Regardless of the type of facility, staff size, budget, or cleaning regimen, housekeeping managers are faced with many daily management hurdles. Good bet that a majority of the daily management minutia involves people. You know the old management saw: “People management would be a lot less stressful if it didn’t involve people!”

“Historically, persons entering into the custodial ranks have viewed their acquired positions as ‘dead end’ jobs,” says Roy Robertson, custodial manager at Indiana University’s Indiana Memorial Union, Bloomington, Ind. Unfortunately, this type of attitude often results in a number of employee management challenges.

Employee performance and motivation
“Employees have to look at cleaning as a career, not just a job,” says Dave Frank, president of the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences. Those who don’t respect the work they do will often demonstrate poor performance and lack of motivation, he warns.

“Our performance challenges are mainly with our relief housekeepers,” says Paul Steines, environmental services manager at Marshfield Clinic, Marshfield, Wis. “The daily work still gets done, but it’s the attention to detail that is often lacking.”

Frank suggests managers tackle this by creating structure to every aspect of the job. “Create job descriptions, outline expectations and cleaning times, provide proper cleaning tools, and offer additional training,” he says. “Doing these things will help your employees perform better at their jobs.”

If you have policies and protocols in writing, you have something to fall back on when confronting employees. These documents will also outline management’s expectations for employees working in cleaning departments.

Motivation can also impact the performance of your cleaning crew, but managers are faced with the challenge of determining what motivates each employee. Some cleaners only ask for a “thank you” for a job well done, while others will go above and beyond for an extra hour off.

When it comes to motivation, something as simple as employee courtesy can go a long way. “Learn to say ‘thank you’ and actually mean it,” says Michael Smith, custodial supervisor II in the Academic Custodial Services Department at Western Washington University, Bellingham, Wash. “You can never really say it enough.”

According to Steve Spencer, facilities specialist at State Farm Insurance, positive reinforcement is always a good thing, but money will also drive employees to work harder. “If people work hard, they deserve the opportunity for a raise,” he says. “Managers should look for ways to recognize and acknowledge work that is being done right.”

Paul Mackewicz, custodial manager at Kutztown University, Kutztown, Pa., recognizes employee accomplishments in group meetings, where workers are also encouraged to address concerns to management. These types of meetings allow for an open dialogue and the opportunity to facilitate positive change.

“We were able to make small successes, which lead to larger accomplishments,” he says. “The confidence in the crew grew and people smiled a lot more.”

Allowing for open communication within your department can make a big difference in employee motivation as well as improve overall job performance. Talk to your employees and determine what cleaning tasks they enjoy. Often times, shifting employees around to tasks they enjoy will eliminate boredom and repetition, as well as improve employee moral.

Opening up the lines of communication can also minimize employee backlash when management approaches them with new cleaning programs. Phillip Shealy, assistant director of facilities management at the University of Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nev., sat down with his staff to discuss new programs and procedures, taking their feedback into account before implementing anything new.

Opening yourself up to this type of communication will demonstrate that you appreciate their feedback and value their opinion. Establishing this level of respect will make for a better work environment for everyone.

“It is important to take the time to listen to your employees,” says Steines. “When you take time for your employees, they take time for you.”

Advancement and retention
In general, there are simply not enough group leader or supervisory positions available to support employee growth within the cleaning industry. That said, it has become more and more difficult for managers to hang onto interested employees.

There are times when there just isn’t anywhere for workers to move in terms of advancement within a cleaning department, but that doesn’t always mean they are stuck in their current position. Often times, it may benefit employees to look outside the cleaning department for opportunities that might suit them.

“I use to ask my employees if they wanted to do something other than clean,” says Spencer. “If so, I would help them get there by encouraging them to take classes or apply for promotions within those other departments. In turn, I had more people leave my department to move up the ladder within the organization, than left the hospital. And those departments got good people who were well trained.”

Employees shouldn’t be punished because of the lack of promotional opportunities available in their cleaning department. Steines agrees and has similar practices at Marshfield Clinic. “I would rather hire a quality employee who may eventually advance, rather than hire one that wont advance, but will only be a marginal employee,” he says.

Some managers are hesitant to embrace this type of program, but for those who have, it has brought numerous successes in terms of employee retention. Employees like to see that there are advancement opportunities within an organization. This is especially true as the industry changes from baby boomers to a staff dominated by younger workers.

Industry exerts comment that the current generations entering the cleaning industry have very little company loyalty and plan to grow through various job promotions. If managers can help them achieve that advancement, those workers will be more productive on the job.

Baby boomers, on the other hand, are much more loyal and as long as you recognize and appreciate them, they will continue to work hard for you. “They figure that if I am worth it, they will promote me,” says Spencer.

Legal/cultural challenges
One employee management concern that has only emerged in recent years is the increasing number of legalities and “sensitivities” that managers have to deal with in terms of employees. This includes privacy and gender issues, ethnic and racial concerns, safety and even communication.

“If we are not sensitive as managers, we risk losing the confidence, loyalty, and eventually the productivity of our custodial crew,” Mackewicz adds.

In recent years, the cleaning industry has seen more and more diversity in is employee ranks. This means dealing with multiple cultures, religions, and often the most challenging, language.

To help combat this challenge, Frank suggests familiarizing yourself with the various cultures. “Become versed in their values and do what you can to understand those cultural differences,” he says. Doing this will demonstrate that you have an appreciation for worker’s beliefs and the knowledge you gain will help you manage those employees more effectively.

Tackling the language barrier may not be as easy for managers to overcome. A lot of cleaners speak languages other than English and that makes any type of communication difficult, putting managers in a very undesirable position.

To work around this, many facility managers offer English education programs where employees attend classes as part of their job training. These types of programs are beneficial specifically in facilities such as hospitals and schools, where cleaners will come into contact with building occupants regularly and are expected to be able to communicate.

“It is difficult for facility managers to find the time necessary to keep up with these changes in the industry,” says Spencer. “Setting aside one hour a month to expand your knowledge base through reading, research, joining organizations, or participating in a conference, can prove to be invaluable.”

Industry experts comment that education and knowledge are two key factors in managing employee issues such as these. Managers strive to be someone that people want to work for and staying on top of these issues will help them become that person.