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The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do to Attract and Retain Custodial Workers

What do employees what in a job, anyway? Custodial managers often ask themselves this question when assembling a new team or filling a position opening. Finding good staff is difficult, because even in tough labor markets, turnover in the commercial cleaning industry is notoriously high—as much as 200 percent in some operations.  

In Facility Cleaning Decision’s 2018 Reader Survey, staffing challenges were one of respondents’ top areas of concerns. While respondents cited an average turnover rate of 15 percent, they identified numerous reasons for people leaving the department, including opportunities for better pay, limited advancement opportunities and the physical nature of the work. 

Stop for a minute and imagine that you just found out that several people on your team were currently looking for a new job. Would you do anything to help dissuade them from leaving? If so, what? As custodial managers, we can’t often set perks such as benefit programs or 401k plans, but there are a few carrots we can extend team members to incentivize and retain them.

To be clear, we’re not talking about Silicon Valley office style carrots either. Giving employees a place to take a nap or play video games isn’t a likely possibility in most custodial environments. But take Bain & Company, Gassdoor’s top place to work in 2019, as voted on by their employees. The one thing their employees say makes working at Bain so great? 

Its employee-focused culture. 

“The people are what make [Bain] special,” said one Bain employee. “Throughout my career, I can point to people who invested in me, helping me to grow and develop.”

What incentives do you have in place to keep your team motivated? Certifications, recognition programs and opportunities for advancements can incentivize workers.

An employee-focused culture means developing an environment that helps employees evolve both personally and professionally. It means thinking about how the work impacts them. It’s about not viewing them as cogs in the wheel, but as the wheel itself—necessary to move forward.

How can you create an employee-focused culture? It’s not as hard as you might think.

  1. Offer frequent training and certification. LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report revealed that a shocking 93 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers. Training is one of the top ways to retain custodial workers, but it can also be one of the most difficult due to the diversity of our industry. Languages, disabilities and ages can all present barriers when training employees. Training programs that accommodate a variety of learning styles can help workers understand not just HOW to do the job, but why their jobs are important. Help them understand how to protect themselves during work and demonstrate a culture of safety. Consider offering a stipend for other training and/or certification offered beyond your organization, and think about micro learning opportunities, which do not require the time or commitment of traditional certifications.
  2. Provide opportunities for advancement.  Custodial work is often looked at as a transition position. “I’ll work as a custodian until I can get another job,” people say, or maybe they pick up custodial work as a second job to earn extra income in evening hours. What too many employees don’t realize is that they can have a great career—that pays well—in the cleaning industry. Through mentorship and managerial shadowing programs, you can give frontline employees a lens into some of the opportunities available in the field. Provide a clear outline of advancement opportunities so they understand what they need to do to get to where they want to go.
  3. Give Recognition. Frequently. From housekeepers week to environmental services week, National Custodian Day (Oct. 2, 2019) to Thank Your Cleaner Day  (Oct. 16, 2019), there are plenty of recognized events to recognize cleaning workers. But you don’t have to wait for an official day to give staff an applause for a job well done—something simple like presenting a star award for outstanding performance or highlighting a “worker of the month” can help workers feel seen and appreciated.
  4. Balance workloads. It’s easy to give the faster, younger people on your team additional work that comes from a call-off or event, but that can create resentment over time. Employ a system to fairly divide work so that no one person or team bear the brunt of additional responsibilities. 
  5. Show you care. Sometimes, it’s the small things that go the furthest with your team. Remembering an anniversary, details of an upcoming vacation or checking in with them to see how their child is doing in school shows your team that you’re listening, and that you care. Encourage your team to share ideas and create opportunities for connection at the beginning and end of each shift so you have time to talk with one another.

Automotive mogul Lee Iacocca once said, “Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can’t miss.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Easy Ways to Attract More Millennials to the Cleaning Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.