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(OS1): What a Professional Cleaning Operation Uses to “Tidy Up”

There’s a pretty good chance that over the past month, you’ve heard the name “Marie Kondo” or even watched one of her shows. Named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” Japan’s queen of decluttering has found her way into millions of U.S. home by sharing her way of cleaning or, “tidying up,” those items that do not “spark joy” in their lives. From her two best-selling books to her recent Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” she provides organizational guidance to help people create order using her patented “konmarie method.” 

In her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Kondo discusses how tidying up— much like cleaning — is a self-taught exercise. 

Image from Kondo’s website: https://konmari.com.

“The general assumption, in Japan at least, is that tidying up doesn’t need to be taught but rather is picked up naturally,” she says. “Cooking skills and recipes are passed down as family traditions…yet no one hears of anyone passing on the family secrets of tidying, even within the same household.” 

“Instruction in tidying is neglected not only in the home but also at school,” she continues. “When we think back to our home economics classes, most of us remember making hamburgers or learning how to use a sewing machine to make an apron…surprisingly little time is devoted to the subject of tidying.” 

It doesn’t take much looking to see the parallels between our industry, the professional cleaning and hygiene industry, and how Kondo has built her empire. She’s found a way for people to find order and develop a system for “maintaining” their home, just as a cleaning operation is designed to do within a commercial building, such as a school, hospital or office.

Similar to the “tidying up” movement, a lot of people in the professional cleaning industry are self-taught because we also operate on the notion that cleaning is a skill that is picked up naturally or through experience. 

Like Kondo, our founder, John Walker, recognized the issue with this approach. Because people lacked the proper training, they were not often able to truly clean in a way that led to cleaner, safer and healthier facilities. That’s why he developed (OS1), a scientifically engineered approach to cleaning. This system helps provide a system for cleaning and maintaining a building.

Let’s look at the similarities between Marie Kondo’s approach to tidying up and the (OS1) approach to cleaning:

Marie Kondo’s Approach  (OS1) Approach
Visit a home and consult with the customer about their goals and objectives. Meet with the client to discuss current program and objectives for implementing a new custodial system
Conduct an audit/inventory of the home’s material possessions Conduct a baseline audit of the custodial program. This includes:  inventory of custodial supplies & equipment; observations of cleaning processes; detailed cost analysis of labor/product usage; training and education program; scheduled cleaning services; and HAZCOM risk assessment.
Teach the KonMarie method Teach the (OS1) process through events like Janitor University, Train the Trainer, (OS1) Boot Camp and (OS1) specialist certifications.
Help clients understand that tidying up is not a chore but a mindset. Help custodial operations understand the importance of janitors and that they be treated as first-class citizens. 
Work with homeowners to implement the KonMarie method and begin purging the home of unnecessary material itemsSet up a pilot building within the facility to begin rolling out the (OS1) system.
Roll out the Konmarie method over the next monthContinue tactically rolling out the (OS1) system based upon a successful pilot. Create repeatable outcomes and over the next several months/years scale to additional buildings within the operation.
Follow-up with clientOngoing benchmarking of best practices with other (OS1) users through an annual symposium. Participate in annual progress audits to document milestones, troubleshoot issues.

Take a look at your custodial closet. Is it filled bottles of cleaning chemicals made by companies that aren’t even in business anymore? Do you have pieces of broken equipment collecting dust in the corner? Do you know what tasks are being performed every single day? Do you spend your day handling complaints and putting out fires? Is your staff’s morale perpetually low?

If so, it could mean your custodial department is ready for a little tidying up too.

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!

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.

Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to a Cleaning Operation

In his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation” published in the 1943 issue of Psychological Review, Abraham Maslow revealed a pyramid in which various levels of human needs were defined (see Figure 1). Ultimately, the theory suggests that humans must cover their most basic needs (like food, shelter and safety) before they can think about higher level goals, like education or relationships. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy or Needs (Figure 1).

We can benefit from looking at a cleaning operation in a similar way. There are certain fundamental needs within a custodial operation that must be met in order for the program to be effective and meet certain higher-level goals. Too often, our conversation about cleaning is just through a specific lens rather than looking at the operation as a whole.

When was the last time someone asked you one of the following questions:

  • What are you doing to make your team more productive?
  • What are you doing to reduce the turnover in your operation?
  • How are you reducing injuries?
  • Can you stop the man on the third floor from complaining every time we clean his office?

Stepping back and looking at a custodial operation with Maslow’s framework in mind could be useful in answering these questions, and improving your overall operation. Because, if the baseline needs of your cleaning operation aren’t met, how can you make sure it, and all the intricate, moving pieces involved in it, operate at their fullest potential?

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The Hierarchy of Needs within a Custodial Operation

FOUNDATION: Tools and People

At the foundation of every custodial operation is the tools and labor to clean. In our industry, we spend the majority of our time talking about the tools rather than the labor, but that’s another blog post for another day. If you don’t have equipment, such as flat mops, buckets, auto scrubbers, vacuums, cloths, chemicals—you get where we’re going—then it’s going to be tough to do much cleaning. 

