Employee engagement and the burnout syndrome are among the most discussed topics in the human resources and business fields. And rightly so! Imagine you find the perfect candidates, hire them and everything is well, when one sunny day the burnout syndrome starts spreading in your organisation like the plague. Replacing trained and experienced employees is not an option, because you have already invested a lot of time and resources to train them. At the best of times a promotion, an increase in salary and a slight shift in the duties is enough to help an employee's productivity go back to the desired level. What about the people who do all the so-called "dirty jobs" though? The same people, who work on their fours, trying to remove a carpet stain, scrub toilets and clean greasy, filthy ovens? They have it even worse.
Why is there Such Prevalence in the Cleaning Sector?
If you own a cleaning business, or you are a contractor and have cleaning teams work for you, or are a cleaner yourself, it is good to know the first signs of employee burnout, but it is even more important to have a deep understanding of the reasons behind it. In order to eliminate the consequences of it, it is important to tackle these issues.
1. There is stigma attached to every cleaner's job. So many people turn their noses up at cleaning, but everybody needs someone to do their ironing and washing. Because of the negative reactions nobody on a cleaning job likes to brag about the things he/she sees while at it. It is difficult to face society's reactions to what you do for money, when your job title says "cleaner" and has become the symbol of failure ("Couldn't you find anything better to do"). This can put quite a lot of pressure on an individual and they will soon start to burn out.
Solution: It is a good idea to use mentoring and coaching as an integral part of the initial training program of every cleaner. In our company we try to give people the needed tools and techniques to fight stigma and negative reactions by emphasizing on the positive aspects of their job and to shift the conversation towards something more positive using wit, humour and good intentions. Remember to teach your employees that it doesn't really matter what they do, because there will always be someone who finds fault in it. What matters is that they earn their living in an honest way.
2. There is lack of gratitude within the cleaning sector. There are a lot of people who work on paid jobs and get a lot of gratitude for what they do (like educators, doctors, consultants etc.) and there are other people (cleaners, exterminators, etc.) who are also paid for their services, but receive no gratitude from their clients. If you have been in the cleaning sector for a while now or any other 'thankless' sector, this probably sounds all too familiar.
Solution: Use mentoring and coaching to boost your cleaners' confidence. It is true that the job of a cleaner is about humility, but really, who is truly humble unless they have something to be proud of? As a cleaner, you need to be confident of who you are and be able to separate who you are from society’s conception of you, which is dependent on what you do. Teach your employees how to take joy and pride in the finished product of their work. It's not up everyone's ally, nor everyone has the attentiveness, discipline and organisational skills to put a house in the right order. Here are three qualities to be proud of and thankful for already!
3. Lack of proper payment. A huge percentage of the employees within the cleaning sector receive minimum wage. This is why the job is so highly disregarded by society and isn't a popular choice by many, but rather something they are forced to do.
Solution: Cleaning is a tough job that requires constant performance. Your employees will need to constantly deliver 100% spotless results. In turn, they don't always get paid handsomely for it. This can cause them to quickly burn out. To avoid this add benefits and incentives to their jobs. Discounts for food chains and occasional team buildings and holidays for your most achieved members of staff. It is good to show people they are on the right track and there are things money can't buy.
4. Lack of sense of accomplishment. People in cleaning jobs who deal with the mess other people make struggle to find any meaning and advantages in their job, regardless of their salary. Even if they are handsomely paid for cleaning other people's messes, it might not be enough to put an end to this feeling of despair and being stuck. It is hard to think about a bright future when you are on your fours, scrubbing nasty carpet stains.
Solution: I opened this piece with Shawn Hitchcock's quote: "A mentor empowers a person to see a possible future, and believes it can be obtained." In this case, your employees are their own best mentors. Pair new additions with seasoned employees and let the seasoned employees act as mentors. When I apply to work for a company I always look at the employees who've been there the longest time. If they have excelled, are motivated and achieved great results, this is probably going to be me in years’ time. Your most experienced employees are the best encouragement and example you can give to your new members of team. To keep your seasoned employees motivated organise "Train the Trainers Trainings", provide mentoring, coaching and inspiration and they will pass it forward.
5. Lack of support and people to talk to. No one likes to brag about their day at work when they cleaned someone's carpet on all their fours, or they found a dead mouse in a neglected, filthy oven. That includes the families of the cleaners, who are not always proud to share where their loved ones work. Such people also don't receive enough support from their family and friends, because no one really wants to hear about it either. This sometimes leads to a lot of pressure being shoved inside.
Solution: Organise get-togethers for your employees and let them share their experiences at work. This could be formal or as informal as a beer after work. It's just important for your employees to be able to let go of some steam and to share what they've seen on a job. This is particularly useful if they don't have anyone to talk to at home, or if they feel alone in this. Hearing that everyone else goes through the exact same thing and exchanging hilarious experiences will strengthen the bond between team members and will give them some good ideas how to cope with the day-to-day challenges.
Bottom Line: In my opinion the expression: "A stitch in time saves nine" is true when applied to the burnout syndrome. The sooner you counteract the more headaches you will save later.
Author Info Dana Davies
Dana Barker Davies is a marketing executive for Paul's Carpet Cleaning - a professional cleaning company based in the heart of Sydney and servicing all its major suburbs. Dana graduated from Cardiff University (Wales, UK) with a bachelor's degree in psychology and criminology, so she is all too familiar with the burnout syndrome and the effect it has on organisations worldwide. At present she wants to raise awareness about the challenges both employers and employees face in the thankless cleaning services sector.