Recruiting, retaining and properly staffing departments continues to plague cleaning teams across the country. Why do you think it's more difficult than ever to find staff? 

KING: I can only speak for health care and feel that in some cases, candidates may be afraid to work in healthcare after the stress of the past two years. I wish I could help everyone understand that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is not any higher here than going out shopping. In fact, it may be safer in the healthcare areas because you are wearing PPE, practicing hand hygiene and following the guidelines established to help protect yourself. 

WOODARD: Staffing challenges stem from relatively low wages ($17/hour at UW but will be over $19/hour starting in July) that do not keep up with the rising cost of living and/or cannot compete with wages in other sectors. The rising cost of living in our city also means people are moving further and further away. Commuting costs associated with relocating further decreases the value of working for us. Finally, it’s difficult to compete with other sectors of work that may offer flexible work schedules. 

BEENE: I think there is still a lot of fear, and many people associate COVID-19 with hospitals. I try to be upfront with potential new hires by letting them know they may have to clean a COVID-19 room. Some applicants are okay with it, but some are not. Some people might also be hesitant to receive the vaccine, which is a requirement for our hospital. And finally, the pay rate for the expectation may not be what applicants are looking for. 

JONES: During the pandemic, benefit checks, unemployment benefits and child tax credits made it possible for some folks to stay home and not be part of the workforce. Today, people can still receive some benefits, but high gas prices, expensive childcare and increased cost of food have been difficult for families. In some cases, people resort to going on government assistance or one parent will forgo their job to stay home with their kids (more cost effective than gas and childcare expenses if working). 

How have you been impacted by staffing challenges and what are you doing to offset those shortages?  

BEENE: We have done a few things. In areas where we experience shortages, we’ve implemented more technology. To incentivize our existing staff, we offer overtime, but we tacked on an additional incentive if they stay over two hours. The bottom line is we still have projects that need to be accomplished. Unfortunately, those projects are increasing, so we do the best we can with what we have. 

JONES: We are purchasing three autonomous autoscrubbers this coming year for the first time, but the biggest area is allowing other departments to assist with cleaning and paying them their existing rate of pay plus overtime, if needed. Our custodial staff can work as much overtime or extra hours as necessary, but they tend to get burned out, which creates other issues. 

WOODARD: Staffing challenges have led to more staffing challenges. People want to take more leave, they feel frustrated and unsupported, which leads to more resignations, etc. Some teams have reorganized their system of task assignments to reduce the burden of covering for vacancies and absent coworkers. 

KING: We have all been impacted by staffing challenges — no matter the business — but I can say we have added some additional disinfecting tools. We have also focused on building a stronger preceptor program to help keep new employees and give them the best opportunity to be successful here. Meanwhile, our current staff have volunteered to work more hours to help in the areas where we are shorthanded. Leadership is also working holidays and weekends, to help cover the holes in the schedule. It is truly a team effort.

To retain staff, many departments are getting creative by offering flexible scheduling or OnDemand payment plans. Have you had to get creative with employee offerings? 

WOODARD: Changes like this are difficult in a unionized work environment. 

BEENE: We haven’t implemented any techniques outside the norm, but things like flexible scheduling or OnDemand payment plans sound interesting. I would be interested in hearing more about it. KING: I feel we have always looked at ways to be creative. We provide a yearly schedule to help our team plan events around their work schedule. We have paid vacations, even for those working part-time. We also assist in helping to trade schedules when vacation is not an option. We know the importance of maintaining a good work/life balance.

JONES: This is being discussed and we understand our standard benefit package is not flexible.  In a district of our size, it is very difficult to make changes. 

Perception and cleaning scrutiny increased during the pandemic. How has your department stepped up to this challenge? 

KING: I feel the perception of cleaning has changed for the positive. Some may look at what we do and think we dust and vacuum, but we do so much more. Our roles are so valuable. We do more essential cleaning now in all areas and continue to have random room checks to ensure we are hitting the listed touch points. I feel the pandemic really put a spotlight on the necessity of a good cleaning program and this has helped to show our value in any organization.   

JONES: We still have eyes focused on the cleanliness of our buildings, but struggle with a shortage of staff. Most buildings understand our challenges and are reluctant to complain too much, accepting that we are doing the best we can under current circumstances. 

WOODARD: Cleaners at UW are highly visible to the campus community because of their daytime cleaning schedules. This gives everyone a sense of confidence because the cleaners are seen cleaning, disinfecting, vacuuming, removing waste, etc. ATP testing is used as a training tool, as well as to validate that cleaning procedures are effective. 

BEENE: We continue to work as if all eyes are on us. We use ATP and UV equipment in all appropriate areas, as well as electronic documentation for cleaning. As leaders, we are ensuring everyone is on the same page as far as cleaning protocols and report monthly to Infection Control, which is something we didn’t do previously. 

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