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Why Dirty Schools are a Big Problem—and What We Can Do to Clean Them Up

Last year, the Chicago Public School (CPS) system had a major cleaning problem on its hands. When it outsourced cleaning services, it promised the move would save the district money, provide cleaner schools and reduce responsibilities within individual schools.

That didn’t happen. 

An investigation by a local newspaper revealed that 91 of 125 schools failed cleanliness inspections by an outside inspector, and the Chicago Board of Education wanted action. They wanted accountability from the contractors hired to oversee cleaning duties.  

Roaches, dirty floors, missing restroom supplies were just a few of the issues. Several cleaners reported that they used personal funds to purchase cleaning supplies. Within the schools, so many hands were tied. Administrators couldn’t do anything about the issue. Teachers started leaving, dismayed by the filthy environment and kids—well, the kids suffered the most. 

The Issue with Dirty Schools

A lot of people want to know what REALLY happens when schools are dirty. The truth is, a lot can happen.

Former EPA scientist Dr. Michael Berry has studied the impact of cleaning on our schools extensively. In his study “Educational Performance, Environmental Management, and Cleaning  Effectiveness in School Environments,” he concludes, “effective cleaning programs enhance school and student positive self-image, and may promote overall higher academic attendance and performance.”

While Dr. Berry was specifically making the case for effective maintenance as a strategy for revitalizing aging city schools, he demonstrated the link between a school’s environmental quality and the educational performance of its students. Ultimately, he says, clean schools are not just an issue for parents and school staff, but our communities.  

Dr. Michael Berry creates the link between a dirty school, poor performance and the impact on our communities.

A few weeks ago, we shared an awesome letter to the editor from a concerned parent in a school district that was outsourcing its custodial services. She (legitimately) questioned how students would be impacted through the move. 

Here are just a few of the problems associated with dirty schools: 

1. Increased illnesses and absenteeism. 

2. Reduced performance.

3. Students and staff take less pride in the school, which reduces moral.

4. Schools experience higher teacher and employee turnover. Higher turnover impacts student’s learning and opportunities for achievement. 

5. Reduced property value. 

What We Can Do About Dirty Schools

There are a lot of clean schools in our country, but there are also a lot of really dirty schools as well, and it shouldn’t take an investigation to reveal issues with cleanliness. A lot of times the cleanliness of a school is tied to funding, not surprisingly.

As a parent, school administrator or just concerned citizen, what can you do to help make sure we’re offering a clean and safe facility for children to learn and grow?

1. Improve job descriptions for janitors. According to the National Education Association, 38 percent of janitors have no job description and 32 percent of those who do have a job description feel it does not match the scope of their work. Make sure job descriptions have been updated and accurately reflect the work the janitor performs. An effective scope of work is the first step to making sure cleaning is performed as required.

2. Allocate funds for training. Too often, we put a vacuum or mop in a janitor’s hand and tell them to clean, assuming they know what to do… but they often don’t. By allocating funds for cleaning programs, products and training, school custodians can have the tools they need to clean properly, while also understanding the basic science of their job, including microbiology, how to prevent cross contamination, etc. 

3. Scrutinize RFPs before they go to bid. Cleaning services have become increasingly commoditized, so it’s important to make sure that when your district issues an RFP, specs for cleaning are clearly identified so services aren’t cut to the lowest priced bidder.  Green Seal’s GS-42 is a great framework for an RFP.

4. Advocate for better cleaning standards and programs. As Dr. Campbell noted in his report Clean Schools Initiative, “National cleaning, facility and education associations, states, school districts, etc. must establish a common vocabulary with clearly identified standards, training competencies, measures and outcomes that focus on healthy environments that improve quality of life and human performance.” 

If you’re looking to turn around a cleaning program at a school, we’ve got you covered. Just check out this case study from the Provo City Schools that showed how a systematic approach to cleaning was able to reverse some of the all-too-familiar challenges of a poor cleaning program.

5. Thank a Cleaner. While it might seem tongue-in-cheek, the single most important thing a parent, student, teacher or administrator can do to improve cleaning in schools is show appreciation for the people doing the cleaning. The task is hard and often thankless, so showing custodial workers that you see them and appreciate the work they are doing goes a long way. 

As the late Nelson Mandela wrote, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

As children across the nation prepare to return to schools, let’s do what we can to provide an optimal learning environment for them. Clean schools matter.

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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Three Things You Need for Your Custodial Operation to be Successful

When I started my job as a housekeeper at the only hotel in my small town, I was shown my cart, a vacuum and how to make a bed. The “trainer,” or the woman I was supposed to follow for the day, had called off work, so I was on my own.

“If you have any questions, just dial number one on the phone,” said the housekeeping manager. And off I went.

I was 17 at the time, and my mom will be the first to tell you that I didn’t know a thing about cleaning my own room, let alone 10 rooms in a hotel. I lasted about two weeks. I am process driven and there wasn’t a single procedure in place in that department (at least, no procedures that were shared with me). I also love science, and I had no idea that a lot of what I was doing had a scientific application. When I completed my assigned rooms, I clocked out and told my boss I’d see her tomorrow. That was it.

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Too often, people treat cleaning like it’s something that anyone knows how to do, but there’s a big problem with that approach. It gives the unspoken message to custodians and housekeepers that they are replaceable. If they don’t show up, anyone can come in and do their job. When there’s little to no training, it tells them that the job isn’t skilled. It doesn’t show them that they can actually make a career—a good, well-paying career—in the cleaning industry. Ultimately, treating cleaning like it’s something that anyone knows how to do reduces the value of both the work and the people performing the work.

Is there any wonder why custodial operations have problems with turnover and attracting younger people to the industry?

At ManageMen, when we look at cleaning, we see it as a profession grounded in three disciplines. We refer to these disciplines as the “three-legged stool” of cleaning. When you don’t ground your custodial operations with these elements as your foundation, you’ll be more prone to common issues such as outsourcing, high turnover and low employee morale. There’s also a good chance you’re actually polluting the indoor environment rather than cleaning it.

The three core elements of a successful cleaning operation include:

Engineering: The standardization, simplification, best practices and ongoing benchmarking of a cleaning program amongst top organizations that establishes as a best-in-class operation.

Science: The studies and research that validate the engineering elements of the cleaning operation, methods to improve safety and compliance with workplace safety laws, pollution reduction and development of workplace topophilia (or the love of the indoor environment).

Professionalism: Systems that enhance value of and appreciation for cleaning workers in the overall building operations, through education, skills validation, career path and recognition programs.

We all know by now that the cleanliness of our buildings has a huge impact on the health and  productivity of building occupants, while also playing a key role in an organization’s brand. It can also be a differentiator when trying to attract new customers or employees — who wants to work in a dirty building?

Rather than treating custodial like Cinderella — pushing her to the background while other areas get more attention and budget — we need to start grounding our custodial operations in engineering, science and professionalism.

Custodial work is not a job that just anyone can do. It’s a profession that requires skilled training and respect. When we treat it as such, we’ll not only improve the levels of cleanliness in our buildings, but perhaps we’ll give new workers to our industry a better appreciation for the work and how they can build a successful career in this industry.

 

(OS1) Expert Trainer Dates Announced

Ok, (OS1) Coaches and Trainers mark your calendars! We have determined the dates for the (OS1) Expert Trainer class in 2012. The class will take place at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Orlando, Florida May 17-18, 2012. Registration is now open. Click on the following link for more details about the class:

More information about (OS1) Expert Trainer