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The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do to Attract and Retain Custodial Workers

What do employees what in a job, anyway? Custodial managers often ask themselves this question when assembling a new team or filling a position opening. Finding good staff is difficult, because even in tough labor markets, turnover in the commercial cleaning industry is notoriously high—as much as 200 percent in some operations.  

In Facility Cleaning Decision’s 2018 Reader Survey, staffing challenges were one of respondents’ top areas of concerns. While respondents cited an average turnover rate of 15 percent, they identified numerous reasons for people leaving the department, including opportunities for better pay, limited advancement opportunities and the physical nature of the work. 

Stop for a minute and imagine that you just found out that several people on your team were currently looking for a new job. Would you do anything to help dissuade them from leaving? If so, what? As custodial managers, we can’t often set perks such as benefit programs or 401k plans, but there are a few carrots we can extend team members to incentivize and retain them.

To be clear, we’re not talking about Silicon Valley office style carrots either. Giving employees a place to take a nap or play video games isn’t a likely possibility in most custodial environments. But take Bain & Company, Gassdoor’s top place to work in 2019, as voted on by their employees. The one thing their employees say makes working at Bain so great? 

Its employee-focused culture. 

“The people are what make [Bain] special,” said one Bain employee. “Throughout my career, I can point to people who invested in me, helping me to grow and develop.”

What incentives do you have in place to keep your team motivated? Certifications, recognition programs and opportunities for advancements can incentivize workers.

An employee-focused culture means developing an environment that helps employees evolve both personally and professionally. It means thinking about how the work impacts them. It’s about not viewing them as cogs in the wheel, but as the wheel itself—necessary to move forward.

How can you create an employee-focused culture? It’s not as hard as you might think.

  1. Offer frequent training and certification. LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report revealed that a shocking 93 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers. Training is one of the top ways to retain custodial workers, but it can also be one of the most difficult due to the diversity of our industry. Languages, disabilities and ages can all present barriers when training employees. Training programs that accommodate a variety of learning styles can help workers understand not just HOW to do the job, but why their jobs are important. Help them understand how to protect themselves during work and demonstrate a culture of safety. Consider offering a stipend for other training and/or certification offered beyond your organization, and think about micro learning opportunities, which do not require the time or commitment of traditional certifications.
  2. Provide opportunities for advancement.  Custodial work is often looked at as a transition position. “I’ll work as a custodian until I can get another job,” people say, or maybe they pick up custodial work as a second job to earn extra income in evening hours. What too many employees don’t realize is that they can have a great career—that pays well—in the cleaning industry. Through mentorship and managerial shadowing programs, you can give frontline employees a lens into some of the opportunities available in the field. Provide a clear outline of advancement opportunities so they understand what they need to do to get to where they want to go.
  3. Give Recognition. Frequently. From housekeepers week to environmental services week, National Custodian Day (Oct. 2, 2019) to Thank Your Cleaner Day  (Oct. 16, 2019), there are plenty of recognized events to recognize cleaning workers. But you don’t have to wait for an official day to give staff an applause for a job well done—something simple like presenting a star award for outstanding performance or highlighting a “worker of the month” can help workers feel seen and appreciated.
  4. Balance workloads. It’s easy to give the faster, younger people on your team additional work that comes from a call-off or event, but that can create resentment over time. Employ a system to fairly divide work so that no one person or team bear the brunt of additional responsibilities. 
  5. Show you care. Sometimes, it’s the small things that go the furthest with your team. Remembering an anniversary, details of an upcoming vacation or checking in with them to see how their child is doing in school shows your team that you’re listening, and that you care. Encourage your team to share ideas and create opportunities for connection at the beginning and end of each shift so you have time to talk with one another.

Automotive mogul Lee Iacocca once said, “Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can’t miss.”

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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