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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. 

Is There Such a Thing as “Too Clean”?

A report released earlier this week by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), a London-based independent, multi-disciplinary charity dedicated to the improvement of the public’s health and wellbeing, affirmed that the there is no such thing as being “too clean.” According to an article in the Telegraph, the report came after organizers of a prominent festival encouraged attendees to conduct “strip washes” rather than take full showers in order to reduce the environmental impact of the festival. 

So, is there such a thing as being “too clean”? A lot of this goes back to the British epidemiologist David Strachan, who, in the late 1980s, developed what was called the “Hygiene Hypothesis.” His hypothesis suggested that exposure to infections during childhood would amplify defenses against allergies as the child grew older. In short, the dirtier the environment growing up, the better chance the child stood later in life to ward off allergies. 

It’s easy to see why there’s some pushback—the business of “clean” is a booming industry. The most recent data available forecasts that the household cleaning products generates more than $61 billion each year. We’re continually being sold on hand sanitizers and all-in-one products that promise to “kill 99.9% of germs and bacteria.” 

While some see that as more of a marketing strategy than reality, readers of this blog know that cleaning — and hygiene — are critical to controlling the spread of dirt, bacteria and infectious diseases.

Professor Sally Bloomfield, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that much confusion exists as to the difference between cleaning and hygiene—cleaning your hands after touching a dog or pet is different than cleaning out the pet’s living areas.

“Whereas cleaning means removing dirt and microbes, hygiene means cleaning in the places and times that matter—in the right way—to break the chain of infection whilst preparing food, using the toilet, etc.”

Professor Sally Bloomfield, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

So is there such a thing as “too clean?” The answer is no—the reality is quite the opposite. The absence of thorough and proper cleaning can have catastrophic results under the right conditions.

According to the World Health Organization, infectious diseases kill more than 17 million people a year. And the Texas Biomedical Research Institute reports that 30 new diseases have emerged in the last 20 years. 

So not only is the act of cleaning important, but HOW we clean and disinfect is equally as important in helping improve health outcomes for both cleaning workers and building occupants. There are different levels of cleanliness, and it when it comes to protecting people who live, work and visit buildings, one cannot be “too clean.” 

We’ll dig more into the importance of microbiology training for cleaning workers in our next post, but for now, here are the 27 of the Most Common Diseases Related to Cleaning:

Amebiasis

Botulism

Campylobacter

Chickenpox

Cholera

Cryptosporidiosis

Diphtheria

E.Coli

Hantavirus

Hepatitis

HIV/AIDS

Influenza

Legionellosis

Malaria

Measles

Meningitis

Meningococcal

Pertussis

Plague

Polio

Tuberculosis

Rotavirus

Rubella

Salmonellosis

Staph/MRSA

Streptocucucua

Typhoid Fever

Want to learn more about training workers on microbiology fundamentals? Check out our comprehensive reference guide “Microbiology for Cleaning Workers Simplified” by John Walker and Jeffery Campbell, Ph.D. 

Further Reading: If you’re interested in how cleaning has shaped modern culture, you might want to check out “Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness” by Suellen Hoy.


7 Deadly “Muda” or Wastes in a Cleaning Department

Toyota is often looked to set a standard in manufacturing, as it has long embraced lean management principles to develop automobiles across the globe. A large part of its success is due to its innovative approach to production, which can be attributed to Taiichi Ohno, father of the Toyota Production System. While lean management originally started with Henry Ford’s assembly line, Ohno further integrated these principles into the Toyota Production System, which formed the basis for lean manufacturing as we know it today.

A central tenant of the Toyota Production System and lean manufacturing is minimizing “muda” —or waste—without sacrificing productivity. From uneven workloads to consumption of materials, limiting waste within an operation is one of the best ways to improve its profitability. 

In their paper, “Cleaning as an Engineered Process: Lean Principles for a Neglected Industry,” authors Dr. Jeffrey Campbell and Kathleen Campbell look specifically at how Lean Management Principles can be used within a cleaning department to improve efficiency.

