Effectively Tackling Workplace Challenges

Categories: Cleaning Applications, Management

By Mike Sawchuk | March 28, 2022 << Back to Articles Effectively Tackling Workplace Challenges

If you are a facility management (FM) executive in charge of an in-house custodial operation or a building service contractor (BSC), no one needs to tell you these are challenging times for you and your team. So, let’s get right to it. Below are seven potential obstacles facing the management of custodial workforces—and some real-world, immediately applicable solutions.

Higher client expectations

Since COVID-19, custodial teams have been under more intense scrutiny than ever to ensure they are providing the cleanest, safest, healthiest environments. The “if it looks and smells clean, it must be clean” mentality has been replaced by “just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there—and dangerous.” So, how can custodial workforces ensure they are removing the invisible while providing occupants the reassurance they seek?

Meet the challenge

FM leaders must demand a higher level of professionalism. Some ways to achieve this are:

  • Conduct a thorough and honest assessment of current practices with an eye toward constant improvement for their organization and their team.
  • Use monitoring technologies, such as ATP meters, to measure performance and identify where additional training or different procedures may be needed.
  • Stay informed and abreast of innovations proven to enhance effectiveness.
  • Provide ongoing coaching and training.
  • Earn third-party certification, such as the Global Biorisk Advisory Council® (GBAC®) STAR accreditation or the Healthy Schools Campaign Standard, to help ensure infection prevention and other goals are being met and instill confidence in building occupants.


Our industry’s historically high turnover rate has been compounded in recent years by a rapidly shrinking labor pool, a lack of qualified candidates, shifting work objectives, and pressure for increased wages. Exacerbating the situation is the relatively low annual salary for custodians in the United States (US$31,300 as of January 2022, according to plus the age-old adage, “No one says s/he wants to grow up to be a janitor/cleaner.”

Meet the challenge

The suggestions below are based on the findings from numerous sources, including and the Harvard Business Review, that show appreciation, growth opportunities, and pay are the most common reasons workers leave a job:

  • Pay a fair wage.
  • Show genuine appreciation. Today’s workers want authenticity and loathe insincerity.
  • Provide ongoing training and other educational opportunities.
  • Promote from within based on performance, not seniority.
  • Create a clear career pathway to promotions with well-defined steps.
  • Provide incentives to top performers, such as flexible hours or time off. Let the perks be known to encourage others to follow suit.
  • Consider a name change. As our industry adopts increasingly sophisticated cleaning protocols and technologies, perhaps it is time to consider alternatives to the janitor/cleaner moniker, such as infection prevention specialist or custodial/hygiene technician.
  • A word of caution: With the labor shortage, you may be tempted to hire anyone who applies. Don’t. Follow your North Star—your core values and guiding principles. These are the building blocks and the glue that holds the team’s culture together and provides clear direction.
  • Without this clarity and focus, excellence is not possible. If you hire someone who doesn’t believe in and live by your organization’s core values, you will lose the person and the valuable time spent.

Supply chain shortages

Being loyal to favored vendors should lead to better service. However, as the pandemic showed us, it may not ensure having the products your team needs. Shortages also mean higher prices, which are fueled by inflation.

Meet the challenge

To help combat shortages:

  • Look for commodity-type products from less traditional sources, such as office product dealers.
  • Assess your current suppliers and products and consider alternatives that may provide greater value.
  • Order seasonal purchases when demand is lower (buying snowmelt in spring, for example).
  • Plan ahead and order regularly used products in volume.

Lack of quality leadership

Great FM leaders create the environment necessary for motivated, engaged, empowered, and efficient employees to produce consistent operational excellence. These leaders set a clear, compelling vision and strategies that are understood and accepted by their entire team. Great FM leaders achieve positive outcomes, while poor leaders produce low employee morale and retention rates, subpar performance, and negative results.

Meet the challenge

While these suggestions apply to all employees, they are essential when choosing or promoting your leadership team:

  • Research pay scales in your area and up the ante slightly to get the best candidates.
  • Use the right language in job descriptions—lead vs. manage, set direction vs. supervise, desire to learn, etc.
  • Don’t rely on electronic resumes and remote interviews; traits such as good people and communication skills and motivation cannot be observed on a computer.
  • Choose the right personality over industry knowledge, which can be taught.

Doing more with less

The pandemic might have helped slow down the budget cuts for cleaning but be warned: Inflation is already placing many budgets back under the cost-cutting microscope, forcing cleaning operations to do even more with less.

Meet the challenge

To help your staff do more with less:

  • Employ automation for routine, mundane, labor-intensive jobs, freeing workers’ time to perform other vital tasks.
  • Use other technologies that can complete tasks better or quicker while reducing labor—microfiber products, entryway matting, wet/dry vacuums, etc.
  • Provide ongoing coaching and training to improve outcomes and reduce do-overs.
  • Remain on the lookout for innovative products and processes that improve effectiveness and efficiency and save time and money over the long run.

Union relations

There is often a perception that the relationship between union representatives and employers is inherently adversarial and that unions increase overall costs and lower effectiveness. But this is not necessarily true—and doesn’t have to be. Union representatives understand that outsourcing is an alternative neither party wants.

Meet the challenge

  • To keep good relations between FM leaders and union reps:
  • Base actions on common ground. Remember you both are working toward the same goals: Maintaining a clean, safe, healthy facility with empowered and engaged workers who are respected and remunerated fairly.
  • Treat each other as partners, regularly seeking one another’s input.
  • Agree to an employee performance review format with results based on objective data.
  • Don’t wait. If issues arise, communicate, and meet one-on-one with union representatives to work on a solution.

Pandemic preparedness

It is not a question of if another pandemic will hit, but when. After COVID-19, however, when the next pandemic hits, the public will be far less understanding of poorly prepared cleaning operations.

Meet the challenge

Facility management needs to ensure their custodial operations have detailed plans and cleaning protocols for each pandemic threat level:

  • Standard operating procedure—Pandemic pathogens pose no threat.
  • Level 2—Pandemic pathogens exist in the country, but not in your state/province or area where you are located.
  • Level 3—Pandemic pathogens exist in the state/province, but not in your region.
  • Level 4—Pandemic pathogens exist in your region, but not in your facility.
  • Pandemic preparedness operations—Pandemic pathogens pose threats in your facility.

Of course, these are not all the challenges FM executives and their teams face. But if you conquer these, you are well on your way to greater, consistent custodial excellence.

For more from the author, tune into this recent Straight Talk! video interview below. 

About the Author.

Mike Sawchuk is a jansan industry consultant who assists owners and business leaders to drive growth in sales and profits. He can be reached through his company website at