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Trimming the fat

September 19, 2010
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What subject could be more rewarding, or appealing, to a building service contractor (BSC) or in-house facility manager or director than cost improvement?

Searching through a money-saving checklist is like prospecting for gold. The reward is a nugget or two that will save your cleaning operation money for the upcoming year.

Seldom can a BSC or in-house cleaning organization make use of all of these checklist items, but here is a Top 10 list to seriously consider.

1. Proper measurement
This is the age of measurement, and there is absolutely no substitute for its use in determining the size of your staff.

Time standards for doing all types of housekeeping work or cleaning are readily available. First, determine the standard performance of work you want and then how long it takes to reach that standard as in how many minutes it takes to do a certain job.

Of course, most of your money goes into payroll (and benefits), and the use of time standards can be much more reliable than rules of thumb, national averages, or past practice.

Be prepared, however, as such a measurement can uncover an understaffing situation, and the resulting failure to provide proper service.

2. The right equipment
Staffing (and its high cost) can be reduced quickly through the use of time-saving equipment.

In making an economic analysis, use an annual leasing charge, or at least a five-year amortization for the equipment.

Automatic scrubbing machines are an excellent choice (except for small operations), and rider-type machines are almost a necessity for larger square footages.

A spin-off benefit in the latter case is making a limited worker much more productive.

3. Cost allocation
Implement a cost allocation program where each service not regularly provided is charged to the department, building, or school requesting that service.

If you have a facility with several divisions and decision-makers, make each division a “cost center”.

For example, if a principal in a particular school is considering having the carpets cleaned, have the principal, not the school district in general, consider if the project is really necessary, what has to be spent to complete the project, etc. Then have the principal sign off on the project.

This cuts down on unnecessary expenditures. After all, it is natural that people will spend your money much more easily than their own.

Make them accountable!

4. Design for maintainability
Where construction or renovation is planned, establish a design for maintainability program that will, in small ways, cut down the cost of cleaning and maintenance in a big way.

For example, use ceramic tile with dark epoxy grout for restrooms, entrances, etc. You don’t have to wax it, buff it or strip it — you just wash it. That cuts back on the time and the amount of money you spend in maintaining a troublesome area.

Another example: When constructing a new building, specify machine rather than float troweling for concrete subfloors so that the resilient floor tile covering doesn’t end up looking like the surface of the moon!

The cheapest way to smooth out a concrete floor is to float-trowel it, but the imperfections that result show up in the vinyl tile that covers it and the floor will never look good no matter how you maintain it.

Smooth out new concrete floors with a machine that levels out concrete and you will avoid those imperfections.

Adequate custodial closets and storage space goes without saying as the backbone of an organization’s ability to maintain, to keep custodians working efficiently while saving money in the long run.

5. Limit overtime
Limit overtime to emergencies or unplanned events.

It’s natural for people to leave things for themselves, or their friends, to do on overtime.

The overtime worker is more fatigued and more prone to accidents on the job or on the way home — and it’s costing you 50 percent more for the time.

Overtime, which is more than just a few percentage points of your payroll, is a “red flag!”

6. Use independent investigators
Use an independent investigator for each case of workers’ compensation claims.

For some workers, the whole issue is just a racket and a way to keep reaching into your pocket.

And silence indicates “approval” on a company or manager’s part.

Don’t rely on your insurance company or your particular state’s agencies to handle this. There may be big money for you to save here.

Independent investigators verify and inspect the legitimacy of cases while uncovering fake or exaggerated — and costly — claims.

An added benefit to this is that you won’t end up encouraging employees to think they can get their “fair share”, which leads to even more unnecessary claims.

7. Limit ‘long’ weekends
Sick leave was established to provide the worker with an income when he is ill and can’t work, not to create longer weekends.

Require employees to call-in to a supervisor (not a co-worker) prior to the beginning of the shift, and discuss absences with workers upon their return.

Best of all, do not pay for the first two days of absence, but pay the worker for any unused leave at the end of the year.

8. Long-term contracts
When using contracted services, assess deductions for non-performance, and use longer-term contracts that may save you money in the long run.

Of course, provide salaried inspection by your own staff.

9. Terminate, don’t demote
Terminate borderline workers — especially those who are absent frequently — during their probationary period.

It’s wise to terminate, rather than demote a failed supervisor; an enemy will have been created in your midst.

Conversely, do not promote a worker who has a poor attendance record.

10. Combine breaks
If you are providing two 15-minute coffee breaks, combine them into one half-hour break and you will save about 20 minutes of productive time per worker, per day.

You’ll find that most workers prefer that arrangement.

Another beneficial system is to attach one or both breaks to the half-hour lunch period, but before doing that, check with your state’s labor laws.

After reviewing this list, BSCs and in-house facility managers and directors should remember that if you’re silent when it comes to your individual operation, it indicates agreement or approval of the status quo.

At times, it is necessary to speak up and require changes in your operation and changes in how the money you allocate is spent.

Not to go forward is to go backward. If you don’t make improvements, you will be seen to be standing still, or going backward, at least by other organizations.

Make a New Year’s resolution: I am going to attack, or at least investigate, one of the things on this list each month and possibly take action.

What better resolution for the new year other than to advance your own professionalism and save money.

Ed Feldman is a registered professional engineer, certified by the National Council of Engineering Examiners. He has served as Plant Engineer, Plant Manager and Director of Engineering for a manufacturing firm and has since founded a firm specializing in facilities consulting and training. He is author or contributing author of 21 books, has had over 300 articles published in magazines, and is a frequent speaker. He is also a member of the Cleaning Maintenance & Management Institute Hall of Fame. If you have any questions about this article, he can be contacted at Ed Feldman & Associates, P.O. Box 52729, Atlanta, GA 30355 or by calling (404) 261-1011.
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