“Lean is implemented by first understanding the activities and practices that are considered wasteful and do not add value to the process. It then looks at the process and identifies what creates value in the process stream and what is wasteful. A culture of continual improvement must be set up so that those who are in the day-to-day work-flow are comfortable with approaching management with new ideas on how to improve processes. Each area also needs to be cleaned and organized so that everything is in its place. With the preceding steps in place, waste can be eliminated or mitigated, and the process can become more Lean.’ The process should be re-evaluated often as new ideas or improvement emerge.” 

The “Seven Wastes” model is commonly used in lean and quality management systems such as ISO 9000 and Six Sigma. The wastes Ohno identified include:

  1. Transportation: The movement of resources or materials without adding value to your product.
  2. Inventory: Maintaining more product than you need for a given period. 
  3. Motion: Unnecessary movement of employees which may cause injury or are unnecessary.
  4. Waiting: The absence of movement for goods or tasks (e.g. waiting for items to be fixed, delivered). 
  5. Overproduction:  Producing more than you need to meet the customer’s demand or expectation.
  6. Over-processing: Performing work that doesn’t bring value to the organization or customer. 
  7. Defects: Production of a faulty or defective product. 

While a custodial department doesn’t necessarily manufacture a product, they do provide a service and one can easily draw parallels between Ohno’s seven wastes and potential sources of waste in a custodial department. 

Consider the seven deadly wastes when applied to a cleaning department: 

1. Transportation: How do custodial workers move throughout the building/buildings? Do they have defined routes or are they left to move throughout the building as needed? Are they kitted with everything they need (e.g. vacuums, chemical, PPE) to complete their tasks or do they need to go to other locations to retrieve items? 

2. Inventory: What does your janitorial closet look like? Is it filled with old equipment and expired chemicals? Do you purchase extra inventory “just in case” you need it, which contributes to accumulation overtime? 

3. Motion: Janitorial is one of the toughest jobs, which leads to high injury rates (one of the leading occupations for injuries, in fact). Injury from over-exertion is one of the most common to custodial workers. 

Ongoing training and on-the-job observation helps cleaning workers keep safe strategies top of mind for common tasks like lifting, reaching high areas, bending, etc. 

4. Waiting: How much time does it take cleaners to complete their task? Is there idle time? What happens when a space is occupied? Using our 99 Workloading Times and 612 Cleaning Times Book can help you identify how much time it should take your team to complete work assignments. 

5. Over-production: Is there such as thing as “too clean”? No, but there are routine tasks in a cleaning operation that might not need to be completed as often as they are. For example, a low-traffic restroom does not to be cleaned more than once a day unless there’s a specific issue to be addressed. The same goes for floor maintenance activities such as extracting a carpet or finishing a hard floor.

6. Over-processing: Because the cleaning industry currently lacks any standard for cleanliness, cleaning organizations must work with building occupants and customers to identify desired levels of cleanliness. 

In their paper, the Campbell’s discuss APPA’s five levels of appearance in its Custodial Staffing Guidelines book, which can be used a baseline for this discussion. Alan Bigger identifies them in his article “Operational Guidelines for Educational Facilities – Custodial.” 

7. Defects: Problems arise in a cleaning operation when employees lack the necessary training to do their work. In some instances, this can create a PR nightmare, as was the case at a Burger King restaurant in Fruit Cove, Florida when an employee used a floor mop to clean tables in the play area. 

In addition to complaints, the absence of a proper training program can cause injuries and result in inefficient cleaning processes. 

How lean is your custodial operation? Are there areas of muda or waste you could reduce? Consider talking to one of our consultants to learn more about how an engineered approach to cleaning could help! 

Want to Reduce Turnover and Improve Productivity? Start by Listening.

We’ve been talking to a lot of (OS1) users recently, gathering input on what they experience on a day-to-day basis so we can improve our training. At Symposium, we speak with leaders of organizations like Sandia National Labs, University of Texas at Austin, Los Angeles Habilitation House, Michigan State University and others to identify best practices, but what about the people actually doing the cleaning? What ideas do the janitor—(OS1) specialists—have for improvement?

