Custodial managers face a lot of challenges. That’s the bad news. The good news: The challenges seem consistent from operation to operation, so solutions from one organization often can be benchmarked by others.

  1. Different dirt
    Cleaning managers often claim that they have unusual dirt problems. The worst dirt. Or, uncleanable dirt. I’ve heard cleaning workers complain about the sands of the Southwestern United States or the red clay of Georgia. Similarly, there’s the grease of an airplane factory in the Northwest and the heavy winter track-in that envelops Midwest schools.

  2. Employee woes
    All managers complain that it is difficult to work with employee stereotypes. Exasperated managers complain about employees who worked for the organization for 30 years and move like snails; workers who are untrainable; or department turnover that soars to 300 percent.

  3. Incomplete arsenal
    Rarely does a cleaning operation have all the right equipment to do a good job. Often missing in action are the following:
    • Cordless high-speed burnishers
    • High-flow carpet extractors
    • Wet and dry vacuums with front-mount squeegees for proper stripping
    • Adequate carpet dryers
    • Proper custodial carts
    • Backpack vacuums
    • Ergonomic cleaning tools
  1. Chemical musical chairs
    Purchasing departments change cleaning chemicals frequently. Operations can have three or more brands of everything, which leads to employee confusion. The lack of product standardization makes it nearly impossible to establish effective Hazcom and MSDS programs.

  2. Inadequate Mats
    Collecting dirt at the door is an effective strategy to keep buildings clean. Organizations rarely take advantage of the minor investment in strategic mat placement that can pay off in building-wide product and labor savings.

  3. Tool limbo
    Most custodial closets are a collection point for long-forgotten hardware. If you haven’t used something in the past 18 months, it’s the equivalent of trash.

  4. Cleaning vs. design
    Custodial departments pay the price when they are not involved in the design and renovation of buildings. Operating costs, health and appearance often are sacrificed for the sake of “design.” Similarly, cleaning workers rarely inherit adequate storage capacity via new construction or renovation.

  5. Training oversights
    It is impossible to operate an effective custodial department without regular classroom training. Classroom training programs require training aids, work-flow charts, posters and learning tools to assist training.

  6. Supervisory void
    Custodial supervision is one of the toughest jobs in any organization, and we need qualified people to do the job properly. The development of supervisors must be professionalized and benchmarked against the highest performance standards available.

  7. Unbalanced workloads
    Work standard-based assignments are a must for an effective cleaning department, as well as for maintaining worker morale. Outline assignments using established procedures that are measured against universally accepted cleaning metrics.

John P.Walker is the founder of ManageMen consulting services in Salt Lake City, and Janitor University, a hands-on cleaning management training program.