The same goes for people. You might have all the best equipment in the world, but without the people to use the equipment, apply the chemicals and remove the soil, you can’t clean.

LEVEL 1: Safety & Training

A cleaning program’s hierarchy of needs.

Once you have the equipment, people and cleaning supplies in place, the next level of any cleaning operation is making sure they have the right training and safety equipment to protect them from injury. Surprisingly, custodians continue to experience one of the highest injury rates of any occupation. Most injuries result from slips and falls, over-exertion and improperly mixing  of chemical. 

Teaching custodial workers not just what to clean, but HOW to clean is also critical. Help them understand the correct routes to follow, best techniques for lifting heavy equipment and how to prevent cross contamination. 

Equipping custodians with the right personal protective equipment is not only the law, it can also go a long way in making them feel more valued, reducing injuries and insurance costs. 

LEVEL 2: Recognition and Appreciation

Once the basic elements of the custodial operation are in place, the next level in a custodial operation’s hierarchy of needs is the sense of value. This is instilled by offering recognition to custodial workers and making them feel appreciated for what they do. A lot of housekeeping and environmental service operations use the month of September to recognize employees through events such as housekeepers week or environmental services week, typically the second full week of September. 

It’s important not for just custodial management to acknowledge and show appreciation for people who clean our buildings, but everyone within a building. A simple “thank you” helps a custodial worker feel valued for the important work they do.

LEVEL 3: Self Actualization

At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization, which is understanding one’s importance and achieving one’s full potential. When a custodial operation reaches this point, it is filled with a group of engaged team players who strive to work to the best of their abilities. They have been given the supplies and training to do their job effectively, they feel valued and appreciated for their work and do their best to fulfill their role. Because of their engagement, these employees may be well suited to take on new roles or responsibility within the organization and help mentor others.

Would you agree with this proposed hierarchy of needs? What systems do you have in place to create a group of engaged and committed custodians? We’d love to hear your thoughts — please share them on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/managemen.

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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Four Things Every Custodial Job Description Should Include

Job descriptions. These generic and ambiguous paragraphs are often inherited from predecessors, borrowed from colleagues or downloaded from an industry website. Because it’s such a painstaking activity, we rarely tackle the daunting task of crafting a job description from scratch.

Over the years, we have found that job descriptions are one of the most overlooked and underutilized aspects of managing a custodial department; yet, they are are critical to reducing liability, arbitrating union grievances, hiring, bidding projects, training and managing custodial workers. They are a fundamental building block upon which you can build the rest of your cleaning operation, so they should be written in a way that is not only reflective of the job and work being performed, but in a way that provides the individual performing the task with a clear understanding of HOW to perform the work.

But sadly, that rarely happens. Assigned to workers throughout our custodial departments, the descriptions capture highlights of responsibilities associated with a certain position, but do not include specifics, like the nuances specific to a facility. For example, I once was at a school where the janitor was responsible for “vacuuming floors” even though there wasn’t any carpet or soft flooring in the building.

So what are a few essential components of a quality job description and how can you use job descriptions as a building block for training custodial workers?

  1. FUNCTIONS: The functions outline all of the essential responsibilities of the job. This includes specific cleaning assignments based on the function. For example, within the (OS1) System, functions of a Utility Specialist include responsibilities such as cleaning glass, hauling trash to the dumpster and cleaning first impression areas.
  2. SPECIFICS/ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: With the general functions covered, the additional information section provides supplementary information to the key functions. For example, this might include safety information (e.g. lift equipment and trash bags safely using legs) or general reminders (e.g. keep the necessary keys for your area on you at all times throughout your shift).
  3. NOTES: The notes section offers a place where either additional responsibilities that become part of the job can be captured. For example, if a new table is placed in a conference area, you should list this in the notes to be added to the functions at a later time.

While these are three key elements to a quality job description, what separates a good job description from a great one is a flow chart. The flow chart provides a visual representation of the steps the custodial worker should take to complete their responsibilities. Following a top to bottom approach, it also identifies each task that needs to be completed and the order in which it should be completed, reducing opportunities for redundancies or overlooked areas. A flow chart shows where you start, where you finish and every step in between.

A flow chart offers specific instructions on what to clean in what order and is included in a Scouting Report for each employee. This reduces confusion and inconsistencies in cleaning.

A modern version of the traditional job description should be a living, breathing part of your operation that is continually changing and evolving. It’s something that has taken us more than 20 years to develop with some of the most advanced facility management programs out there. We use Scouting Reports in the (OS1) System and these three to four page booklets are utilized by custodial workers in ISO-9000 organizations across the U.S.

A quality job description is something every custodial worker deserves. It’s the foundation of a quality cleaning operation.

Looking for comprehensive job descriptions for your custodial operation? Check our the ManageMen Store for a set of common custodial positions: https://managemenstore.com/trainers/scouting-reports.html.