Categories: ManagementBy Michael Wilson | December 17, 2021 << Back to Articles
Even with the delta variant of the coronavirus causing illness, death, and havoc around the country, the economy appears to be rebounding since the pandemic’s start, even if slower than it was earlier in the year. Businesses have opened or are in the process of reopening, people want to go out and spend money, and employers want to see their staff back in the office, even if it means requiring them to be vaccinated and wearing masks.
This is all good news for the professional cleaning industry. When facilities are closed, they do not need cleaning. But when they are open, they do need to be cleaned. It’s that simple.
But the problem today is that many cleaning workers do not want to return to their old jobs. This is happening for several reasons. It was even referenced in the Beige Book (more formally called the Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions), the Federal Reserve System publication about current economic conditions in the United States. The April 2021 issue noted the following about lower-wage workers in general, including those in cleaning-related fields:
“Firms are competing more aggressively for lower-wage workers. One contact noted a bidding war for housekeepers in that resort location. Signing bonuses—a common practice in the warehouse sector—were reported by several contacts in the hospitality sector. For example, one restaurant had begun offering US$1,000 if workers stayed for at least 90 days. Another contact reported possibly raising the firm’s minimum wage to $15.00 an hour sooner than previously planned.”1
Why the shortage of workers?
So, why is this happening? Signing bonuses for cleaning workers are extremely rare. A couple of years ago, if a hotel or a contract cleaner, for instance, let it be known they were hiring housekeepers or cleaning workers, they might get 15 to 20 applicants in a day or two.
However, it looks like, at least for now, those days are over. To better understand this and the reasons behind it, we will need to do some exploring. Here are some of the likely contributing factors:
- Many cleaning workers view themselves as front-line workers, helping us slow and stop coronavirus spread. However, that also means they are at greater risk of contracting the disease, decreasing their interest in returning to their jobs.
- Some cleaning workers feel it is a social equity issue. They believe they were not valued enough for keeping people healthy before the pandemic, and while respect for cleaning, in general, has undoubtedly improved since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not enough for many cleaning workers to take risks and return to work.
- Unemployment relief bills passed by Congress providing additional jobless benefits to millions have, according to many, made it temporarily unnecessary to go back to work. While recent studies refute this, we know that some workers were earning the same amount or more by not working.2
- Childcare costs have increased in many areas of the country, often due to a lack of child care centers. This has forced many women, primarily, to stay home with their children and not return to the workforce.
- Having spent several months not working, some have decided to venture into other types of employment. In one example outside of the cleaning industry, a Los Angeles warehouse worker said he was going into the entertainment industry, trying his luck on the stage.
It appears the reasons for the worker shortage are varied. This list likely covers just the basics. However, the focus now must be on recruitment—attracting new workers and, just as important, keeping them.
Start by being green
Over the past few years, several studies have indicated that younger people are much more focused on environmental issues. According to a survey published in Fast Company, often viewed as the go-to magazine for younger people in the technology sector, corporate sustainability is a priority, and most millennials would take a pay cut to work at an environmentally responsible company. According to the study, 40% have already done so.3
Other studies, such as one published by the Governance and Accountability Institute Inc.™ (GAI), a sustainability consulting firm, confirm these results. The GAI reports that 70% of the 1,000 people in their survey said, “They would choose to work at a company with a strong environmental agenda, and a sizable number said they would take a pay cut to do so.”4
When it comes to recruiting cleaning workers today, building service contractors (BSCs) must put much more emphasis on the steps they are taking to be green and sustainability-focused, according to the “Father of Green Cleaning,” Steve Ashkin. “Further, the recent release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made this even more crucial.”
Ashkin adds that today’s younger cleaning professionals are very well educated. “To recruit these people, contractors need to validate their [green and] sustainability accomplishments and show they are taking action to address climate change and protect our environment.”
Focus on recruitment basics
Although many things have changed because of the coronavirus, including the difficulty in finding workers, we should not lose sight of the basics of recruiting and hiring cleaning staff. Working with our distributor-members and their customers, we advise BSCs that there are some essential traits they should still focus on when recruiting new staff. These include the following:
Make sure the worker has experience. Cleaning is very physical, and some people do not realize this until they start doing the work. If they have performed cleaning tasks before, they likely already know this.
The potential hire should be self-motivated. Even when working in teams, much of the work cleaning workers perform is on their own. A new hire should be comfortable working independently and perform their job satisfactorily without a supervisor looking over their shoulder.
