The economy appears to be rebounding from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses have opened or are reopening, people want to go out and spend money, and employers want to see their staff back in the office, even if it means forcing them to get vaccinated and wear masks. This is good news for the professional cleaning industry. When the facilities are open, they must be cleaned.
But the problem today is that many cleaners don’t want to go back to their old jobs. Employers are aggressively competing for low-wage workers, with some offering US$1,000 signing bonuses and others raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour ahead of schedule, according to the April issue. 2021 of the Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions, the Federal Reserve System publication on current economic conditions in the United States.
Why the shortage of workers?
Signing bonuses for cleaners are extremely rare. A few years ago, if a hotel or contract cleaner, for example, advertised for housekeepers or cleaners, they could get 15-20 applicants in a day or two. However, it looks like those days are over, at least for now. Here are some of the likely contributing factors:
- Many cleaning workers see themselves as frontline workers, helping to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19. However, it also means they are at greater risk of contracting the disease, which lowers their interest in returning to work.
- Some cleaners see this as a matter of social equity. They think they weren’t valued enough to keep people healthy before the pandemic. While compliance with cleaning, in general, has improved since the pandemic began, it’s not enough for many cleaning workers to take risks and get back to work.
- Unemployment-fighting bills passed by Congress, providing additional jobless benefits to millions of people, have, many say, made returning to work unnecessary. While HuffPost reports that economists analyzing recent studies refute this, we do know that some workers earned the same amount or more by not working.
- Child care costs have increased in many parts of the country, often due to a lack of child care centers or the closure of day care centers during the pandemic. This has forced many workers, mostly women, to stay home with their children and not return to the labor market.
- After spending several months not working in the cleaning industry, some employees have decided to pursue other types of jobs.
It seems that the reasons for the labor shortage are varied. This list probably only covers the basics. However, the focus must now be on recruitment, that is, attracting new workers and, just as importantly, retaining them.
Start by being green
Recent studies indicate that young people are more focused on environmental issues than older generations. According to a survey published in Fast Company, often considered the go-to magazine for tech young people, corporate sustainability is a priority and most millennials would take a pay cut to work at an eco-friendly company. According to the study, 40% have already done so.
Other studies, such as the one published by the Governance and Accountability Institute Inc.MT (GAI), a sustainable development consultancy, confirm these results. GAI reports that 70% of 1,000 people surveyed said they would choose to work at a company with a strong environmental program, and a significant number said they would take a pay cut for doing so.
When recruiting cleaning workers, building service contractors (BSCs) need to place more emphasis on the steps they take to be green and sustainability-focused, according to Steve Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in green cleaning and sustainability. “Furthermore, the recent publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made this even more crucial,” he says.
Ashkin adds that today’s young cleaning professionals are well trained. “To recruit these people, entrepreneurs must validate their [green and] sustainability achievements and show they are taking action to fight climate change and protect our environment.
Focus on the basics of recruitment
Although the coronavirus pandemic has altered many processes, BSCs and other employers should not lose sight of the essentials. They should consider the following employee characteristics and recruiting practices when hiring new employees.
- Make sure workers are experienced in cleaning. Some candidates don’t realize that cleaning is a very physical job. If they’ve done cleaning tasks before, they probably already know what to expect.
- Check self-motivation. Even as a team, much of the work done by cleaning staff is done by themselves. New hires should be comfortable working independently and performing their jobs satisfactorily without a supervisor looking over their shoulder.
- Convenience matters. A cleaning contractor thinks his team of caretakers are the face of his business. Prior to hiring, its staff are encouraged to observe how candidates interact with others in the office. If candidates are polite — saying please and thank you and being courteous — this entrepreneur thinks that’s how candidates will treat clients.
- Seek commitment to the customer. While most entrepreneurs want their staff to be committed to their business, what is even more important is that the workers are loyal to the customer.
- Discuss training. Workers view training as an investment in them. The training encourages new workers to excel in their role, realizing that advancement within the company may be in sight.
- Reveal your mission statement. A mission statement that states the views and goals of an organization can be very helpful when recruiting new workers. In the past, only large BSCs had a mission statement. Now, all BSCs need a short but effective mission statement expressing their values and explaining why their company is a good place to work.
Mops and buckets are what many people visualize when they think of the professional cleaning industry. Although these tools are still two of the mainstays of the industry, they have never proven to be an attraction for newcomers who plan to join the industry.
Fortunately, cleaning tools change and change very quickly. The Internet of Things (IoT) is playing an increasingly important role in professional cleaning. With electrostatic cleaners, ultraviolet C (UV-C) light systems and UV-C air purifiers, technology is becoming a daily part of professional cleaning.
Architects and building planners are now realizing the importance of technology and are striving to keep pace with the industry. Previously, their primary concern was installing enough power outlets and janitorial closets in a facility to help cleaners perform their duties. Now they are developing new facilities on the assumption that robotic floor machines, for example, will take over much of the floor maintenance. Integrated sensors anticipate the needs of on-site robotic cleaning systems and other cleaning technologies.
All of this bodes well for attracting new workers to the industry. Where mops and buckets have failed, technology and robotics have generated considerable interest. “The inclusion of robotics and internet technology in the cleaning industry will help improve the image of the cleaning industry,” said T. Balakrishnan, vice president of Asia-Pacific Division of Diversey Care. “[This will bring] of gradual change to attract younger, technically skilled workers into the industry.
Keep them on the payroll
BSCs that are successful in hiring new cleaning professionals still have a problem to solve: how to keep them.
Rick Vanderkoy, CEO of Secure Clean Building Services Inc. in Elgin, Illinois, has been in business for 45 years. When asked how to keep quality workers on the job, he offers the following suggestions:
- Be flexible. Give cleaners greater flexibility in their schedules. “It helps many workers stay on the job.”
- Respect the workers. Always ask your management team to treat cleaning workers with dignity and respect. “Even when there are disciplinary issues, dealing with them with kindness and respect helps to create a bond between company leaders and the worker.”
- Value your employees. Make sure cleaning workers feel valued and supported.
- Offer bonuses. Offer a bonus each pay period for quality work and perfect attendance. “It can pay dividends.”
- Provide tools. Always provide clean, quality tools to workers. It also 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 profit will take care