Slow the Revolving Door to Improve Cleaning Department Metrics

How good were you at the job you have right now, but on your first day? Were you really productive those first weeks (or months)? Did you require the input of others, the time from many? Were meetings arranged for your benefit? Did you "shadow" others or did they observe you? Did you take time figuring out the right systems to apply, learning the other players you needed to cooperate with and absorbing the corporate culture? How did your first quarter of accomplishment compare with the quarter you have just completed?

When we pull from our own autobiographies, most recall that starting a new job is not a productive, accurate or efficient period, generally speaking. Not only is it expensive to train new personnel, but during start-up more mistakes are made, opportunities lost and the whole team is often affected from a productivity standpoint as the new hires are absorbed into your department.

In an industry such as cleaning where there is a minimum threshhold of experience necessary to perform and provide effective work, turnover is an important consideration in regard to the bottom line. Experienced departments are preferable to those with high rates of turnover, and are much less expensive to operate overall, while producing desired results more easily. 

Payroll Matters

Because it is hard to find more dollars for payroll, it would be nice to say pay is not a big factor in turnover. However, it really is.

As a single example for illustration, according to the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, in a 2004 experiment at the San Francisco Airport, a raise for entry-level workers from $6.45 per hour to $10 reduced annual turnover from 95 percent down to 19 percent. Put another way, if you have 25 workers in your department and undergo that same transformation, instead of hiring and training 24 workers a year, you move to training just five. About a fifth of your staff are "newbies," with less than a year of experience, instead of nearly everyone. This change cost the airport $142 a week in gross pay per 40-hour worker.

In a related portion of that same experiment, the fast food industry saw that workers stayed approximately 3.5 months longer on average and were more likely to work full-time hours after an increase to $10 per hour. 

But let's say increases in pay and benefits just aren't in the tea leaves. What other methods may help slow the revolving door of turnover?


It's just a fact - people don't like change. That is one of management's major on-going challenges, isn't it? To get workers to adopt new technology, to learn new ways of doing old work better? But that inherent, and very normal, characteristic of humankind can be used to advantage when it comes to retaining experienced cleaning staff.

Most people don't want to change jobs any more often than is absolutely necessary. The thought is generally viewed with anything from skepticism to outright dread. However, they do change jobs - particularly in fields such as facility management - and the number one reason is, surprisingly, not compensation. Which is a good thing, if you can't do what the San Francisco Airport did and raise wages 55 percent.

According to a 2015 LinkedIn survey, 45% of respondents said their top concern in deciding to seek other employment was lack of opportunity for advancement. That was closely followed by unsatisfied with the leadership... at 41%. Following that at 36% was, I wanted more challenging work.

In other words, employees are often bored, unstimulated and uninspired. They don't feel they are learning anything. Their skillsets are not growing. The basic human need for mental challenge is not being stimulated.  

What is the Cost?

What is the cost of the revolving custodial staff and maintenance staff door?  One estimate reported by Zane Benefits is that each time a low-wage employee is released, another two months of wages are expended again in training the next employee. Supervisory personnel may involve 4-12 months of salary in replacement. This is in addition to the wages or salary that are being paid to the new-hire.

6 Tips for Replacing Revolution with Retention

1 - Training

Training is often discussed in companies, but not as often regularly practiced. In some organizations, custodial training means a vendor coming by and demonstrating a piece of equipment or product that may or may not even be in the facility inventory. Because your people are interested in learning more, consider putting them on a training track that discusses topics of real value in cleaning. This training is of value to you, so if there are charges, they may be worth considering. Keep track of progress for employees and provide certification when segments of training are successfully completed.*

*PUR-O-ZONE can assist you with Alignment and CCAP training, including certificates.

2 - Management Style

When is last time you brushed up on your management skills with a course dedicated to improvement? Have you ever taken courses on management? If not, this could hit on two very important areas of need that help employees tend to stick around longer, once they find a job that includes them. First, improvements in your management style help with the employee yearning to be recognized for good work and to feel that positive leadership is in command. Snarky comments and fault-finding are techniques as a management strategy that make employees start eyeing the exits.

Courses are available through organizations like Dale Carnegie Training in most population centers. and similar sites ofter a broad range of education access on-line for a monthly fee. YouTube and Vimeo are other sources of education, and they are free. Just make sure to get a feel for the quality of information being offered before diving in.