A common concern we’ve heard is regarding the general absence of meaningful communication between custodial workers and their department leaders. This is an issue in organizations everywhere—not just (OS1) organizations, cleaning organizations, big corporations or small start-ups. 

As business leaders, we tend to get so caught up in the day-to-day that we don’t take the time to engage our teams. Meaning, we’re the ones doing most of the talking and don’t take much time to listen. Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People said, “If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Fun fact: The average person has an eight-second attention span. Listening is a learned skill that takes practice, but when done well, can create more productive teams.

But listening isn’t something that comes easily to many of us. We spend years learning how to write and speak, but listening isn’t often (ever?) taught in school. It’s an adapted skill that we learn and refine (or not!) over the course of time. Have you ever taken a listening class? If you’re like us, there’s a good chance that answer is “no.” 

A leading consulting firm found that organizations that communicate regularly with their staff — and do a good job of listening — are likely to have lower turnover. This isn’t surprising, because communication helps eliminate the opportunities for misunderstanding so that everyone is on the same page. But the average human has an eight-second attention span, so we could all probably use some room for improvement.

So how can you become a become a better listener? Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Just listen. A lot of listening is just that—truly listening. When someone takes the time to speak, focus your mind on what that person is saying rather than that list of “to-do” items sitting on your desk. Don’t interrupt or attempt to offer solutions as the person is talking, just listen. 
  2. Put the phone away. Let the employee know that they are your immediate priority when you are speaking to them. Your phone might buzz or ring, but by disregarding the impulse to pick it up, you’re showing the employee that they have your full attention and are truly listening to what they are saying. 
  3. Check your preconceived notions at the door. If you think you know what the other person is going to say before you go into a conversation with them, you’re already halfway down the path of not listening. Clear your mind so you are truly open to what they have to say.
  4. Consider timing. It’s hard to be a good listener if the other person isn’t willing to talk. If this is the case, try catching members of your team while they are working. Custodial workers spend a lot of time with their thoughts because they often work alone, so by making it a priority to check in with your team when they are working, you may catch them in their comfort zone and get a better understanding of what’s on their mind.
  5. Ask more questions. A lot of times, we want to help offer solutions or solve problems for people on our team. Rather than responding with an answer right away, ask more questions. This can help create a safer space for the employee and encourage them to speak more. 
  6. Summarize what was said. Active listening is a common communication tool people use to let the other person know that they heard what was said. In addition to validating that you are listening, repeating a summary of someone’s statements back to them helps clear up any miscommunication that may have occurred. 
  7. Silence your inner interrupter. When we think we know what the other person is saying, we can have a tendency to jump into the conversation and respond before the person is done speaking. This can be detrimental to the conversation, not only causing the person to shut down, but also possibly shifting the speaker’s intent in another direction. It can be extremely difficult in some situations, but it’s a best practice to always wait until the other person is finished speaking.

The Rise of Cleanwashing: Part II

When people are first introduced to Six Sigma, a program used by businesses for continuous improvement, one of the first things they’re asked to do is to draw a happy pig. Without any instruction, you can imagine the different types of drawings people create! After everyone shows each other their work and the variation in the drawings becomes apparent, they are then provided a set of instructions and asked to draw the pig again. This time, they find that the drawings look remarkably similar. The point of the exercise is to demonstrate how when a group of people have instruction, most will produce a consistent result. 

The McDonald’s empire was built on around consistency; consistency that was structured around the pillars of “quality, service, cleanliness and value.” Ray Kroc knew that when you’re looking for a consistent product, you need to standardize the products and the systems in place. In fact, he’s quoted as saying, “If I had a brick for every time I’ve repeated the phrase Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value, I think I’d probably be able to bridge the Atlantic Ocean with them.” 

Standardized systems and products are what make a Big Mac in Des Moines, IA, taste the same as a Big Mac served in Kroc’s first restaurant in Des Plaines, IL.

Standardization is the hallmark of efficiency—just think about the ISO 9000 quality management and quality assurance standards. But for some reason, standards are lost when it comes to custodial departments. Organizations implement standardized processes throughout their customer service, warehouse, purchasing and human resource departments… but they neglect to think about how the custodial department could benefit from standardized processes.

