When Pam Washington was still founder, coach and business building mentor at Build My Cleaning Business, she taught that there are multiple ways to recruit, hire and retain workers — starting with the interview process.

“I used a long, drawn-out process for years and taught that process as a coach,” she says. “I would look for people who lived or worked near the job site, asked if they had transportation, and inquired about their experience.”

Washington closed her coaching business last year but remains president and CEO of A-1 Janitorial Services, a 28-year-old, Las Vegas-based company with 12 employees. The organization is fully staffed thanks to Washington’s best hire: her personnel manager.

“My turnover rate is directly related to the skill of this manager,” she says.

Washington admits that his approach is completely different than hers, “but once I saw it in action, I let him keep going,” she shares.

While Washington focuses in on practical, actionable metrics — experience, proximity to the job, access to a ride — her personnel manager searches for less tangible qualities like attitude and personality.

“He looks for positive, cheerful people who are happy to have the work,” she reports. Experience still matters and potential hires take a skills test, but character and temperament take precedence.

Retaining strategies for Washington used to mean lots of training for internal advancement paired with company parties and events designed to build loyalty and engagement. Today, both tactics have flipped.

“Supervising the workers is a totally different skill set and sometimes very good cleaners don’t want that extra responsibility,” Washington admits. Company parties were also removed as Washington’s personnel manager convinced her that they come across as more of an obligation than a perk.

Even higher hourly pay is overrated when it comes to retaining workers, according to Washington. She reports that paying close to the top of the range plus a small, yearly bonus is sufficient.

So, what entices A-1 Janitorial Services workers to stay happy and engaged on the job? “It’s the flexible atmosphere my personnel manager creates,” Washington answers. “When workers ask for time off in advance, they get it. Employees set their own hours and my manager makes it happen.”

Guerrilla Recruiting

When seeking employees, many BSCs tap job listing sites like Indeed for their next hire. Curtis McLemore, CEO of Houston-based McLemore Building Maintenance, Inc, prefers a more stealth route. He’s constantly scouting for quality talent and is not shy about striking up a conversation in a hotel, mall or airport.

“I let the person know I appreciate their diligence and to call if they are ever looking for a job,” he says. McLemore makes it clear he is also interested in referrals, offering $50 if a friend or family member comes to work for him.

“Now I’ve got a brand-new recruiter working for me every time they talk to their friends,” he says. “That beats Indeed every day and twice on Sunday.”

McLemore calls this technique “guerrilla recruiting.” He still uses sites like Indeed, but insists that if you want excellent employees, you should look for people that already have jobs.

He insists, “They will point you in the direction of a good employee base.”

Despite his diligence, McLemore reports a 10-15 percent vacancy rate at his 1,450-employee company. Still, he remains very selective, putting potential hires through a robust interview and hiring process before celebrating a hire.

“I don’t want to just throw bodies in buildings,” he says.

Unlike some managers, McLemore believes that sometimes enticements such as higher wages are necessary to hook an ideal recruit — especially during a time when staff passes up to 20 “help wanted” signs on their commute to and from the job. That’s not to mention openings posted at the job site itself.

“If Amazon pays warehouse workers $15 an hour and I pay $10 an hour to clean that distribution center, well now I’m the recruiting arm for Amazon,” he reasons. “We’re all pulling from the same workforce.”

Still, McLemore remains optimistic, particularly in light of the post-pandemic attitudes towards cleaners.

“Being essential workers hasn’t hurt our cause and we can play that card,” he notes. “But staffing always was, and always will be, a concern in this industry.”

Amy Milshtein is a freelancer based in Portland, Oregon.

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Overcoming Staffing Struggles And Improving Retention