3 - Opportunity to Advance

Sadly, there is not a great advancement track in most cleaning departments. So, what can you do to help quench this desire better employees seek even more than higher compensation? Look into Team Cleaning and Cleaning for Health if you do not already utilize those methods. Team Cleaning offers the ability to specialize what an individual does (and has many other advantages to cleaning at the same time). The specialty jobs offer opportunities to differentiate or "grade" employees into entry-level tasks, and more advanced tasks that take more experience and ability. Cleaning for Health requires specialized knowledge and finesse work, particularly in times of illness outbreaks in the community.

One way of showing levels of advancement is through name badges. Nicely made badges can create a sense of pride and be either color coded or made on differing "levels" of material that reflect increasing knowledge and responsibility. This approach is not unlike perceived differences between standard, gold and platinum credit cards that are so effective as rewards to consumers. Placing the date of hiring on the badge also builds a sense of accomplishment that subconsciously assists in encouraging longevity. Color or special shapes coding attachments for the badges can signify level of certified training completed in addition to the employee's specialty area, not unlike military bars.

4 - Making it Fun

Have you worked at a company or a department that took itself very seriously? One where fun or a sense of humor was frowned upon? How was the morale in that department? Were people ready to pitch in when the going got tough? Hmmm, didn't think so.

Admittedly, there may be a fine line between having a slack department and having one where things are enjoyable and management throws some interesting curves from time to time. Investing in a re-vamp, paint-up or make-over of certain areas before it is absolutely necessary can signal that management cares about what is going on among its staff. Having optional activities where people can socialize (perhaps without going all the way to trust and team-building camps) goes a long way toward showing that people are important in your organization. A department where laughter is often heard is probably a highly functioning work zone.

One final note. You're up against a challenge on this one. According to the Gallup polling agency, 70% of U.S. workers now range from reporting they are not being engaged in their jobs to being outright miserable.  

5 - Keeping Track

Cover of 4-page Review

Performance appraisals have gone through a long series of changes since developed by Elton Mayo in the 1920s and more widely accepted after World War II by government and business. To cut to the chase, most recently the annual review has been recognized for not being very effective at improving behavior or morale. Some have suggested an annual review is far too seldom to be helpful while others have suggested getting rid of them altogether with so many fewer layers of management available to keep track.

One approach is to continue the reviews, but to make them as positive and inclusive as possible. Instead of using the evaluations to justify wage increases, an easy friction point, a better connection might be made with the employee's individulized training plan. Work together with the employee to review your ratings and agree on which areas the employee feels training would assist them. Nothing but growth is on the table, so the adversarial element that tying the evaluation to pay creates is eliminated. Some experts recommend frequencies of semi-annually (twice a year) or each trimester (three times a year) for this new approach.

PUR-O-ZONE provides a downloadable CUSTODIAN ANNUAL EVALUATION FORM in our Potential series of cleaning management aids. 

6 - Keeping Data WHEN YOU STUMBLE

Cover of 4-page Exit Interview

What do you know about the last half-dozen employees who moved on from your supervision? Not necessarily the ones terminated for cause, but those you would have benefitted from continuing to have in your department? (However, knowing more about employees you had to terminate might also be instructive.)

The exit interview is one of the most underutilized tools in management. But working from data rather than guessing is how you can improve your department, virtually for free. What better consultants than those who are leaving? They have thorough experience, have evaluated the job characteristics and have pinpointed where they think they can do better elsewhere.

Not every employee who is leaving will give notice, and of those who do, not all will be willing to share. But even if only 25% of exiting employees will provide you honest feedback - they have nothing to lose in doing so - you would be collecting information that can reduce future turnover. Information supervisory staff may not be in the loop on.

Exit interviews provide one other potential benefit. If enough is learned about why a good employee is moving on in a low-pressure opportunity to write down a few responses to simple questions, there may be an option that materializes to discuss a few changes that result in the employee staying. If one out of ten good employees could be retained, would taking 15 minutes to go over a form with them be worthwhile to you? That two and a half total hours could save a similar number of interview and new employee introduction hours in the future, not to mention all the other benefits to employee retention mentioned above.

PUR-O-ZONE has designed a downloadable CUSTODIAN EXIT INTERVIEW FORM in our Potential series of cleaning management aids.

Reduced turnover can lead to a better average staff score on Monthly Building Evaluations and reduce the people costs of running your facility. A data-driven approach by keeping records of what is and is not working can help you clean better in the long run.