With more than 2 million workers, the cleaning industry has one of the largest and most diverse workforces in the U.S.
Because its workers represent so many different nationalities, languages and ages, it is difficult to profile the industry and stereotype the typical employee.
Besides being one of the largest industries in the U.S., it is also consistently growing.
According to market research by the Freedonia Group, revenues for the commercial cleaning industry are expected to grow by more than 5 percent a year through 2011.
With a plethora of opportunities and steady growth, it is no mystery why so many people are attracted to this industry.
As the industry continues to grow, so does the diversity of its employees.
While its diversity is celebrated and adds value to the workplace, there are occasional challenges.
Breaking barriers with color
While there have been attempts to overcome communication and literacy barriers that have seen varying levels of success, there has been one method that delivers proven results time after time — color coding.
Color-coded cleaning tools were created to eliminate communication barriers and improve cleaning effectiveness.
This system differs from other approaches by focusing on visual cues to break through communication barriers instead of focusing on verbal language.
Color-coding acts as a visual identification system that matches equipment and environments through specified colors to ensure the correct equipment and processes are used in the proper places.
For example, the color red usually corresponds to restrooms.
When employees see a red piece of microfiber or a red handled tool, they immediately know to only use equipment marked with red in the restroom.
This helps reduce the potential for cross contamination which can happen when an employee uses a red tool in the kitchen after using it in the restroom.
Cross contamination can threaten the safety of employees as well as customers because it can spread bacteria and cause serious illnesses.
Color-coded systems provide an effective way to communicate with employees who do not speak English.
Training becomes more effective because color-coded systems are intuitive, easy to understand, and allow potential misunderstandings to be avoided.
Employees can always be certain they are using the correct equipment in the proper areas while using a color-coded system.
This system also allows cleaning professionals to easily monitor employee activity as the color acts as a visual indicator which can be quickly checked.
Ways to overcome communication barriers
While color-coded systems are proven to provide an effective way to break down language and literacy barriers, there are several other methods to limit communication confusion.
These methods include hiring multilingual employees and using posters that display processes in different languages and illustrations.
Hiring multilingual employees is a great way to break through language barriers.
An employee who is able to fluently communicate with employees provides many benefits by almost eliminating the communication barrier altogether.
While many companies have had success in doing this, there are several possible setbacks.
Finding these employees is often difficult, while relying on one person to communicate with everyone creates potential problems.
A commonly used method to reduce communication barriers is multilingual procedure posters or documents.
These provide proper directions for procedures in multiple languages and often provide illustrations which give employees a visual aid.
While many have found this method effective, there are times when a document cannot substitute for a person when an employee has questions.
The professional cleaning industry is a great place to work, bringing employment opportunities to people from many different ages, nationalities and backgrounds.
As the industry grows, so will the importance of communicating effectively among staff.
Color-coded systems, multilingual employees, and posters are a few ways cleaning professionals can ensure they keep their department running at peak performance and limit the opportunity for communication problems.
Aileen Cleary is channel marketing manager for Unger Enterprises Inc. For more information, visit www.ungerglobal.com