those who play such a critical role in keeping our buildings clean and its occupants safe. 

This focus often gets lost in the industry conversation about how we can cut costs, improve productivity and clean faster. Yet, as our most read blog posts of the year shows, focusing on the worker is what resonates with readers of our blog the most. We are also committed to cleaning more safely and in a way that brings dignity and respect to the cleaning workers. 

We can’t wait to share some of our new educational products and initiatives with you in 2019. If you want to stay up-to-date with what we’ll be launching, make sure you have subscribed to our newsletter. And as you make your list of professional goals for 2019, know that we would love to help you get there. Whether it’s by joining the more than 3,000 individuals who have attended Janitor University, through our online learning resources or the many books available in our store, we have a variety of resources that can be used within any custodial organization. 

Here’s to helping our custodial teams clean better and more safely in 2019!

Here are our most read blog posts of 2018:

  1. Custodial Injuries: Why Legislators Are Starting to Act: On the heels of a Cal/OSHA vote to enact legislation to protect hotel housekeepers from musculoskeletal injuries, we dig into the most common custodial injuries. 
  2. Think Janitor is a Dirty Word: This 2017 post continued to resonate with visitors, as it was our second highest read post this year. In it, we look at the origin of the word “janitor” and show how it is actually tied to deity. 
  3. The Heart of Cleaning: A look at several cleaners making a big difference in the world. 
  4. Thank a Cleaner: Shining a light on the difficult and thankless task of custodial work. 
  5. How to Clean to Stop the Flu Virus: This popular blog post and infographic highlights the common issue of presenteeism and practical steps custodial professionals can take to limit the spread of the flu virus. 
  6. Easy Ways to Energize Your Employees in 2018: This comprehensive list helps managers keep their team motivated and excited about work. 
  7. Training for Different Learning Styles: Understanding the VARK model of learning styles and tailoring training materials so workers can get the most out of them. 
  8. 4 Things Every Custodial Job Description Should Include: Just like every great dish is made of great ingredients, the same goes for developing a great custodial worker. 
  9. 5 Easy Ways to Attract Millennials: Strategies for recruiting younger members to your team. 
  10. 3 Things You Need for Your Custodial Program to be Successful: Looking closely at the “three-legged stool of cleaning” and why we shouldn’t just assume that anyone can clean. 

Wishing you and yours a great holiday season and kick-off to 2019!