Environmental Services departments are constantly being challenged to “do more with less,” to give quality services with fewer resources, especially labor resources. Cleaning is a very labor intensive function and our largest costs relate to labor. A ES manager must constantly be looking for ways to improve labor productivity, either through improved tools or automated equipment, or investigating new methods for cleaning. Waiting until reductions are mandated will not give you enough time to investigate options and evaluate if they will work in your facility. I recommend you become active in professional associations like IEHA and AHE. Network with ES colleagues in other facilities is also an excellent way to learn about new techniques and systems that improve productivity.
The way we track and measure productivity often is the biggest barrier to achieving improvement. Many cleaning managers have a vague and incomplete view of what to realistically expect from their staff, so there is no way to know what areas are unproductive and certainly no way to measure the full impact of any changes.
To begin with, determine the exact amount of square feet the cleaning staff is working with. Of that total, how much is actually cleanable? Exactly what does it take in terms of labor, chemicals and equipment to clean that area? What steps do workers take to clean that area and how long does each of those tasks take to complete?
Managers need an accurate benchmark before they can make changes or comparisons. “Guesstimates” aren’t good enough.
One way to determine these benchmarks is to evaluate the different areas of a cleaning operation. Once managers know what goes into a task, how much time it should take and what the results should be, they can determine a range of areas where improvement should occur. Some employees may need more training while some tasks might call for altering or elimination.
A common stumbling block for many ES managers is that, once they’ve determined what needs improvement, they simply do not understand how to work with staff to make any changes.
Many times managers attempt to test a new, potentially time-saving tool or technique in their operations, but when employees resist, the managers give up. Managers either dismiss something because it takes too much effort to begin, or simply decide their staff is too stubborn to learn anything new.
Instead, explain the benefits of change in terms employees understand. Managers also need to distinguish between “different” and “wrong” when communicating changes to their staff. Many employees tend to view new ideas as wrong, unless proven otherwise, and subtleties such as this can make or break new procedures.
For instance, a new tool could help an employee work faster, possibly with less fatigue, and with better quality results. But the employee’s priority is to get through that shift, and a new tool means taking time to learn and adapt. Meanwhile, failure to use this new tool properly can add even more effort and time, making the change counterproductive.
A manager sensitive to the nuances of change knows it is essential to explain how this new method, though time-consuming at first, would eventually save the employee more time and create less fatigue. Taking the time to give a thorough explanation, and to listen to employee feedback, can produce favorable results faster.
Follow-up also is a must. If managers don’t ensure that workers are using new tools or methods properly, they could be erecting more barriers to change.
Often, employees create their own version of a task, mixing and matching what they prefer, or they revert back to the old way. Without constant tracking and retraining, managers might assume bad results mean the new method isn’t working or employees aren’t capable of adapting. In actual fact, the change they’ve implemented may not be in practice at all. This leads to false data that can skew benchmarking, making it harder to track a department’s inefficiencies.
This is a brief overview of productivity, measuring and implementing change. In the future I share some thoughts on capturing and reporting the savings.
Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.