Insights into Enhancing Employee Retention

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By Robert Kravitz

As the owner of three contract cleaning companies between the 1970s and 1990s, I never had a problem getting new clients. Cold calling, including walking the streets and knocking on doors, was very effective in those days.  

However, one problem that repeatedly resurfaced throughout my years in this industry was the inability to find enough adequate workers. Since my business kept growing, I was always in need of new workers. At the same time, some of my old workers would be walking out the door. I was fortunate that many stayed for years. But all too often, new hires were off and looking for new jobs almost as soon as they started. 

I was not alone in this struggle. Employee retention has always been a problem in the professional cleaning industry. And, from what I hear from those in the business today, things have only gotten worse since the pandemic.  

Historically, the professional cleaning industry has had as high as a 300% turnover rate. That means a cleaning contractor may need to hire three people to fill the same position over the course of one year. Putting it in even more dramatic terms, if you have twenty people leave their jobs in one year, you’ll need sixty people to replace them. 

This makes it hard for a janitorial contractor to succeed today. Not only do they have trouble finding new workers, but once they have them, contractors have to do everything they can to hold on to them.  

So, how can we turn this around? According to a recent study, it all comes down to this: keeping them happy. 

Happy Employees= Employee Retention  

Conducted in 2020 and published in July 2021, an analysis  compiled by the Manufacturing Institute’s Center for Manufacturing Research and the American Psychological Association involved structured interviews with 14 HR professionals and top executives in the manufacturing industry—as well as 578 employees in five companies. 

Although the study focused on manufacturing, most of the findings apply to all segments of the professional cleaning industry: manufacturers, distributors, and cleaning contractors. Reasons the employees cited for staying with one employer and not drifting from one job to another included the following:
 

  • They enjoyed the work. (83%) 

  • They had job security and job stability. (80%)  

  • Their employers maintained a “family-oriented culture.” (70%)  

  • Their jobs fit in well with other life demands. (69%)  

  • Their employer offered training and career opportunities. (65%)  

Before analyzing these results, let’s take a look at two more points in the study: 

  • Nearly all the respondents (97%) who felt valued by their employers were satisfied with their jobs. Not only that, but virtually all of those valued workers said they would recommend the company as an excellent place to work.  
  • If workers thought they were being mistreated, they were more than four times as likely to report being stressed out on the job and almost ten times as likely to say they intended to look for another position. 

As you may have noticed, there’s something clearly and obviously missing from this analysis, however. The study did not indicate pay was a reason for staying on the job. Although getting workers today is more difficult and is requiring employers to pay their staff more, it does not appear to play a role in employee retention once they are hired. 

This was reflected in another study conducted some years ago and published in Psychology Today.  That study concluded the following: 

“Workers of all ages, especially younger workers, are motivated by real-time feedback; [a] fun, engaging work environment; and status-based recognition over tangible rewards.” 

In other words, being recognized and appreciated for their efforts, along with the many points uncovered in the manufacturing study, were more important than tangible (monetary) rewards.  

How Can Cleaning Contractors Use These Employee Retention Statistics? 

Aware of these studies, if I were a cleaning contractor today, I would do the following: 

  • Stress the importance of our work 

I don’t believe cleaning workers years ago really valued their work. For many, it was just considered a job – until something better came along. It was not until green cleaning surfaced, ISSA promoted the value of cleaning, and of course, the pandemic, that cleaning workers finally realized their value: they keep people healthy. 

  • Promote from within

As the study pointed out—especially for younger workers—people need to know there is a future in the company. If not, it’s viewed as a ‘dead-end job.’ Promoting from within is key to conveying this. 

  • Treat training as an investment 

Some cleaning contractors have turned to training videos viewed on monitors, smartphones, or systems attached to cleaning equipment as a way to train their workers.  

When told to learn cleaning from the video, some cleaning workers interpret this to mean, “Don’t bother me, watch the video.” That won’t work today. Personal, one-on-one training is needed. It builds a connection with the company, allows the company to share its culture with the workers, and shows workers they are valued since someone is actually taking the time to train and work with them. These acts of consideration and respect are important and appreciated. 

  • Encourage employee retention through employee connections 

Finally, I would find ways to get all employees together. Googlers, as Google employees are called, are often involved in a wide array of company events, including sporting, family, travel, and retreat events. These events build connections among workers and strengthen the bond between workers and the company as well.  

In the contract cleaning industry, by comparison, many workers go directly to their job sites and never see other people who work for the same company. This needs to change. If I were in the industry today, I would try to emulate Google and build a family environment where all workers feel they belong and are valued. 

With all of this in mind, I leave you with this final quote from British entrepreneur and billionaire, Richard Branson:  

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” 

When it comes to the professional cleaning industry, I don’t believe a truer statement has ever been made. 


For more than 20 years, Robert Kravitz and his firm, AlturaSolutions Communications, have been collaborating with people and organizations, helping them become and then excel as Thought Leaders in their respective industries. He can be reached on LinkedIn.

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