The cleaning industry is heading for some very uncertain times. The word ‘normal’ has been redefined. This covers the whole of our industry. For one group of people, this new normal has a greater meaning. Our cleaning operatives are not normally the best paid people and are - in some cases - the least well protected. Throughout the world, COVID-19 has meant different things to different countries in terms of how respective governments dealt with it. In the UK, our system of employing cleaning operatives is very much different to that of the UAE. We do not buy in our labour; we do not have an obligation to house our cleaning operatives. The livelihood of cleaning operatives hangs in the balance. Some may have already been repatriated, and others have an uncertain future hanging over them and their families. Our cleaning operatives are motivated by the potential to earn a decent salary to support their families back in their native homeland, and the lack of earning potential will have a detrimental effect on their health and wellbeing.
So, how do we help our workforce through this period? Developing a plan to mitigate employee fears and concerns should be a top priority. People are worried about their personal health and the health of those they care about. Men, especially, find it hard to express themselves to their managers with the fear that they may be seen as being weak. The managers may not be experienced enough to handle such emotions and may all have fears of their own. They have anxieties about their jobs, the future of their organisations and even the future of their industry.
To help employees through what will be a turbulent, stressful, and unpredictable return to work, organisations should focus on the personal experiences of their employees from a work and life perspective. It is critical to understand how the pandemic has impacted their personal connection to the culture of the organisation. It is also important to understand if employees feel their organisations are caring for them, as well as understand how to improve and advance that care during the return to the physical workplace, things will go better. Communication is going to be the key. In an environment that does not always gauge the opinion of its workforce a change in attitude from both management and operative could be the way forward.
Communication is key
Communicate frequently to make employees aware of the changes designed to keep everyone safe and healthy. COVID 19 is not going away tomorrow and to understand what everyone is dealing with is always a good idea.
• Provide details of the changes – Clients will want to see an enhancement of cleaning practices. Train the staff and explain why there has to be change.
• Encourage employees to participate and comply with new work practices. Listen to their suggestions.
• Conduct demonstrations and training to introduce new skills to staff, get them involved. Do not just talk at them but engage.
• Reward successful performance in relation to these practices. This does not have to be financial. Saying thank you can go a long way. But, employers can also help by finding ways to reward and recognise contribution.
• Consider using a wide range of communication channels and materials – such as text messages (Whatsapp or equivalent); workplace briefings where you can share good news from your clients or directors.
• Organisations should tell their staff what they are going to do for them, to ease fear not only about COVID 19, but their jobs
• Making sure that they have the correct equipment and PPE to do their jobs and to ensure that they use it correctly. Money will help, but what would help more is job security. The worry of family back home catching the COVID-19 virus is always going to be there until a vaccine can be found. People need to have the building blocks that form Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Many operatives are starting at the bottom of the pyramid since lockdown. Try and find a way of helping them, and in turn they will help you in ways that you may not have expected.
About the author:
Tommy has spent valuable years in the Middle East Academy of Training and Consultancy right here in the UAE, training and certifying cleaning contractors and FM companies in the region. He is currently the Director of T. Taylor Solutions in the United Kingdom and he himself is a CIMS-accredited ISSA ICE expert and an FBICSc certified trainer.