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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.

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. 

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!

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

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!

Don’t Be a “Tom”: 3 Questions You Can Ask to Craft a Job You Love

Tom is an investment banker who doesn’t like his job. Every day, he gets dressed a suit and tie before heading into work and “spacing out” at his desk for at least an hour. Around mid-morning, he finally gets around to checking in on his client’s portfolios, and wonders why he ever got into this career. It sounded glamorous — the title of “investment banker” always sounded when he talked to family and friends, and the money was good—it just was never fulfilling for him. Tom checks all the boxes required in his job description and then checks out for the day.

Tom’s good friend, Sara, started out in investment banking but eventually landed a job as the Director of Environmental Services at a large hospital. It wasn’t the job she initially envisioned for herself, but Sara loved the work. She loved the interaction she had with her team, nurses, doctors, patients and visitors to the hospital. Days went quickly and she didn’t dread coming to work each day. In addition to making sure the hospital remained clean, Sara also worked on community outreach and education programs. 

Tom makes a lot of money and has a prestigious title, so why does he hate his job? What makes Sara love her job so much? For as many Toms you meet, there are just as many Saras, so what’s the difference between the two? Is it the person or the work?

A recent episode of NPR’s “Hidden Brain” show explores this topic, looking specifically a group of cleaning workers in a hospital. Psychologist Amy Wrzeniewski of Yale University says that it’s not as much about the job we are performing, but how we think about the job that results in greater fulfillment. 

In her research, Wrzeniewski found two distinct differences between a group of custodial workers. Group A described custodial work as not very highly skilled where Group B said the exact opposite— that their work was extremely skilled and it would be difficult for someone to replace them. 

As she looked further into these characterizations and how the groups engaged with their work, Amy’s team found that Group A only performed the tasks that were expected of them. Like Tom, they were box checkers and did not go beyond the basic job description. 

When asked to discuss their responsibilities, Group B also talked about the specific cleaning tasks, but also talked about the interactions they had with medical staff, visitors and patients. For example, one cleaner worked on a long-term rehabilitation floor where several patients suffered from comas. Recognizing that patients were not necessarily aware of their environments, this worker regularly rearranged the artwork with the hope that a minor alteration in their environment might assist with the healing process. 

Other cleaners talked about how they would try to view the room from the patient’s vantage—looking up at the ceiling from the bed—to make sure they had removed any cobwebs or other issues.

Wrzeniewski calls this “job crafting” — or creating jobs that go beyond the standard description. People who “job craft” identify tasks and responsibilities within the scope of their position that engage them in other ways. 

As a custodial professional who likely is responsible for managing a team of custodial workers, think about this not only in terms of your own personal development, but how you can help custodial workers on your team craft the scope of their work to find more fulfillment. 

What are practical steps to job craft and find more meaning in your work? Amy suggests asking yourself (or your employees) the following:

1. What types of things do you enjoy and what tasks make you feel good? For example, if you enjoy interacting with patients and their families, can you find ways to better connect with them while you work? Are there tasks you can add to your job description that could relate to that interest?

2. What interpersonal relationships bring you the most enjoyment during your work day? From co-workers to building occupants, the relationships and interpersonal dynamics within the workplace can both be our greatest enjoyment and stress when it comes to our work. What are some ways we can enhance those relationships?

3. How does your organization benefit from your involvement? When researchers asked the custodians about their title, some gave their official title of a custodian or environmental services worker, but others said they were “healers.” Re-defining your role within the position can change your perspective while performing the work. 

While this is just a quick summary of Amy’s research, definitely consider listening to the full episode. It takes less than 30 minutes— check it out here: https://www.npr.org/2018/07/30/634047154/you-2-0-dream-jobs

You can also check out one of Amy’s articles in the Harvard Business Review here: https://hbr.org/2010/06/managing-yourself-turn-the-job-you-have-into-the-job-you-want.

We’d love to hear more about how you find fulfillment in your job—chime in on Facebook!

