In the cleaning industry it’s difficult to attract and retain quality employees. The work is strenuous, often low-paying, and customers are quick to complain about poor service. But taking the proper steps to keep employees motivated will go a long way to retaining a hard-working and loyal staff.

It starts with the boss
Motivation is tied directly to the quality of supervision, says John Kerlish, SPHR, of Human Resources Management Associates Inc. in Lancaster, Pa. “Employees want to feel that they are appreciated and valued,” he says.

Workers also want to feel as if they are an important part of the organization. The more they are recognized for their accomplishments, the more loyal they will feel.

“They’ll stay if they’re getting satisfaction, recognition and reward,” Kerlish says.

BSCs also must show respect, says Ron Piscatelli, San Diego-based business coach and author of the book “Jump Into Janitorial.” Getting to know your employees personally, including their hobbies and interests, helps immensely. He recommends starting to get to know them during the interview process through a more casual approach to interviewing, which includes questions regarding outside interests. That will encourage candidates to open up about themselves.

As BSCs understand their employees better, it is easier to decide whether the person is a good fit for the job. The discussion, in turn, helps foster a sense of belonging and worth in the candidate. But it all starts with respect, reiterates Piscatelli.

Respect also must be emphasized throughout training processes. Emphasize that everyone must work together toward a common goal and that the ultimate boss is the customer. Good training produces good workers.

When an employee makes a mistake, consider the “sandwich” approach to evaluations, says Sean Letwat, senior vice president of the Louisville, Ky., branch of Kimco Corp., Norridge, Ill. Start with several compliments, explain what could use improvement next time, then offer another positive comment.

From raises to rewards
For some employees, the easiest way to motivate them and keep them happy is through their paycheck. However, compensation and benefits are sensitive points in every industry, and especially so in the cleaning field — cleaners usually feel they are not paid enough, says Kerlish. So, supervisors need to fully explain pay scales and show that the firm is as objective as possible. Make sure that raises are tied to measurable standards. Better workers will notice what they can achieve, and will improve their performance accordingly.

While most workers would appreciate a boost in their paychecks, sometimes profit margins are too tight for BSCs to offer that option. An incentive program is one non-monetary option that can help boost motivation. When Piscatelli ran his cleaning service, he awarded employees with arcade-style tickets for good performance. Extraordinary performance earned additional tickets. Employees could redeem the tickets for prizes, which included autographed collectibles or other memorabilia. Workers were particularly fond of this program because it offered them a chance to obtain valuable items they otherwise could not afford.

Sometimes, even the best pay and benefits can leave workers feeling unfulfilled.

“People get bored,” Kerlish says. “It’s important to vary the work they do and the environment in which they work.” Workers are very perceptive, he says, and notice trends on the job site. Employees sometimes feel they are being taken advantage of, especially if they are constantly involved in the messiest or dirtiest jobs. BSCs can alleviate this by offering some variety in their work assignments.

To help provide the proper perspective from day one, Piscatelli suggests starting new hires with the dirtiest project on the job. That will create a reference point and should alleviate some complaints.

Another way to reduce complaints and to encourage employees to work harder is to offer additional or new responsibilities for better workers.

“People are greatly motivated by that,” Kerlish says, as the worker senses there is more prestige in the new tasks.

Often, it’s the little things that speak the loudest. Simply recognizing an employee’s good work can have an even greater effect in motivating staff than by offering compensation.

“We make a big deal about it,” says Letwat. Employees who receive compliments from a customer earn a retail gift card and a certificate. The firm also sends a letter to the customer thanking them for bringing this to their attention.

Kerlish suggests using your newsletter and paycheck stuffer to communicate this good news. It’s important that family members know of the worker’s accomplishment.

Everyday motivation
Motivation isn’t limited to just rewarding and recognizing a job well done. Employees will enjoy their job more if employers are mindful of the lives their employees have outside of work, says Kerlish. Many employees have families and commitments to other organizations. BSCs should take these into consideration as they develop assignments and consider the option of flexible schedules or rotating assignments.

Sensitive issues from home may arise, and those require the attention of managers or supervisors. Some employees may be experiencing personal problems, such as drug or alcohol addiction, financial difficulties or marital problems. In these cases the HR director should consider what type of assistance or referral may be available, says Kerlish. It’s important to treat those situations with the empathy and dignity they deserve.

Finally, it’s important for BSCs to remember that employees also want to feel a part of the overall organization. Managers should be open to taking suggestions from all employees, says Letwat.

Thomas R. Fuszard is a business writer based in New Berlin, Wis.