hand holding magnet to attract workers to a business

Thanks to the pandemic, custodial workers are finally getting the recognition they deserve as essential frontline workers. However, their newfound status has not made these positions any easier to fill. In truth, janitorial is still considered low-paying, entry-level positions — and now more than ever, building service contractors (BSCs) across the country are struggling to recruit and retain employees.  

The problem has become so critical that contract cleaning companies like Clean All Services in Sidney, Ohio, are adopting an all-hands-on-deck approach to not only finding janitors, but keeping them around once they’ve been through the hiring process. The company’s management team meets weekly to specifically discuss their employee retention and appreciation efforts.   

“Ever since we started focusing more on employee appreciation, we’ve made headway with employee retention,” says Brad Madewell, Clean All Services executive vice president. “We want our people to feel that they are appreciated and know that we recognize they could work anywhere else, but we’re glad they chose us.” 

Madewell says the company’s efforts are paying off. But for many BSCs that are recruiting new hires, Ron Segura, president of Segura & Associates, feels that there is room for improvement. 

“What we don’t do as an industry is sell our programs; in fact, we do the reverse. We expect applicants to impress us so that we can hire them,” he says. “Instead, we should be presenting a positive picture of our company and show applicants that we’re employee-oriented — especially now.” 

Ready, Set, Start 

Finding and hiring janitors is just the tip of the iceberg. In today’s labor market, getting employees to show up on their first day — and stay for the long haul — is practically a competitive sport. 

With a plethora of job openings to choose from, new hires can easily change course before their start date arrives, which means that time is of the essence. A short onboarding process and constant communication leading up to the start date can help incoming employees stay focused and generate excitement that carries them through to their first day.  

“We try to follow up with applicants as quickly as possible because there are so many other opportunities for work out there,” notes David Murphy, president of Supreme Maintenance Organization, Greensboro, North Carolina. “Typically, we can get people started in three to five business days.” 

More importantly, BSCs need to ensure that their applicants’ first impression of the company is a good one. Unfortunately, this is where onboarding can be — in Segura’s words — a deathblow to retention as employees become bogged down with paperwork, orientation and training activities. 

“The one thing that’s lacking when an employee is hired is salesmanship on the part of the person who’s hiring them,” he says. “BSCs need to promote the opportunities that are available for janitors to develop and grow with the company.” 

More immediate rewards can also spark new hires’ enthusiasm to get started and calm first-day jitters. For example, Clean All Services is implementing a new program in which supervisors take new hires out for a light dinner or snack prior to the start of their shift. 

“It gives them something to look forward to, and it’s a little more personal than just showing up at a facility they’ve never been to before and starting their training,” says Madewell.

To express their gratitude, Supreme Maintenance Organization presents new hires with a gift at the start of their first shift. The welcome package contains a variety of items, including a $5 gift card to Starbucks or Walmart. Murphy’s hope is that this small token of appreciation will help custodians feel valued and entice them to stay. 

Keeping in touch with new hires beyond their start date is also imperative.

“We have our human resources department follow up with new hires in the first week to make sure training and orientation went well and that everything’s okay,” says Murphy. “We’re trying to extend that to 90 days, because if we can get people to stay for 90 days, that increases the chances that they’ll stick around long term.” 

Furthermore, Supreme Maintenance Organization’s managers communicate with employees on a regular basis via group text to share work-related information, announcements or motivational messages. 

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