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How the University of Michigan Makes Sure Custodial Workers Are Seen — and Appreciated

It started with a random Google search. Now it’s a growing program that unites building occupants with the people who clean their buildings, giving them an opportunity to connect and get to know one another. And most importantly, it gives the people who work in that building an opportunity to say “thank you” to their custodians.

Three years ago, when John Lawter, Director of Custodial Grounds and Services at the University of Michigan, began looking for ways to recognize his team, his Google searches led him to Custodial Appreciation Day, which is held annually in early October. 

“I never knew something like this existed,” he said. “I knew it could be a great way to say thank you to the people on our team.”

This team was presented with U of M scarves for chilly Ann Arbor winters.

Like many custodial teams, Lawter’s team works mostly at night when students, faculty and staff are out of the office. Very rarely do the building customers have an opportunity to see the hard-working people who clean their building, let alone meet them. So Lawter and his team decided to dedicate the entire month of October to the custodial staff at U of M. 

The key difference to this program compared to other Custodial Appreciation events? He encouraged their customers, the people in the buildings on campus, to develop their own recognition events—it wasn’t just an event coordinated and attended by custodial department.

“It’s been pretty amazing to see the response to this program,” he said. “Each year, more buildings organize and find some way to recognize the cleaners in the building.”

Last year, 27 buildings on the U of M campus hosted their own events to recognize custodial workers. Lawter says that the more the word spreads about Custodial Appreciation Month, the more buildings participate. 

These events might include a pizza party, a potluck or a short ceremony where staff are given school swag, including sweatshirts or other apparel. Lawter makes it a point to attend each event, so the team recognizes how valued they are within the custodial department too. Several deans at the schools within the University have also been known to make an appearance. 

Branded apparel, like these long sleeved shirts from the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute, are a great way to say “thank you” to your custodial team.

“When you attend these events, it’s always wonderful to see the response from the people on our team,” he said. “There’s no doubt that the recognition from the people in the buildings where they work has a big impact on them.”

In addition to boosting morale and making cleaners feel appreciated, Lawter says that the events also help improve communication and relationships with the building occupants. 

As the program evolves, Lawter and his team is working with other groups on campus to grow awareness and resources for recognition to encourage all buildings to participate. But no cleaner goes without a party or some token of recognition in October. Lawter make sure of that.

“We’ll have a pizza party for the team when their building doesn’t host an appreciation event,” he said. “But the longer we do this, the fewer events we host internally. The entire campus community really appreciates the work of our custodial team and does a great job of showing it.”