How the Absence of Standards Can Result in Cleanwashing

In the first part of this series, we discussed the rise of “greenwashing” and how when the demand for sustainable products grew, suppliers marketed their products as good for the environment when they really weren’t. 

Similarly, there are a lot of cleaning companies out there that make claims that they know how to clean, but they often lack the knowledge, processes and systems to ensure a consistent level of cleanliness. They think that anyone can pick up a mop and clean. But when was the last time they changed the water and solution in the mop bucket? Are they using the same mop to clean the restrooms, hallways and kitchen areas? Do they put up the proper signage in public areas to reduce the chance of slips and falls?

This is an example of “cleanwashing.” 

We’ve found that cleanwashing happens more often then you’d think because so many people believe that anyone can clean. But another part of the issue is that people don’t think or ask how something is cleaned, just that it looks clean. And that’s a dangerous oversight. As anyone in this industry knows, there are a lot of things that can go undetected to the visible eye. Just ask any cleaner who has worked on a cruise ship and had to deal with Norovirus or a custodian who has had to deep clean a school during a flu outbreak.

Let’s think back to the happy pig picture. What happens when you hand someone a flat mop with little to no instruction? Just because the floor has been mopped, has it been cleaned? The individual might work from left to right, he or she might walk in circles around the floor, walk around areas that have already been mopped—there’s really no limit to the way one might approach mopping a floor. They could be moving soil around, not removing the soil.

More organizations are focusing on standardization to help them streamline practices and help improve processes moving forward.

How Does Standardization Help Improve Organizational Excellence?

When we think of standardizing processes, you may think that it would only be beneficial to franchise operations or by businesses that repeat work throughout more than one location. For example, a contract cleaner would benefit from standardizing job duties and processes so someone can pick up a job in Building A and repeat it in Building D or F—wherever they are needed, delivering the same exact quality of work.

But occupational theorists have found that the benefits of a standardizing processes go beyond delivering a consistent product. It can also be a tool to empower and retain employees. Standardization takes the guesswork from the task and means that employees have an established, time-tested process to use. Organizations use standardized processes to boost productivity and improve employee morale, because employees can take pride in knowing that they have mastered a given task. Fast Company says that organizational standardization can fuel innovation. And there’s a good chance we’ll only see more standardization in the future. The prestigious Wharton School of Business says companies are increasingly moving toward standardization.

When it comes to cleanwashing, standardization gives anyone who is either directly or indirectly responsible for the cleaning and maintenance in their building with a set of guidelines. It also allows for the development of metrics. In an ideal scenario, all custodial positions are workloaded, and workers are kitted with the exact tools and supplies they need for the day. They follow a specific set of instructions detailed on a card so areas are cleaned the exact same way, each time, delivering a standard result and a consistent level of clean throughout every building. 

How Can We Combat Cleanwashing?

Too often, custodial work is commoditized, meaning that people don’t understand the value of the service and shop it out to the lowest-priced provider. While this trend is starting to change, it’s up to the people who provide custodial services that are built upon standardized processes and procedures to educate stakeholders about what they bring to the table. A few important talking points to cover might include:

— Removing soil versus moving soil around.

— Worker training and safety.

— The impact of cleaning on health. 

— The cost versus the price of clean.

— How standardization impacts the overall quality of clean.

As we illustrated in the first part of this series, there is an increasing demand for clean facilities. People spend money in buildings that are clean. But it’s important for the people who live, work and visit those facilities to understand that just because something LOOKS clean, it doesn’t mean that it necessarily IS clean. When there’s a standardized process in place, you have the peace of mind in knowing that the outcome is consistent — every time. 

The Rise of Cleanwashing: Part I

If you’re familiar with the green cleaning movement, you’ve probably heard the term “greenwashing.” Greenwashing started happening when consumer demand for green cleaning products grew. In attempt to capture market share, suppliers of cleaning products and services made sustainability claims… but it quickly became apparent that many of these products and services weren’t really “green.”

