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Target: Employee retention

September 19, 2010
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With an average annual turnover rate of approximately 300 percent in the JanSan industry according to industry reports, many facility managers continue to grapple with the problem of keeping a quality cleaning staff.

Cleaning managers often find themselves in the undesirable predicament of continually needing to replace staff members, which can be costly in terms of time, money and productivity.

In an industry with such an exceptionally high rate of turnover, cleaning managers must develop systems to keep employees satisfied — and on the payroll.

In the face of this sobering statistic, managers and owners should create a plan of action, targeting key areas to help improve both employee retention and the operation as a whole.

This plan should include tactics for:

  • Recruiting new hires
  • Interviewing candidates
  • Implementing policies defined in a comprehensive employee manual
  • Training new and current staff
  • Improving morale
  • Developing a "retention team"
  • Refining management skills
Start with recruitment

A solid cleaning operation needs solid workers.

Strategies for increasing employee retention should begin even before the employee is hired.

How you recruit is as important as who you recruit.

JanSan consultant and building service contractor (BSC) Gary Clipperton offers tips for finding good workers through recruiting efforts:

  • Know the type of worker you want (part time or full time, "moonlighters", or someone who is looking for extra income).
  • Identify prospective employees (college students, retirees, part-time workers, recent immigrants) in your local area and target them aggressively.
  • Ask industry peers for referrals, or even family and friends whom you trust for leads on good workers.
  • Offer good wages and benefits.

According to Alan Bigger, director of Building Services at the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, some organizations hire employees through a temporary agency.

If the employee does well on the job, the organization will hire the person as an "on call" employee, according to Bigger.

If the person continues to prove him or herself, they may then be offered a part- or full-time position.

This system often succeeds because the employee is already familiar with the process and knows what to expect; there are no "surprises".

The interview process

According to Bob Merkt, owner of the Merkt Educational Group and Associates, West Bend, WI, one way cleaning professionals can reduce turnover is to improve their interviewing skills.

A satisfactory interview process sho-uld include:

  • Reviewing the application
  • Checking references
  • Checking personal appearance of the prospective employees

Merkt unveiled the key components of the interview process: The "shut up and listen" skill and combating the "misperception syndrome".

Merkt said listening is the most important attribute an interviewer can have.

In the ideal interview, the prospective employee should do most of the talking.

This can be accomplished by asking open-ended questions and listening carefully to the responses, according to Merkt.

When the applicant finishes answering a question, Merkt advised that employers not rush into the next question, but rather allow a few moments of silence to pass.

This should compel the applicant to follow up with additional information, which can often prove very valuable.

The more an employer knows about a candidate, the more informed a decision the employer can make.

Misperception syndrome — a common problem in the hiring process — occurs when the prospective employee''s perception of professional cleaning is very far from the reality of the job, according to Merkt.

Merkt said many people may perceive cleaning to be an easy task when, in reality, janitorial cleaning is hard work.

The average cleaner, Merkt estimated, is required to learn more than 140 different cleaning tasks in order to effectively perform their jobs.

This is why it''s important to provide a clear expectation of what the position will entail before you hire an employee.

According to Merkt, a good way to do this is to develop an expectation sheet — a one page summary of the position''s requirements — which should then be placed in the employee manual.

Managers should have applicants review both the expectation sheet and the employee manual before they accept the position.

Get it in writing: The employee manual

All cleaning professionals should create a comprehensive manual which covers every aspect of job performance.

Employee manuals serve a number of purposes.

First, they are a valuable source of information for prospective employees.

Manuals also provide much-needed structure for an organization and help to protect both employer and employee by spelling out company guidelines and protocols.

