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Cleaning up our act

Aaron Sagar, Account Manager at Anabas, makes the case for rewarding cleaning staff fairly for their efforts
As FM providers, we expect our clients to pay a fair contract price, which often includes multiple services, overheads and a management fee in return for providing a clean, safe environment for building users. When cleaning forms part of that core service delivery, our focus is on making sure we deliver for our clients – but are we doing right by the staff who actually do the work?

Many cleaning staff within our industry work multiple jobs across different sites, often having to travel distances between each shift. It is not unknown to have an operative begin their day at around 4am in order to make their 6am shift to clean before the typical working day begins, then move on to another day job, followed by evening work, often stretching the boundaries of working time.

This is what some staff go through each working day in order to provide a quality service for our clients and their building users, as well as allowing us to charge a competitive contract price. And it’s why employers of cleaning staff should not take their loyalty, hard work, daily stress and skills for granted.

In 2001, after recognising that the government minimum wage was not enough to live on, the Living Wage Foundation started to recommend a minimum London wage as a ‘guide’ for fairness. This was calculated as an hourly wage to reflect the cost of living in London.

Fast forward to 2019, and according to the London Living Wage Foundation, this voluntary living wage is now paid by over 4,700 UK businesses, and takes into account real living costs to provide a fair wage for all. However, the real living wage, which is currently at £10.55 per hour in London (updated each autumn), is still a voluntary rate which employers can choose to pay but are not obliged to.

So while the new living wage rates have provided a boost for thousands of workers throughout the UK, is it enough? Not only is paying the London living wage fair, it is also about being ethical, and adopting it comes with multiple benefits for businesses. It can boost morale and output and improve motivation and retention rates. But is this really just the first step towards creating a happy workforce who feel valued for the work they deliver?

Is it really logical and ethical to expect hard-working cleaning staff to turn up during unsociable hours for a less than acceptable rate of pay and no opportunity to progress or develop their skill sets? If we value our working space, and believe it has a bearing on the success of our businesses, then we need to value the teams that help to create this type of working environment for building users. Likewise, the increased cost of living for lower-wage earners is a drain; in some cases, the travel fares alone can account for more than 35 per cent of the value of a two-hour shift. So employers need to be fair and rational.

Fair pay is, however, just the tip of the iceberg – there are other factors at play. Having access to continuous training, for example, is a key motivator. Training can instil feelings of self-worth and pride, and helping to secure loyalty.

It is essential to train staff, no matter what their skill level is. The FM industry does not stand still, and there are new methods and behaviours around new products and methodology that need to be taught all the time. Within cleaning specifically, it is important to strike the right balance between functional and skill-based training, such as how to use a certain machine, behavioural training (customer service or time management), and vocational or life skills (managing finances, communicating to different audiences).

It’s the added-value training such as life skills that can help our staff in their day-to-day lives, and let them know that, as employers, we are invested in their wellness. This requires a centralised commitment and overhead allocation, but given that some staff spend more time at work than with their loved ones, isn’t it a good and right investment to make?

The benefits to employers include: improved morale, leading to fulfilled and happy staff who are more likely to go the extra mile; staff retention, because a happy workforce who enjoy their work and feel valued are more likely to stay; and increased productivity, as staff trained in new methods of cleaning with new products, led by data-driven analytics, can lead to leaner ways of working. Consistent service delivery will also lead to positive feedback from clients.

Conversely, ignoring the true value of what cleaning staff can deliver can negatively impact an operation, with higher recruitments costs leading to higher training costs, and loss of goodwill from client and staff.

Cleaning can be a repetitive, stressful and draining job, and employers need to find the will and commitment to pay what is right to make people feel valued and give them a sense of worth. Following this up with a genuine training programme that takes account of people’s needs and aspirations will demonstrate that as an industry, we are invested in all our people.

About Sarah OBeirne

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