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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.

5 Questions You Should Ask About Your Custodial Closets

When you go in for your annual health examination, the doctor will often ask you a series of questions. For example, are you sleeping well? Do you have any aches and pains? How is your diet? The purpose of these questions is to assess your health and unmask any underlying symptoms that could point to a larger issue.

Over the years, we have found that by looking at a custodial closet, we can assess the health of a cleaning organization. The janitorial closet reveals key details not only about the cleaning worker, but also the management of the building. A dirty custodial closet is like a fever. It shows us that there’s something wrong somewhere in the operation. Safety, training and purchasing issues can all be uncovered in a janitor’s closet. 

If you want to diagnose the health of your custodial operation, here are five key questions to ask when looking at custodial closets in your building:

1. Is equipment dirty? You can’t clean with dirty tools and equipment. Dirty vacuums belch out dust throughout hallways and dirty squeegees leave streaks on glass. Dirty microfiber cloths can lead to cross contamination and filthy bottles can lead to dirty hands—and potential safety issues. Dirty equipment reveals insights into your preventative maintenance program, or lack thereof. It also reveals how employees are treated and the effectiveness of your training program. 

2. Is the room cluttered? Clutter shows disorganization. Maybe custodial workers are bringing in personal items or hoarding cleaning supplies. It might mean that you need to talk to them about scheduling or provide additional spaces for them to take breaks. Cluttered closets are a safety issue — people can trip and fall in a cluttered space, or hurt themselves from improper lifting. 

3. Do you have access to all the closets? You might laugh, but you’d be surprised how many custodial operations we go into where custodians have changed the locks because they don’t want other people to have access to their closet. If you can’t access or see inside every closet, there’s a good chance that someone is hoarding equipment and supplies. 

4. What’s on the shelves? Are cleaning chemicals clearly marked? Are there several brands of the same product? This can lead to confusion and inconsistency throughout other areas of your operation. It can also present a potential safety issue, if custodial workers aren’t clear on what chemical they should be using and when.

5. Is the closet serving as a makeshift office, break room and/or chemical storage area? This is the biggest sign that your cleaning program has been mismanaged. Custodians typically don’t like to bother people. In fact, many times they’re so used to being invisible in an operation that they won’t ask for things they need – like space, storage and equal access to break/common areas. Many times they’ll choose to take lunch, breaks, or worse, hide out, in closets because they’ve been given the message that they don’t belong in the building.

Few people enjoy a trip to the doctor, but it’s one of those things you should do even when you feel healthy. Asking just a couple of questions about the health of your custodial closets can help diagnose larger issues within your operation.