How to Attract, Hire and Develop the Next Great Employee
Human resources experts urge facility cleaning managers to treat frontline workers on par with their best customers.
Joseph Bushey, HR director for MSNW Group, Ferndale, Washington, recruits cleaning staff the same way he recruited cadets during his eight-year stint in the U.S. Army recruiting command.
“We go to job fairs with the intention of hiring someone on the spot — as long as we have a position that they’re qualified for,” he says. “In the same way, when I worked as an Army recruiter, if you were qualified and wanted to join the Army, I put you in the Army.”
Bushey says that too many job fairs are “depressingly the same.” More often than not, HR managers take down job seekers’ contact information with the promise to call them later, but time is not a luxury they have.
“Later is too late, especially in the cleaning industry,” he notes.
Indeed, as staffing struggles persist and competition for frontline workers heats up, facility cleaning managers need to act quickly — whether they’re screening applicants, making job offers or onboarding new hires. Unfortunately, this is where many cleaning managers fall short, according to Angela Gervino, founder and executive recruiter, The Gervino Group, Fairfield County, Connecticut.
“You can talk to anyone who is job hunting and they say the same thing: Either they never hear back from the company, or they hear back a couple of weeks later,” she says. “Recruiters need to think about the process from the candidates’ perspective. Everyone appreciates prompt communication, so cleaning managers need to communicate promptly with candidates — even those they aren’t hiring.”
In a competitive job market, cleaning departments are competing with building service contractors vying for the same frontline workers. It’s important managers mirror or outpace those contractors in terms of recruitment and onboarding strategies.
For example, MSNW Group makes it a point to call applicants within four hours of receiving their application. They do this during working hours and set up an in-person interview within 24 hours of the initial phone call. If the person is hired, onboarding starts immediately — their first shift may even start that evening.
“We’re not a company that ever ghosts employees,” says Bushey. “Even if you’re not hired, we make it a point that everyone is informed of their status in the hiring process.”
A Conversational Approach
Gone are the days when hiring managers put candidates on the spot with a litany of rapid-fire questions. Today’s interview process is more conversational in nature, putting candidates at ease and encouraging them to ask questions as well.
Part of that conversation, says Gervino, is being up front with candidates about the position they’re applying for — the good, the bad and the ugly.
“It’s better to delve into the day-to-day tasks and challenges of the position so hires know what they’re walking into,” she says. “That makes a huge difference when it comes to building retention.”
Bushey adopted this approach to interviewing when he worked in the military.
“The best Army recruiters are the ones that tell you everything about the Army experience,” he says. “Cleaning is not a glorious job. Make sure candidates understand what they’re going to do and share the worst-case scenario so if they encounter it, they’re not shocked.”
Many managers agree that this tactic helps to solidify a new hire’s commitment to the job.
“The Army teaches you not to be afraid of someone telling you no,” Bushey says. “If you’re on the fence about the position, I’d rather push you to a ‘no’ so I can move on to find a ‘yes.’”
Finding that yes is as much about the applicant’s personality as it is about their prior experience. Mike Sawchuk, a consultant based in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, recommends hiring managers have a checklist of personality traits during the interview process to ensure that potential hires fit in with the custodial team.
“Don’t hire for skills; hire for the right attitude,” he advises. “If you’re running a cleaning operation, you have to have the right products and procedures, but what’s more important is having the right people.”
Finding and retaining the right people also requires flexibility on the part of facility cleaning managers. For instance, if the shift usually begins at 7:00 a.m., Sawchuk suggests implementing multiple start times, if needed, to accommodate workers’ bus schedules or other transportation needs.
“Generations X and Z are motivated differently, so we can’t be rigid and hire them the way we’ve always hired people,” notes Sawchuk. “Managers have to think outside the box and meet them where and how they want to be met.”
Sawchuk advises interviewers to pay close attention to the questions applicants ask of them as these will often reveal their true motivation for the position and their likelihood of staying long-term.
Having a seasoned employee present during the interview process can also help to promote the company’s culture, as well as advancement opportunities.
“Have some of your best cleaners in there, because two heads are better than one,” says Sawchuk. “Not only will you get a different perspective on a new potential hire, but you’re demonstrating to the candidate that you value your cleaners’ opinions, and you want to help them develop leadership and communication skills.”
When done properly, the onboarding process is another opportunity to boost overall retention rates, say HR experts. As with the interview process, delegating onboarding to more tenured
employees grooms them for leadership positions while demonstrating advancement opportunities to new hires. Most importantly, this is the facility’s chance to make a stellar first impression.
“I tell my managers, when you have a new person starting, pretend it’s a new client,” says Gervino. “That’s really profound because when I put it that way, managers get it immediately. They have to see the employee as equal to the customer — and if you’re showing the customer your operation, you’re going to pull out all the stops.”
Unfortunately, facility cleaning managers don’t always give onboarding the attention it deserves — particularly as a motivational tool for new employees.
“Too many in-house operations view onboarding as a cost when it should be treated as an investment,” says Sawchuk. “If you’re taking a half-hour to train a new hire and then shipping them to the job site, you’re conveying the message that cleaning isn’t important and any dummy can do it. Your messaging has to be consistent: You recognize that cleaning is important, and it takes skill and talent to do it right.”
A Rewarding Experience
In today’s market, getting new hires to their start date is a noteworthy achievement — but getting them to stay long-term is cause for celebration. Toward this end, managers are advised to share growth opportunities with employees early on and groom them for advancement should they show interest.
“Often, especially in the cleaning industry, people see the position as a dead-end job,” says Gervino. “It’s important for the manager to give each person a five-year plan. When candidates see the big picture, the likelihood of them staying increases.”
Likewise, creating a welcoming environment where new hires are part of a team and are recognized and rewarded for their contributions goes a long way toward building retention. Facility cleaning managers should be warned that this is a target area for their building service contractor competitors as they fight to retain workers in the tight labor market.
For example, 4M Building Solutions, St. Louis, Missouri, cultivates a people-first philosophy and instills respect for fellow team members across the board. According to Todd Vasel, director of marketing and communications, the company has refocused its attention on retention and is aiming to have 75 percent of its team members serving with the company a year or more — up from 52 percent currently.
In addition to reengineering its referral bonus program, the company offers recognition programs, such as spotlighting team members for their good deeds in its quarterly newsletter and on social media sites. The company also has a company-wide safety bingo program in which daily safety messages are attached to bingo numbers, and team members can win prizes for completing their bingo cards.
“It’s a training tool, but it’s also an employee incentive,” says Vasel. “We make a big deal of the winners and announce them in the newsletter.”
According to Vasel, 4M Building Services is always looking for ways to engage employees. During the holiday season, the company produced a holiday video and sought input from staff.
“We asked team members to record themselves in front of holiday decorations at the company they serve using their first language,” explains Vasel . “Not only does it show diversity, but it’s a chance to have fun. We’ve got 4,000 employees, so we put a lot of effort into reaching out and giving people opportunities to get involved.”
No doubt, in today’s oversaturated market, facilities management needs more than a generous compensation and benefits package to differentiate the department. Treating employees like they matter, as well as recognizing and rewarding them for their contributions, can give management an edge over their competitors and boost workers’ longevity.
Kassandra Kania is based out of Charlotte, North Carolina, and is a frequent contributor to Facility Cleaning Decisions.