Showing Respect for Our Nation’s Janitors

Obama & JanitorIn general, janitorial work is part of an industry where pats on the back are few and far between, and seldom do cleaning personnel get thanked or tipped by clients for a job well done.  Working for the White House and getting the opportunity to shake hands with the president, no matter which political party, probably makes the man in the above photo one of the proudest janitors in the country.  To receive this level of recognition must be quite rewarding!

Except for school custodians, daytime janitors, and those who do team cleaning, most janitors tend to work at night, alone and after office hours.  That doesn’t give them much opportunity to mingle with co-workers, or get feedback that they’re doing a good job, so they definitely need other ways to feel appreciated and motivated.  Working, for the most part, in a low wage industry doesn’t help. Yes, there are some unionized custodian supervisors in the larger cities that make a very good living from working for schools and public institutions, but they do not represent the larger majority of janitors in the country.  Newt Gingrich’s misleading comments about entry level janitors getting paid twice as much as entry level teachers was a blatant exaggeration and is put to the truth test in the following article at

It doesn’t help a janitor’s self image when politicians make comments suggesting that anyone can do janitorial, even children in our public schools. For Newt’s full comments check out the article at

Unfortunately, his remarks reflect a common view held by many Americans that it doesn’t take much skill or intelligence to do cleaning work and that even middle school kids can do it.  That kind of remark couldn’t be further from the truth, yet it does reflect an attitude by much of the American public that does little to help uplift the self image of the nation’s 2 million plus janitors who work their butts off doing very menial, tedious and sometimes dangerous work for a public that shows little appreciation or understanding for the contribution these workers make to our country’s economy and social systems.

Janitorial work is certainly not the only profession that is misunderstood and undervalued, and it is indeed unfortunate that there are people who devalue all kinds of workers who do menial yet essential jobs in our society.   Everyone deserves respect and recognition for the services they provide in our country, no matter what level of education or skill it requires.  We need everyone’s contribution to make our nation run smoothly and keep the wheels of the economy turning, and if it weren’t for the millions of low wage earners in our society holding up the bottom of the pyramid with their sacrifices, many others closer to the top wouldn’t be able to enjoy the level of wealth and convenience that they enjoy.

How to Motivate and Retain Good Employees

In an industry where wages are generally low and benefits are limited, it takes some managerial creativity to find ways to motivate employees to do quality work and remain loyal to a company. The size of a company and number of people employed also plays a role in how effective motivational incentives work to encourage and retain good employees.  Here’s one list of tips:

Ten Tips to Keep Your Cleaning Staff Motivated
by Bobby Rai

  1. Find out the strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Praise them for their “strong” points and reward them publicly.
  3. Identify their weak points and encourage them for improvement.
  4. Give them recognition as things happen.
  5. Provide interactive discussions, fast paced meetings, and up to date equipments.
  6. Emphasize on the importance of taking breaks.
  7. Bring in temporary help to support your team during peak workloads.
  8. Offer competitive salaries and commissions.
  9. Maintain a sense of humor and friendly relationship with your staff.
  10. Conduct a staff interest survey to see if they are in the most appropriate position.

No One Size Fits All

At Nash Janitorial, we have found over the years that there is no “one size fits all” motivational formula for our employees.  It’s in the nature of cleaning work to see a rise and fall of motivation from employees based on their own personal attitudes, lifestyle choices and health as well, and that is something that we don’t always have control over, like most businesses.   We try to take a collective and individualized approach to motivating our employees.  Following are some of the approaches we’ve implemented to help with motivation in our smaller sized company of less than 20 employees:

  1. The first and most important rule before anything else is that we try to hire the most suitable type of person for this kind of work.  Is the person serious and does he or she really need this job? Does this person have the physical ability and personality type to do the job?  Does he or she really understand what the job entails based on experience?  Is this kind of evening cleaning work compatible with the person’s lifestyle and family life?   These are some of the factors to consider when initially assessing a person’s suitability and motivation to work in the janitorial industry.
  2. After hiring, try to pay better than the county’s average wage for janitorial.
  3. Offer substantial monthly bonuses for quality of work and reliability.
  4. Give plenty of positive feedback and praise for the work employees do.
  5. Make sure your people are fully trained and equipped to perform quality work so that they will not be set up to fail.
  6. Even if your company is small and can’t afford health insurance, you can still start off with one week paid vacation after one year’s employment and then increase it over time.
  7. If an employee does not have health insurance and needs medical care that they cannot afford, help them with what you can, especially if the condition causes them to lose work hours.  Maybe help them pay for the doctor’s visit, or cover their time lost from work.
  8. Give Christmas bonuses and paid days off for birthdays or other special times.
  9. Be respectful, friendly and caring with your employees.  Show them you care about them as people and not just as worker bees.  Practice good managerial communication skills to the best of your ability.
  10. Get out in the field and work with your employees helping them with detail and some of the dirtiest jobs to lighten their load.
  11. Occasionally have a group training meeting with food and refreshments.
  12. On payday, for those who want to come in and pick up their paychecks, have cookies and refreshments for them to enjoy, or fresh produce from the garden.
  13. For those employees who are exceptional, give them special “quality of work” bonuses beyond the regular monthly bonus.
  14. Know how to offer “constructive criticism” by acknowledging the good qualities of the employee before giving advice on how to improve those performance areas that are in need of improvement.
  15. Make sure that employees feel safe to air their legitimate grievances without fear of jeopardizing their employment.  Do your best to respond to their issues with sensitivity, and if possible, try to work out an appropriate solution with them to correct the problem.
  16. Be positive around employees.  Practice a good sense of humor and you will be more able to uplift your employees much better than being a sour puss or a critical team member.

There are many other ways management can encourage and motivate employees to do quality work and remain loyal to the company.  The above suggestions are just some that we feel get a good response from our people.

Wage Averages

In 2009 the national average wage for janitors was $11.81.  In Lane County, Oregon it is currently $11.95.  Part time janitors generally make less per hour than full time janitors, and janitors working in the private sector make quite a bit less than janitors in the public sector.

This article from the Daily Beast back in November of 2010 is really interesting in the remarks it makes on the comparison of wages between top paid New York unionized custodian supervisors and low wage janitors:

A Few Good Links on Motivation:

A good PDF on How to Motivate Janitorial Staff can be found at this link:

Here is a link to a more philosophical article  about Encouragement & Motivation.  It contains a reference to janitorial workers as well:

Staff writer, Jan Nash


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Nash Janitorial Company

89074 Bridge Street

Springfield, OR 97478

Phone: (541) 747-6947

Fax: (541) 726-7925