According to David Frank, president of KnowledgeWorx, a Denver-based training and consulting organization, a comprehensive employee manual should include the following:

  • Job descriptions
  • Expectations of achievement
  • Requirements for background checks and security clearances
  • Payroll procedures and pay date
  • Safety and security actions which employees are required to know and perform
  • Training policies
  • Shift start times and differentials
  • Attendances and tardiness policies, with a mandate that all employees must notify supervisors of absences in advance

Another way employers can protect themselves is to have new hires sign a document stating that the applicant has read the employee manual and understands the company''s rules and regulations.

This way, if new worker does something that is against written company policy, he or she would then have little legal ground to challenge any reprimand or dismissal.

Give your employees the knowledge to succeed

Proper, hands-on training is one of the most fundamental components of an efficient and well-run cleaning operation.

When an employee is comprehensively trained, they are more knowledgeable about their job responsibilities, more comfortable in performing day-to-day tasks, and have a better attitude about their position.

Good cleaning managers should never assume a new hire knows how to perform every cleaning task.

In fact, training should be continued until workers consistently demonstrate that they know their job responsibilities.

Lynn E. Krafft, owner of Krafft Cleaning, Watertown, NY, suggests starting workers on smaller jobs, allowing them to prove themselves before you move them into tasks that require more time and experience.

Darin Hargraves, training supervisor for the Anchorage, AK public school system, said that a good training program results in long-term savings through:

  • Increased efficiency and productivity
  • Reduced chemical and supply usage
  • Fewer workers compensation costs due to a decline in on-the-job injuries
Show your appreciation

The importance of boosting employee moral cannot be overstated.

An employee who feels appreciated is more likely to be productive, and less likely to leave his or her position.

Cleaning managers set the tone for the operation; how a manager treats employees will directly impact the level of service employees provide.

Nobody likes working for someone who does not appreciate their efforts, according to Don McNulty, president of Bio Cleaning Services of America, Inc., Blue Springs, MO.

Managers who bark instructions at employees are hurting their operation, rather than helping it.

Krafft explains that unfortunately the cleaning industry suffers from a poor image. Cleaning is viewed by many as undemanding, mindless work.

It''s up to managers to change that image, and to promote the positive and healthful benefits of cleaning, as well as its importance in everyday life.

Managers should also promote positive employee morale using incentives for motivation (see "Your thoughts on employee motivation" on pg. 33).

Not all incentives are based on money, bonuses, or extra vacation time, however.

Bigger said he found the following ideas often lead to more satisfied employees, as well as a cohesive work environment:

  • Treat people the way you would like to be treated (the Golden Rule)
  • Provide meaningful feedback immediately
  • Make work fun and interesting, instead of just "work"
  • Praise employees in public
  • Walk around the facility and talk with your employees often
  • Incorporate employee ideas into the decision making process
Develop a retention team

Putting together a "retention team" with a representative sample of your staff is another idea to consider.

Have the team meet weekly to discuss problems encountered while on the job.

Also, encourage the team to offer job feedback and self-evaluation, and to discuss their level of satisfaction with their positions.

Cleaning managers should pay close attention to worker feedback — great ideas can come from such meetings.

For example, if a staff member provides a good idea that could be implemented in daily cleaning operations, the worker would likely be more productive because they are acting on an idea that they created themselves.

This practice improves accountability on the part of the staff, in that they are directly responsible for the success or failure of the ideas and practices they generated.

Retention teams provide cleaning managers with the opportunity to stay "in touch" with the daily successes and challenges that their workers face.

Hone your own skills

McNulty offers the following advice: If you want better employees, be a better manager. It''s that simple.

If managers want to produce better, more efficient staffs, they need to pay attention to their own management skills, according to McNulty.

A great working environment starts from the top down: Lead by example.

A good manager should be vigilant in improving their own skills, love what they do, embrace the challenges that management brings, and be a positive role model for their staffs.

McNulty advised that managers set up a "system of work".

Workers might not enjoy being told what to do, but they do enjoy working in well-managed systems in which they are well trained and equipped to handle responsibilities with the proper support.

Ultimately, every member of an organization benefits when there is a solid organizational structure, as well as open lines of communication between employers and employees.

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