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When Was the Last Time You Sharpened Your Ax?

You may have heard the story about the man who works hard chopping wood, but never sharpens his ax? In the tale, a man goes to work for a local timber company. The job pays well and the management is friendly, so he wants to do his best so he can keep the job. The first day, he manages to cut down 18 trees. Proud of his accomplishment, he goes out the next day with the goal of chopping down even more trees, but it turns out that he’s only able to chop 15. With each day that passes, the man cuts down fewer and fewer trees. Feeling defeated, he goes to his boss for advice on what he could be doing wrong. 

The boss looks at the man and says, “You are one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen, but did you ever take a moment to sharpen your ax?”

When is the last time you took a minute to stop and sharpen your ax? This anecdote can be applied to a custodial operation in a couple of different ways:

1. Maintaining good care for your tools and equipment.

How can we clean faster with dirty tools and equipment? 

A lot of organizations come to us looking to improve cleaning efficiencies and make their operation more productive. And not surprisingly— “improving staff performance/cleaning times” was the top priority cited by respondents to this year’s Facility Cleaning Decision’s Reader Survey.  So when we go into a business, one of the first things we do is take a look at the custodial closet. Why? Because it gives us clues into the way the custodial department is managed. 

A lot of times, we find that custodial workers aren’t “sharpening their axes”—or keeping their tools and equipment clean. We see mop buckets filled with black water, soiled cloths, cob-web covered dusters—the list goes on. How can a janitor possibly “clean” if the tools that he or she uses are dirty? 

If you were an artist, would you paint with dirty brushes? 

Aside from obvious cross-contamination issues, if we don’t take the time to care for our cleaning tools, they will generally degrade over time and become less effective. This applies to everything from cleaning cloths to large capital investments like auto-scrubbers or carpet extractors. Every productive, efficient cleaning organization will have a program in place to make sure tools are regularly cleaned and a preventative maintenance program is in place to keep cleaning equipment in top condition.

2. Maintaining good care of our mental and professional health.

How can we be our best if we don’t take the time to refresh our own professional development? 

The metaphor of “sharpening your axe” can also be applied to continuing your own professional training and education. Studies show that organizations that invest in training are often higher performing (you may want to check out this post, where we identified 10 reasons why you should make continuing education a priority.). 

We use the term “training” loosely here, as it can mean anything from reading industry publications to stay up-to-date on custodial management best practices, to participating in webinars, in-person training programs and industry trade shows. 

However, professional development is only part of the equation. Finding ways to improve your mental health is an important way to sharpen your ax. According to the American Psychological Association, 58 percent of Americans say that work is a significant source of stress.

Some people go golfing, fishing, running or kayaking to decompress from the rigors of work and life demands. Others practice mindfulness, yoga or spend time writing or reading. Whatever your outlet, make sure you take time to step away in order to best care for your own mental well-being. 

In the ever-present push to clean faster and better, we need to take a minute to make sure we’re sharpening our axes. Otherwise, we’ll never get anywhere.

The Top 10 Complaints of Custodial Professionals

You’re in a tough business—we’ll just put that out there. The people who make it in this industry are problem solvers. Every day, they put together a new puzzle — figuring out which piece needs to go where to complete the puzzle of a clean building. Maybe one piece involves covering for a janitor who called off work and another is delayed supply delivery… each day presents a unique set of challenges. 

When we go into a new business to set them up on the (OS1) System, we often hear a common set of complaints. It doesn’t matter if it’s a laboratory on the east coast or a University in California. A very common set of issues exist for custodial professionals everywhere. So you know you’re not alone, we’ve pulled together a list of complaints and frustrations that we hear.

The top 10 frustrations experienced by custodial professionals include:

1. Not enough/broken/wrong equipment. People who don’t understand cleaning don’t realize that you need more than a vacuum and a microfiber mop to keep floor surfaces clean. In addition to cordless equipment, carpet extractors, burnishers, strippers and dryers are all necessary pieces of equipment to maintain and protect floor surfaces—at least if you don’t want to replace carpet or tile every few years. 

2. Chemical musical chairs. Too often, custodial professionals are at the whim of their purchasing department when it comes to buying cleaning chemicals. While the type of chemical might be the same, the brand might be different which can cause confusioTop n for custodial workers. Standardization is key in order to establish effective SDS programs and reduce injuries. 

3. Not enough mats/no matting at all. Keeping floors clean inside the building starts well before someone walks through the front door. A combination of scraper and entryway matting can help trap dirt before it tracks onto the floors. But adequate matting is only half of the puzzle—mats need to be regularly laundered so they can work as designed.

4.  No training resources. Overcoming the common misconception that “everyone knows how to clean” is one of the biggest challenges faced by custodial professionals. An effective custodial operation will have an established classroom training program that includes training aids, videos, work-flow charts and tools to assist with comprehension. 

A training classroom equipped with training materials is key to developing a high-performing and engaged custodial team.

5. Supervisory void/exasperated supervision. Supervisors are in a tough spot—not only are they responsible for overseeing custodial workers, they are also often the point of contact for building occupants whenever there’s an issue. Custodial supervisors need to be well trained to do the job properly— and well compensated.

6. Unmotivated staff/skeptical staff. When dealing with so many nationalities, personality types and ages, it can be tough to get custodial workers to rally behind a greater goal or the vision for creating a clean indoor environment. Training, compensation and a structure for advancement can all help workers buy-in to your organizational goals. 

7. Lack of respect. Every now and then, you’ll see a news story about an elementary school that surprises a custodian with a generous act to show their appreciation, but the large majority of custodial workers feel invisible in the buildings where they work. Even if employees work at night, recognizing workers through appreciation events such as International Housekeepers Week or Custodial Workers Recognition day can help bolster morale and help workers feel that they are respected. 

8. Rotating door. For a lot of people, custodial work is a “filler” job. By that, we mean that it’s something people do to supplement their income for a period of time or maybe it’s something that helps get them by in their pursuit of another position. This often leads to high turnover rates. Providing opportunities for advancement, recognition and living wage compensation will help close this door. 

9. Injuries. Because of the strenuous nature of custodial work, a lot of custodial professionals experience injuries— in fact, double the number of injuries compared to other industries. By training workers and helping them warm up for their work day, we can help reduce these injuries.

10. Lack of input. How many times has your department been tasked with cleaning a new building that you’ve had no input in designing? Not giving custodial professionals a seat at the table of broader organizational decisions (like new building construction) can leave money on the table.

Have an issue we haven’t covered? Let us know, we’ll add it to our next list!