Corinne Zudonyi

I recently attended a training workshop (virtual, of course) where the presenter asked us each to think of one word that described the year so far. Instead of focusing my mind, which was her intent, her question opened the floodgates. It's been unexpected, busy, changing, stressful and so much more. In the end, I decided that 2020 has definitely been a surprise, both good and bad.

Bad news first, we obviously have a pandemic to contend with. That was unexpected. But the good news is that COVID-19 has helped many of us focus. For much of the general media and therefore general public, I was surprised to see an immediate focus on cleaning, disinfecting and handwashing. Finally, this industry got the credit it deserves, but that level of attention came with some realizations for departments.

Notoriously underfunded, many managers found their departments lacking necessary staff to contend with the increased cleaning protocols required to fight a growing pandemic. In fact, according to this year's "Annual Facility Cleaning Decisions Management Survey," more than half of managers believe more qualified staff is needed before they can guarantee facilities are cleaned properly.

Surprising to these managers, the Payment Protection Program, CARES Act and some reallocation of dollars opened doors for cleaning teams. Fifty-nine percent of departments saw an increase in budgets in response to the pandemic, most of which went to staffing.

Unfortunately, it's not as simple as hiring a warm body to fill a quota. The cleaning industry isn't one that naturally attracts top talent. In fact, 42 percent of the managers surveyed for our cover story (page 8) struggle with hiring adequate employees. Poor hires lead to high absenteeism for 40 percent of departments, retention struggles (31 percent), frequent tardiness (29 percent) and insubordination (25 percent).

Forty-five percent of managers believe that improved and more frequent training would help straighten staff out, but other recruitment and retention strategies will be necessary. Our "2020 In-House Frontline Labor Report" (available at outlines successful strategies that have helped departments with these challenges. You might be surprised by what you learn.