According to Scientific American, the term “greenwashing” involves “falsely conveying to consumers that a given product, service, company or institution factors environmental responsibility into its offerings and/or operations.” Put simply, a company says their product or service is sustainable when it is not. 

We’re starting to see the same thing happening with professional cleaning services. More than ever, consumers understand the benefits and desire a clean facility in which to live, work, learn and shop. As a result, they are spending more money — and time — in buildings they feel to be clean.

Here’s a quick look at the numbers:

  • RETAIL CLEANLINESS: One study of approximately 2,100 U.S. adults found that 93 percent of those surveyed would not return to a retail store if they experienced issues with its facilities. The cleanliness issues that mattered most included bad odors, dirty restrooms and other dirty surfaces, and miscellaneous areas like entryways.
  • RESTAURANT CLEANLINESS: Restaurant Business reports that 59 percent of consumers say that cleanliness is very important when choosing where to dine, even compared to other considerations such as service, value and order accuracy. 
  • SUPERMARKET CLEANLINESS: Supermarket News reports that store cleanliness is just as importance as quality and freshness of the food in a supermarket experience survey.
  • MILLENNIALS WANT CLEAN: When it comes to millennials, the need for clean increases. A Marketwatch report highlights that three in four millennials (77 percent) thoroughly clean their homes at least once a week compared to 42 percent of Baby Boomers. 
Driven by images that regularly populate social media channels such as Instagram, many Millennials have a different view of “clean” compared to older generations.
  • Entrepreneur reports: “When it comes to food, millennials seek cleanliness and healthiness. They are 2.5 times more likely than boomers to list a store’s hygiene level as a deterrent to stopping there…”

As we experience the increased demand for clean, we can expect a rising of organizations that make false claims around the effectiveness of their cleaning services, or, “cleanwashing.”

You see, in the U.S., the cleaning industry is engaged in a decades-long battle against a misconception gripping most Americans. That misconception is that anyone can clean. And while it’s true that most people can clean, the fact remains that they need to be educated on how to clean properly. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that they’re just moving around dirt from one location to another. 

In many regards, the U.S. cleaning industry is still very much the Wild West. With very few standards or regulations around how we clean, we can expect to experience a surge of organizations “falsely conveying to consumers that their service factors cleanliness and health into its offerings and/or operations.”

Or, cleanwashing. Without organizations to govern claims made by cleaning operations, we will experience a flood of companies making unsubstantiated claims around the efficacy of their work.

In the second part of this series, we’ll look at what is cleanwashing and steps that facility managers, building owners and others who procure cleaning service can take to avoid it and steps cleaning organizations can take to separate themselves in an increasingly crowded marketplace. 

What the Golden State Warriors Can Teach Us About Better Cleaning

Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated magazine named the Golden State Warriors as their Sports Person of the Year. They are the fourth team to be recognized with the honor, following the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer team and the 2004 Boston Red Sox. 

“Our success is due to the contributions of every single player, coach and staff member in our organization; for Sports Illustrated to recognize this unique dynamic is truly special,” said Warriors President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Bob Myers upon receiving the notice of the honor.

In an industry such as ours, which is notoriously filled with inefficiencies, it can be beneficial to look to a successful organization like the Golden State Warriors for inspiration and ideas to improve the way we operate. One thing that stands out about the Warriors is how they are a team, both on and off the court. Everyone makes sacrifices and while there are star performers, each individual fills a very specific function within that team dynamic. 

A lot of custodial operations operate use an individual-based approach, rather utilizing than the collective strengths of the team. This is called zone cleaning. Within this type of system, individuals are assigned to clean a specific area, performing all of the cleaning responsibilities within that space. So, a janitor might be required to dust and mop eat floor, empty trash, wipe down/disinfect surfaces and fixtures on the first floor of a building. 

If the Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr were to apply that to his team, you can only imagine the results. At six foot three inches tall, Steph Curry is too small to play center and would never be effective under the basket. He’s a talented ball handler and shooter, which makes him better suited for a point guard or shooting guard position. 

