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Addressing worker turnover

There are many causes for the high rate of workover turnover in the cleaning industry. Robert Kravitz* spoke to several industry consultants on how training and communication can assist employee retention.

According to a report released by worldwide market research firm IBISWorld in September 2017, the commercial cleaning industry in Australia can expect 2018 to be an excellent year.

The report states the industry is expected to generate revenues of $9 billion (US), which is a 2.6 per cent increase over 2017. Even better, it says revenues will likely increase by about this same amount for the next few years.

Reasons the industry is doing so well, again according to the report, is a robust Australian economy and the fact that more and more businesses—such as property owners and managers—have decided to outsource cleaning instead of hiring their own crews.

While this is all good news for cleaning contractors, there is something that could ‘throw a wrench into the works’, to use an old expression, and that is high worker turnover. The service sector, in general, has one of the highest worker turnover rates in Australia. As to cleaning, among the reasons for this are the following:

  • Low pay
  • Unusual hours (swing shift or night shift)
  • Physically stressful work
  • Poor treatment by supervisors
  • Lack of training

“Among the many problems when there is high worker turnover in the cleaning industry is that it has a domino effect,” says Marc Ferguson, an international business representative for Kaivac. “One problem just leads to another.”

What happens, he explains, is that many cleaning contractors do not view training as an investment with the potential for significant financial returns. Instead, the contractor sees it as an operating cost. They believe the worker will just leave in a few months anyway, so why spend the time and money. But without enough trained employees, the contractor becomes reluctant to take on new clients, so business stagnates.

“Further, because the contractor does not spend the necessary time training the worker, it actually increases the chances workers will leave,” says Ferguson. “Soon customer dissatisfaction sets in. Poorly trained cleaning workers usually do not clean very well. So, even if the contractor decides to take on new clients, the old ones often start walking out the door.”

Addressing the challenges

When we start looking for ways to address cleaning worker turnover, we see there are a lot of challenges. There is not much the contractor can do about the hours worked; most facilities are cleaned after regular business hours. Nor can we do much about the physical nature of the work. While some equipment can make cleaning less physically stressful, the fact is, we are always bending, stretching, picking up something, moving something, or otherwise using our bodies.

However, there are two things we can address that can help us reduce worker turnover:

  • Improve the supervisor-worker relationship through open communication
  • Develop new ways of training that not only improve learning but also make workers feel proud of their job and their work

This article was first published in the March/April edition of INCLEAN. Click here to continue reading.

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