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. 

Why You Need to Seriously Think About Attending Symposium This August

There’s a good chance that if you’re reading this blog post, you’ve heard us talk about Symposium. This annual gathering of facility management professionals has been happening for almost 20 years now, and each year, we welcome both new and familiar faces to the two-day event. 

But if you haven’t attended or even heard about Symposium, here’s a quick download: The Simon Institute Symposium (previously known as the (OS1) Users Symposium), is an annual gathering of professionals representing different areas of the cleaning industry who meet and discuss best practices for a custodial operation. If you go, you’ll hear presentations from professionals at some of the top organizations throughout the country, including the United States Postal Service, Sandia National Labs, University of Texas – Austin, and many more, about proven strategies that have improved at least one area of their custodial operation. In fact, you can check out several past presentations here.

In addition to the incredible knowledge and information sharing, attendees also benefit from networking with industry experts. You see, Symposium isn’t exclusively attended by facility management professionals, but also members of the Cleaning Industry Alliance and other representatives, such as researchers, safety experts and more. 

But what really sets Symposium apart from other industry events is that it’s formatted to facilitate an exchange of ideas. Those who have attended will tell you that sessions are extremely interactive and are designed to foster dialogue between everyone in the room. If you are serious about improving your custodial operations, the Simon Institute wants you to take home several actionable ideas to try.

Interested? Even a little bit? Here are five more reasons why you should consider attending.

  1. Explore Park City! The event starts on Monday, so think about arriving a little earlier to enjoy all that Park City, Utah, and the surrounding mountains have to offer. Take a drive through Guardsman Pass Scenic Backway; check out Olympic Park, the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics; or hop around downtown and enjoy the great culinary treasurers of the city. Whatever your interest, you’ll find it in Park City.
  2. Enjoy a personalized experience. Symposium isn’t a huge event attended by thousands. In fact, the Simon Institute intentionally keeps the group small so people have the opportunity to truly connect and network with one another. Maybe you listened to a presentation from Flynt Belk from the Workers’ Compensation Fund about performing a risk analysis and have some follow-up questions for him. This format will enable you to easily connect with him during a networking break or dinner and address those questions.
  3. It’ll make you smarter. No really, Symposium speakers are leaders in their field. You’ll hear actual case studies of proven strategies that have worked to reduce costs, engage workers, improve safety or address other common issues experienced by facility management professionals. The goal of Symposium is to identify and discuss best practices to make your custodial operation better. 
  4. Enjoy the top awards program for the cleaning industry. Each year, the Simon Institute hands out several awards during our “Cleaning Industry Awards Banquet.” Billed as the top awards program in the cleaning industry, it recognizes the top leaders, innovators and achievers in the industry. Also special to the program is the industry’s only awards program for cleaning workers. Several organizations bring their top performing staff to be recognized during this special event. 
  5. You’ll leave inspired. Attendees to Symposium agree—there’s a special buzz you get when you attend Symposium. The quality of attendees, presentations and experience will leave you excited about new things you can try to make your custodial operation clean better, more safely and in the most efficient way possible. 

“[At the 2017 Simon Institute Symposium] I was joined by roughly 75 high-ranking facility executives determined to create best practices and better benchmarks for their departments and the industry as a whole,” said Corinne Zudonyi, Editor-in-Chief of Facility Cleaning Decisions and Cleanlink.com. “Sessions included the sharing of successes from some of the largest and most innovative cleaning programs across the country.”

If you’re thinking about joining us in August and would like to talk to a previous attendee about what you can expect, let us know. We’ll put you in touch with someone.  But don’t wait too long! Our early bird rate expires July 1st and the hotel block at the exclusive Westgate Park City expires July 7th and our group code is S/O 63-244. Click here to reserve your seat!