When you apply a team-based approach to cleaning, each individual has a specific job, much like the players on a basketball court. For example, a “vacuum specialist” vacuums all the surfaces throughout the building and checks that wastebaskets have been emptied. It’s much simpler and faster to train employees to perform those two tasks than it is to train them on a long list of jobs. 

Team Cleaning uses specialists who concentrate on defined tasks such as light duty and trash, vacuuming, restrooms, and utility work, much like the players on a basketball court. (Photo courtesy of ProTeam)

Yet the advantages go beyond training. The biggest advantage of team cleaning is improved productivity. Let’s say that you have to clean a 12,000 square foot building with eight floors. If one worker was assigned to each floor, performing every cleaning task over a four-hour period, it would require eight people, eight vacuums, eight trash barrels and eight restroom carts for the entire building. 

In that same building using a “specialists” approach, a light-duty specialist and vacuum specialist would be assigned to the first four floors, and another identical pair of specialists would be assigned to the top four floors. A restroom and utility specialist would be assigned to the entire building. Using this approach, only six people, two vacuums, two trash barrels and one restroom cart is required.

In addition to fewer people and equipment, team cleaning has several additional benefits, including: 

  • It saves energy
  • It reduces complaints 
  • It’s easier to inspect
  • It’s more fun
  • It’s safer
  • It’s faster
  • It’s easier
  • It simplifies the cleaning process

There are several things which experts attribute to the overall excellence of the Warrior’s legacy. This includes the versatility of its players, their skill, the number of great players on the team, their unselfishness and the respect everyone within the organization has for one another. Rise or fall, the team does so together. These attributes have led the Warriors to three NBA championships in the past four years, losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 finals.

At Janitor University, we teach janitors to always remember “if it is to be, it is up to me.”

Just like the Warriors, everyone on a team cleaning team is responsible for the success or failure of their team. And as a result, they are stronger—and more effective—together.

* For more information about team cleaning or to find a variety of resources designed to improve the way you set up and manage your team cleaning program, please click here

From the History Books: How the White Wings Cleaned up New York City

Have you ever heard of Colonel George Waring? He’s kind of a big deal in the cleaning and sanitation world. Before he fought in the Civil War, Colonel Waring was a city engineer in New York, where he gained recognition for his work reclaiming the swampland that would become New York’s Central Park. He had helped develop a first-of-its kind drainage system that allowed for the lakes and ponds within the parks, while leaving the remainder of the land dry. 

Following his success in New York, Waring left for Memphis, where he engineered a dual sewer and drainage system that separated storm runoff from septic waste. This ended decades of waterborne illnesses and diseases, including cholera, which had plagued the city for decades. 

Lacking any formalized sanitation and refuse system, New York City was drowning in garbage and filth in the late 1800s. Its current mayor, William Strong, called for Waring to return and assume the position of sanitation engineer. The job of tackling the city’s overwhelming sanitation issues would be no easy feat, and Waring approached the job as he would approach combat on the battlefield. 

Colonel George Waring transformed the image of the sanitation department in New York, dressing workers in white so they would be affiliated with hygiene and cleanliness.

His first initiative was to build an army of cleaners, equipped with ashcans and broomsticks as their weapons. But before he cleaned up the streets, he knew he needed to clean up the perception of the cleaners. 

Street cleaners of the day were known for accepting bribes and generally slacking off on the job. To transform this image, Waring assembled a force of more than two thousand sanitation “soldiers” who were clad completely in white, from the white caps on their heads down to the pants covering their legs. The motivation was to associate workers with hygiene (though other sources indicate that it was to also make workers obvious and easily identifiable should they feel compelled to skip off to the saloon during their shift).

According to an article in Collector’s Weekly, Waring’s military-like structure included “very clearly defined tasks, like someone was assigned to sweep from this corner to that corner 10 blocks down, and they were going to do it inside these eight hours, and this cart was going to follow and the driver of the cart had these set hours. If there were any problems, the officer immediately in charge of that crew would have to answer for them, and then the officer above had to answer for the larger regional work.” 