Friendliness matters. One cleaning contractor believes his custodial crew is the face of his company. Before hiring, his staff is asked to watch how the applicant interacts with others in the office. If polite—saying please and thank you and being courteous—this contractor believes this is how that person will treat his customers.
Look for commitment to the customer. While most contractors want their staff to commit to their company, what is even more important is that the worker is loyal to the customer. Some cleaning workers develop such a high level of commitment to their jobs that they genuinely get upset if they get sick and cannot go to work. That kind of commitment is invaluable.
Discuss training. Here is what we need to know when it comes to training: Workers view training as an investment in them. It also encourages new workers to excel in their role, realizing an advancement within the company may be in sight.
Have a mission statement. A mission statement that declares an organization’s views and goals can prove very worthwhile when recruiting new workers. In the past, only large or better run BSCs had a mission statement. Now all BSCs need a short but effective mission statement expressing their values and why their company is a good place to work.
Mops and buckets are what many people think of when they think about the professional cleaning industry. Although those tools are still two of the industry’s mainstays, they have never proven to be an attraction to newcomers considering being a part of the industry.
Fortunately, the tools are changing and changing very quickly. The Internet of Things (IoT) is playing an ever-expanding role in professional cleaning. Plus, by giving new life to electrostatic cleaners, UV-C systems, and the introduction of UV-C air purifiers, technology is becoming an everyday part of professional cleaning.
Further, architects and building planners now realize this and are working to keep up with the industry. At one time, their main concern was installing enough power outlets and janitorial closets in a facility to help cleaning workers perform their duties. Today, newer facilities are being developed with the assumption that robotic floor machines, for instance, will be handling much of the floor care. Sensors are being built into these facilities anticipating the needs of on-site robotic cleaning systems and other cleaning technologies.
This all bodes well for attracting new workers to the industry. Where mops and buckets have failed, technology and robotics have generated significant interest. “The inclusion of robotic and internet technology within the cleaning industry will help enhance the cleaning industry’s image,” says T. Balakrishnan, vice president for Diversey Care’s Asia Pacific division. “[This will bring] about a gradual change in attracting younger and technically qualified workers into the industry.”
Keeping them on the payroll
Hopefully, our discussion here will help BSCs, as well as facility administrators hiring their own cleaning crews, find ways to recruit new cleaning professionals. However, we still have one more issue to address: How to keep them once you have them.
Rick VanderKoy, CEO of Secure Clean Building Services Inc. in Illinois, has been in business for 45 years. When asked how to keep quality workers on the job, he offers the following suggestions:
- Offer cleaning workers greater flexibility in their schedules. “This helps many workers stay on the job.”
- Always have your management team treat cleaning workers with dignity and respect. “Even when there are disciplinary issues, handling them in a kind and respectful manner helps build a bond between company managers and the worker.”
- Make sure cleaning workers feel valued and supported.
- Offer a bonus each pay period for quality work and perfect attendance. “This can pay dividends.”
- Always provide clean and quality tools for workers to use. This again shows respect for the worker.
“Finally, I learned early in the game to always put people before profit,” says VanderKoy. “You take care of your people, and the profit will take care of itself.”
1 Federal Reserve District, (April 14, 2021). Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions, Page C-1, The Beige Book. https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/files/BeigeBook_20210414.pdf
2 Delaney, A. and Jamieson D., (May 15, 2021). Unemployment Benefits Are Not Creating A Worker Shortage, HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/worker-shortage-unemployment-benefits_n_609056c3e4b09cce6c21a850
3 Peters, A., (February 14, 2019). Most millennials would take a pay cut to work at an environmentally responsible company, Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90306556/most-millennials-would-take-a-pay-cut-to-work-at-a-sustainable-company
4 Reported by Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc.TM, (February 23, 2019). Millennials Really Do Want To Work for Environmentally-Sustainable Companies, According to a New Survey of Large Company Employees, Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc. Sustainability HighlightsTM. https://www.ga-institute.com/news/newsletter/press-release/article/millennials-really-do-want-to-work-for-environmentally-sustainable-companies-according-to-a-new-su.html
About the Author.
Michael Wilson is vice president of marketing for AFFLINK™, developers of Rest Assured, a bundle of products designed to protect human health at home, in school, and at work. He may be reached through his company website, www.afflink.com.