How Cleaning Influences Worker Productivity

Last month, I touched briefly upon Frederick Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory. For over 20 years, this has been a foundational concept of the janitorial management classes I teach. It is one of the most important and often overlooked concepts to keep in mind when planning organizational change, continuous improvement, standardization and communication of a cleaning process.

Herzberg’s hygiene factors (which he refers to as “dissatisfiers”) in the workplace include things such as salary, company policies, job security, physical working environment, and relationships with peers and supervisors. Motivators, on the other hand, Herzberg concludes, are responsibility, achievement, professional/personal growth, and opportunities for promotion.

I strongly maintain that if we are to progress as a profession, we must solidify our efforts to define widely accepted methods for creating motivators in our working environments.

Lately, however, I have also been taking special notice of how hygiene factors impact not only our cleaning departments, but also how our departments can affect the dissatisifiers.

It goes without saying that we play a large role in maintaining the physical working environment. Additionally, the morale of the custodial department is reflective of the attitude of the building occupants.

While Herzberg’s theory suggests that focusing on the motivators is the best way to foment job satisfaction, it is quite fascinating to see how the physical conditions of a working environment can affect everyone.

There’s a term that encompasses this: topophilia. Topophilia means, essentially, a love of place. Whether or not you realize it, you have a physical reaction to clean environments.

For example, former EPA Indoor Environmental Director, Dr. Michael Berry, famously studied the impact that cleaning an indoor environment had on the test scores at Charles Young Elementary School. What Berry was able to document is that cleaning up and remediating the indoor environment had a positive affect on teacher/student attitudes, retention, health complaints attendance and even improved test score results.

Similarly, over the last month, I’ve visited four different facilities — all at various stages of implementing change in their custodial operations. As an outsider, I had the opportunity to observe both building occupants and custodial workers.

Typically, when I first start working with a program, most buildings — whether or not the occupants are aware — are disheveled. Abundant restroom odors, overflowing wastebaskets, and messy personal work areas are among the first signs I notice. But physical condition aside, the overall mood in these environments is what I would describe as malaise.

Once I shift into the custodial department, the situation is similar: poorly maintained equipment, messy storage areas and disheveled personal work areas. In most situations, people have become so accustomed to the environment’s condition, they don’t recognize the inherent problem.

But change is possible, and it is fun to watch what happens as the dynamic of the cleaning operation shifts. The attitudes of building occupants are affected. As the facility becomes cleaner, perspectives shift in harmony with the new cleaning program.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard reports of reduced need for allergy medications; occupants and janitors alike reporting that they “feel better” when they come into the facility; and people using the building’s cleanliness as a way to promote their business.

The bottom line: Don’t underestimate the power of a clean working environment. We have a positive influence on the overall well-being of the occupants of a facility. 

Ben Walker is the Director of Business Development for ManageMen, Inc., a 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.