With his system in place, Waring and his army set to clean the poorest sections of the city (the more affluent areas had enlisted private cleaning services to clean up their streets). Initially, the sanitation workers were met with resistance, and local residents threw rocks and bricks at workers, fearful they intended to displace them. By the end of two weeks, the White Wings had won them over because their neighborhoods were clean. Eventually, the piles of trash throughout the city had been completely cleared.

After seven months of Waring’s sanitation leadership, The New York Times reported: “Clean streets at last… Marvels have been done.”

Workers clean up the streets of New York in the late 1800s.

Robin Nagle, author of Picking Up, noted, “These men became heroes because, for the first time in anyone’s memory, they actually cleaned the city. It was a very bright day in the history of the department…Rates of preventable disease went down. Mortality rates went down. It also had a ripple effect across all different areas of the city.”

Cleaning as a hygiene issue. A systematic approach to cleaning. Improving the perception of cleaners. Sound familiar?

  

The Gateway Department: How to Mentor Employees for Success in Custodial and Beyond

If you don’t read the Harvard Business Review, you may want to check it out. While there’s only a limited number of articles you can read each month without a subscription, they always offer great insights and ideas to help you become a better manager. 

“How to Mentor Someone Who Doesn’t Know What Their Career Goals Should Be” by authors Tania Luna and Jordan Cohen was featured on HBR.org earlier this week and it really resonated with us. So often, custodial managers tell us that they struggle to get staff excited about the work we do. Some people see a gig in custodial like the game “hot potato.” As soon as they get in the position, they want out. But a lot of times, these people don’t even know what they do next.

The fact that the U.S. is experiencing an increasingly tight labor market with tougher immigration policies doesn’t help either. While not widely addressed in our industry at this point, these conditions can lead to that labor shortages that will continue to plague cleaning departments everywhere. That’s why it’s  important that we look at our teams and help them build useful skills that may not only transfer to other areas within our businesses, but also help them more clearly see the longer-term impact of their work in custodial.

Often, custodial is looked at as the “gateway” department for many reasons. Some people may take a job to get their foot in the door with a specific employer. Others may find a job in custodial because they are new to the U.S. and speak little English. Someone might take a job in a custodial department at a college or university to help get tuition reimbursement for a child or family member.

Add to this the fact that custodial work is extremely tough with little recognition, so job satisfaction is low. According to the HBR article, this condition isn’t isolated to the facility management industry. Authors cite a study that found 70 percent of employees across several industries reported are dissatisfied with the career opportunities available to them — a key driver for retention and engagement. Further, 75 percent of employers said they expect to face a shortage of qualifications and skills from employees.

Authors suggest that rather than looking at a “career path,” we need to change the way we look at a more growth-based framework. 

“Consider the etymology of the word “career.” It comes from the 16th-century word for “road.” When we envision a career, we imagine a direct path with a final destination. And not long ago, this concept was useful. Career growth meant attaining incremental increases in prestige and compensation. You could look at the past and use it as a gauge of the future — taking the steps that others took to get to where they got. This vision of career growth no longer matches reality. We no longer need to be good at predicting the future; we now have to succeed when the future is unpredictable. We have to abandon the career myth and create a new framework for personal and professional growth.”

When mentoring an employee, the inevitable question we most often default to is “what are your career goals?” Rather than having a person focus on rungs on a ladder — for example, becoming a supervisor or assistant director—ask questions about the nature of the work, such as “what types of work do you want to do less of and more of?” And, “What strengths do you have that you can build on?” This helps employees thing more critically about their responsibilities and personal growth potential. 

The article’s authors also suggest “focusing on transferable skills.” By empowering employees to “diversify their career capital” and think about a variety of transferable skills, such as communication, public speaking, management, etc., we help them find ways to grow personally and professionally. Within the (OS1) System, we have a language we call “OS1ian” that offers non-English speakers a fundamental set of vocabulary words they can use within the custodial operations, but also will be helpful for them in other areas of life. 

In a mentorship dynamic, you might ask someone what type of skills they would like to build upon to become more effective in their current position or what skill gaps they feel are holding them back?

Authors suggest we “create milestones” to acknowledge growth and achievements, because titles no longer represent advancement. 

