Environments That Encourage Staff Retention

The opportunities to find gainful employment are high right now in the United States. Despite all the troubles in the world, one of the things that we as a society seemingly shouldn’t have to worry about is finding work. It’s been on a nice upward trend for the past decade, and I use the term seemingly because the new low unemployment trend has created a difficult new problem that cleaning operations all across the country are starting to face: vacancies.
I’ve spent a good portion of this past summer working closely with large-scale cleaning operations. One of the main frustrations I have been experiencing is that many managers are struggling to hire and retain new front-line cleaning staff. I’ve seen vacancy numbers in some parts of the country start to tickle the triple digits.

But what’s causing this isn’t what you’d think — it’s not that jobs are going away. The problem is that high turnover, coupled with more job options, has left many custodial departments high and dry. This is not a new problem for cleaning operations — turnover is, historically, one of our biggest issues.

It always amazes me that one of the most important professions — one that we rely on every day to maintain healthy indoor environments — is the one that is struggling in a good economy. But it happens and I’m often asked to help find solutions to the vacancy problem.

I like to start by focusing less on the perceived individual symptoms of not being able to fill the vacancies — non-competitive wage, not an attractive job, historically low morale, and so on — and instead, try to understand a cure.

What is it that makes people want to stick with a job? I’ve begun asking managers this repeatedly over the past couple of months, and the answer is exactly what you’d expect: money. While cash is an excellent enticement for most people, the real reason people remain at a job is much more psychological and human. In fact, in 1990, the Harvard Business Review published a collection of research entitled “People: Managing Your Most Important Asset.” While this publication is now 27 years old, one very notable study in that volume, titled “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees,” by Frederick Herzberg, still is relevant today.

In the study, Herzberg finds, workers are most motivated by “achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility, and growth or advancement.” Salary, he notes, actually ranked in the middle of the road in terms of satisfaction, and it actually could be a de-motivator when workers were dissatisfied in their environment. 

I read this point with pause and reflection. It left me asking myself, what do we do as managers to recognize the professional achievements or to create an environment for achievement for the people we manage? When I say “people we manage,” I’m specifically referring to the individual cleaning workers. What professional recognition do our cleaners receive for the job they do? What do we do as an industry to recognize them? What do we do as an organization to celebrate staff? What can we do as individuals?

Our professional livelihoods are built upon the hard work of the cleaning staff in every single building, every single night. It’s up to the managers to create an environment that fosters achievement and recognition. 
BEN WALKER is the Director of Business Development for ManageMen, Inc., a leading cleaning industry consultancy specializing in training, transitions, auditing and educational materials. In addition to his consulting work, Walker is the author of ISSA’s best selling book: 612 Cleaning Times and Tasks.