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The Heart of Cleaning: Recognizing the People Who Make It All Happen

If you’re reading this blog, you already know that it takes a special kind of person to work as a custodian or janitor. The work is hard and often thankless. Wages can be low and people often talk down to you like you’re not important. When you see a full coffee cup in the trash can, you can’t help but think of the little consideration people have for others that their actions might impact. It might be your second or third job, but cleaning is something you probably do in the evening, when everyone else in your family is at home sleeping. When your shift is over, there’s a good chance your shoulders or back ache—but you come back the next day and do it all over again. 

As if the work of a custodian isn’t tough enough, we often see negative portrayals of cleaning workers in the media.

A custodian is blamed for stealing or abuse. A housekeeper in a hotel uses the same cloth to wipe down the toilet and sink. These stories play into the negative stereotype of the profession and, as we see it, just aren’t fair—99 percent of custodial workers aren’t thieves or villains. That’s why it’s important to celebrate the positive stories that truly reflect the heart of most people who work so hard cleaning the buildings where we stay, work, learn, heal and visit.

Cleaning Workers with Big Hearts

The first story comes from Northern Kentucky, where a janitor who earned $3.70/hour or about $7,000 year in 1976—a little ore than midway through his career. Alvin Randlett never graduated from high school, but spent 32 years working for a local elementary school before retiring in 2001. Known for his hard work and dedication to the school, his close friend shared that people all around town knew him and would yell out to him in passing, often giving him a hug. Never touching a dime of his pension, Randlett willed his life savings of $175,000 to child abuse victims through the Kentucky Child Victims’ Trust Fund. 

Across the river in Cincinnati, an elementary school janitor was recently named the 2018 Cintas Janitor of the Year. Beloved by students, parents and staff at a public elementary school, “Mr. Bob” received more than 182,100 votes to earn the title. In the week prior to the announcement, Mr. Bob worked with students to build bird houses for their mothers for Mother’s Day. In thanking those who helped him win, Mr. Bob said, “Make no mistake, the $5000 is incredibly awesome and will go to great use; however, the real prize is the way I was made to feel. That is priceless.”

Our neighbors to the north in Novia Scotia shared a story last week about a much-loved janitor who worked at a nursing home for 40 years. Johnny MacLeod lives with Down syndrome, but that had no impact on his performance or attendance. In fact, co-workers told the media that he never complains. 

“No matter what you would ask of him, he would never say to you, ‘That’s not my job,’” says support services manager Carolyn Zwicker. “He just takes it and just goes with it. He’s just amazing. We can’t imagine life without our little Johnny.”

Then there’s the story of Scott LaFayette, Sandia National Laboratories’ (SNL) 2017 Custodian of the Year and a 2017 Outstanding Cleaning Worker. Scott LaFayette retired from the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) after serving 22 with the department and joined the Sandia custodial team. Presently, Scott is assigned custodial duties within critical and high-visible buildings at SNL. He ensures that these buildings are always clean by adding a touch of excellent customer service in his work. Scott is ardently aware of the expected Engineering Safety culture pursuit within SNL.

He began his career at APD as a Patrolman, advancing up the ranks to Field Training Officer, Sergeant (four years), and retiring as a Lieutenant (seven years). Scott received his Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

There are so many incredible people who keep the cleaning industry moving. Without the custodians and janitors, there would be no one to use the cleaning products that are manufactured, no one to remove dirt from our buildings to keep them healthy, no one to train and use the cleaning systems we design.

Whether you see this job as a transition in your life or a full-time career, whether you work in a school, a hospital, a hotel or an office building, know that we see you. We understand the hard work you do. We know it can be painful at times. But we also know that to do the work you do, it takes incredible strength, patience and perseverance. It takes a special kind of person to be a custodial worker. A person with a lot of heart. Thank you for all that you do.

Nominate a custodial worker you know who demonstrates excellence in everything they do for a 2018 Outstanding Cleaning Worker award by July 16, 2018. These awards will be presented during the 2018 (OS1) Users Symposium in Park City, UT, Aug. 6-8, 2018.