“One way we’ve done this is to create badges that demarcate growth. For example, when managers receive training, they receive a certificate. To get their next badge, they must complete an advanced program. A badge system can demarcate skills, knowledge, and achievements — creating a portfolio of accomplishments rather than a traditional résumé.”

Training is such a critical part of what we do, so think about how your training program is structured to recognize achievement. Incentivize employees to accomplish a new set of milestones, such as a learning track in ergonomics or blood borne pathogens. This provides them with useful skills that empowers them, while also enabling them to grow professionally.

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By the nature of the work, custodial departments will prevail as the “gateway” department for labor. But this uniquely positions custodial managers to help employees not only shape their futures, but form critical skills that will help them along the way — in custodial in beyond. 

Five Easy Ways to Attract More Millennials to the Cleaning Industry

Millennials seek engagement, so by giving them a voice and asking for their input, you can help increase their workplace satisfaction.

The “greying” of the cleaning industry is a hot button topic for a lot of people these days. Over the next few years, we’ll experience a mass exodus as baby boomers leave the cleaning industry to retire. According to a recent article in Contracting Profits, one third of janitors and one third of supervisors are age 55 and over. But this situation isn’t unique to end-user segment—we can also expect to see vacancies throughout the manufacturer and distributor side of the industry too.

Of additional concern is that very few organizations are planning for what happens after these workers leave. A recent reader survey from Facility Cleaning Decisions found that more than half of custodial managers (56 percent) do not have a succession plan in place for themselves and/or a manager on their staff.

The need for attracting younger talent to the industry is very real, as we risk losing a lot of tribal knowledge as retirees pack their bags. But when we talk about attracting millennials to our industry, we need to move past the technology conversation. Sure, most millennials were born with a cellphone in their hands, but that doesn’t necessarily exempt the cleaning industry from being appealing to a younger demographic. In fact, there are several things about it that could be appealing to younger workers — depending on how your department is structured. We’ve pulled together a list of simple things we can do to make any department—from jan/san sales to custodial operations—more appealing to millennials and beyond.

  1. Give younger workers a voice. Rarely do managers tap new employees for input. Understandably, we spend a lot of time talking—talking as we train on policies and procedures. Talking as we introduce them to other coworkers and staff. But we also should spend time listening to these new workers. By engaging them and asking them for their impressions on a regular basis, we help give them a voice—something that is important to a generation that seeks closer relationships with their bosses and more engagement. 
  2. Talk about the importance of cleaning. Millennial workers want work that has more meaning—they aren’t as happy making widgets for company XYZ as their parents were 20 years ago. They want to know that their work makes a difference and helps others. As such, we should help them understand the importance of cleaning—how cleaning not only plays a big role in the health of building occupants, but also in their productivity. Use it as a talking point during the interview process and in ongoing meetings.
  3. Create more opportunities for women. The cleaning industry has long been known as a male-dominated industry, but there are many women who have created successful careers for themselves in the cleaning industry. Initiatives such as mentorship programs to workplace inclusion policies can help increase the number of opportunities to women and create diversity in our workplaces. 
  4. Give back to the community. Cleaning is a service-based industry, and a service that can be easily used when it comes to giving back to the surrounding community. Organizing events where your department can help clean-up a local non-profit, provide products to a shelter or even work with a local organization to provide job training will not only benefit the community, but can be attractive to socially-minded millennials. 
  5. Make [more] learning opportunities available. Growing up with the internet has its benefits, and an increased hunger for education and learning is one. The high school graduation is the highest in more than two decades (72 percent) and of those graduates, 68 percent have enrolled in college. Because these workers are constantly consuming information through digital devices, workplaces should make sure workers also have access to the information and opportunities they need to perform their jobs to peak performance. Even if your workplace doesn’t provide reimbursement programs, work with employees who demonstrate an interest in ongoing education to create time for them to attend events. 

Low unemployment rates are making the fight for quality employees tougher than ever and professionals everywhere are starting to see that we can’t just do things the way we’ve always done them if we want to attract and retain young professionals to our workplaces. Keeping these strategies in mind will help make sure your organization is prepared for future success.

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