Challenges in training the cleaning staff


39 per cent of cleaning operatives say they are not very willing to learn new things. We tap into the reasons.


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July 20, 2022
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 Challenges in training the cleaning staff

Training cleaning operatives has always been a big challenge, with staff often working different shifts across different sites and also coming from different backgrounds or cultures. 

Among many challenges that a training manager may face, one that cannot be sidelined is the language barrier. Language can present challenges, as often a cleaning operative's native language isn’t English.  Trying to make sure all operatives are trained to the same level can take huge amounts of time both in admin and out on site.

Then comes the unwillingness to learn. This point has been debatable but a recent survey showed that thirty-nine per cent of cleaning operatives say they are not very willing to learn new things.  The survey also revealed some interesting reasons behind this: low literacy, low education, low digital skills, little confidence in one’s own abilities, insufficient access to training and therefore: little motivation to carry out training and learn new skills.

Even if employees are eager to learn new things, they face certain barriers such as little confidence in the language, the fear of failure, and of examination. One of the other possible reasons for cleaning operative’s resistance to learning new skills, is that staff can often have negative opinions or views on training.  They may fear they will be asked to do more tasks or work harder in less time and therefore there is a lack of confidence and trust.

Reasons are many and so are challenges. In this feature, our experts are going to shine a light on these challenges and how to overcome them. 

Tommy Tommy Taylor, Director, T. Taylor Solutions

For years, our industry has striven to improve the service delivery to our clients through training and development. There are several barriers to ensuring that staff have the appropriate education to perform their jobs. I will look at a few.

Cleaning has always been seen as a low pay, low skilled job. The pandemic has highlighted how skilled some of our operatives are and have to be to ensure that the public are safe. However, regardless of how much or little training they get, it is all about perception. Our clients, despite not wanting to do the job themselves, continually ask, ‘why do cleaners need to be trained’. And of course we know the age-old line ‘any one can clean.’

This makes it difficult for the industry to raise standards and therefore elevate staff training. But if we forget the outside noise regarding cleaning operative training, in this edition I am going to look at some of the challenges in training cleaning operatives. Before I go into this, it is reasonable to say that each company, nation or region has a different way in which they approach training.

Let's start with looking at this subject from the employer's side. Some employers see the benefits of training and therefore they make an investment to develop staff in practical and theoretical training. Training should start with the induction. The operative needs to understand what the company and its client aims and objectives are. Standards should be set, and subsequent training should address the methods to achieve those standards.

Given that some of our staff start from a very low level of education base, some companies don’t always take this into consideration. Information overload is a regular criticism of our training. We expect our staff to take in way too much information in one session. The sessions are not always structured to meet the need and ability of its trainees.

If we look at how to handle chemicals as an example. Navigating around the different types of chemicals, and how to use them can confuse staff. They struggle to understand how to use dilution ratios. But some trainers still follow the one size fits all approach and then wonder at the end of a session why some people just don’t get it.

The methods used to train staff may be inappropriate. The trainer continues to use the same old methods and style at every session. This is called ‘ineffective or inappropriate training.’ There is no absolute method for training, but what trainers & companies have to figure out is the model that fits their company culture and the people that work in it. Measure training at the time of delivery. Don’t wait until the operative goes on-site as that could be too late to avoid problems.

Visualise how learning methods promote retention in your organisation. I have always set a minimum level of knowledge retention. I would be happy that, on the day of training, if they retain 5% of what I have told them, that is good. That figure would be a lot higher for a practical subject especially if they have a same - day assessment.

Too often, trainers subject their employees to training that is too enormous, repetitive, incomprehensible, outdated, or just plain useless. Bombarding trainees with too much content can make them feel burdened and cause them to push back or disengage from the training. This is called ‘Content overload’.

The trainer needs to find ways of making the training enjoyable and interesting. Staff will not engage if they don’t understand it, or don’t want to be there in the first place. Get the operatives to express themselves without embarrassing them. Praise them when they do something well and approach a question in a different way if they get it wrong. Don’t embarrass them or make a point of highlighting their mistakes in front of the group. Encourage them and, regardless of the outcome, a good trainer will know who has received the message.

The conclusion is to look at yourself as a trainer first before condemning the trainee;

  • Are your training methods appropriate?
  • Is the session structured? Not too long?
  • Is the session right for the trainee?
  • Are you open to changing your delivery style to meet the needs of the trainee?
  • Is the subject right for the trainee, or is the trainee right for the course?
  • Cleaning can be a dry subject (no pun intended) so make it interesting for all in the room

There are other reasons, but these are just a few.

Suman Basu, Executive Housekeeper, Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach

The housekeeping department is the backbone of a hotel, and since most hotel guests spend most of their time in the public area and rooms, it's vital to maintain hygiene and sanitation standards. Property-trained room attendants are crucial to preserving and upholding the cleanliness and hygiene standards in guest  rooms and public spaces. Unfortunately, due to diverse staff resources, language barriers, and training needs, hotels must be extra vigilant in their housekeeping management.

Housekeeping is the busiest department in most hotels. Employees have a set number of room "credits" that must be cleaned daily. Due to the dynamic operations and the requirement to deliver rooms on time, most hotels find it challenging to carry out regular training.

Additionally, hotels are turning to facility management companies to hire line-level staff, especially for housekeeping departments, rather than hiring their employees to save overhead costs. Despite its advantages, hotels have significant challenges regarding training the staff to adhere to brand standards or basic hygiene protocols.

Most Facility Management companies hire personnel with no knowledge of hotel cleaning. Therefore, attention to detail is minimal since some individuals see it as merely a means to earn money. The company provides basic training to these employees. However, the employees are rotated from one property to another. Herein lies the training challenge. Each hotel has its own standard and unique differences, so employees find adapting to the diversity of requirements challenging. In addition, the high turnover of outsourced employees compounds the difficulties.

The majority of these employees come from humble backgrounds and speak a language other than English.

Due to this, English-language training can be challenging since they may not understand the basics communicated. Furthermore, since they do not have any experience with hospitality, it may take a while to understand, learn, and imbibe the sense of guest needs and anticipation.

Training should be ongoing, convey knowledge, outline the correct way or procedure, be interactive and fun, and make the room attendants more passionate about and responsible for their duties on a daily basis. 

Additionally, they should monitor the associates daily after training to ensure that the training is

practical. By doing this, they will be able to provide our guests with a feeling of "Home away from Home" and "personalized" service to create memorable stays for our guests.

John Manohar, Cluster Executive Housekeeper, J5 Hotels

The cleaning staff has more responsibilities but they are not motivated at work. As the industry passes through the mechanised revolution in every sphere of activity, all tasks cannot be replaced by robots and machines.  The human touch in hospitality will remain and this industry cannot be replaced.

The housekeeping manager is responsible to groom their blue collar workers to use simple tools and therefore continuous education and training is a must. They are to be incentivized and rewarded at regular intervals. 

 The boys and girls in the Housekeeping team are not paid for their service efforts and hence there seems to be reluctance in the learning process. The only way to remove this mind block is to care for them and be open to accept them as part of the hotel operations. An Internal /external trainer should be used to provide regular teaching for the improvement of their skill sets.

 The stereotype about ageing employees being unable to adapt to change or learn new technologies has been challenged by the results of a study carried out recently.

While there may be some isolated examples of an older worker being resistant to change, this study suggests that is not typical of most older workers surveyed. Older workers, more than younger workers, saw the value of the changes and felt an obligation and loyalty to their company and to their co-workers to learn and implement the new technology.

There is some research that shows that older workers may not be as quick in learning new technology skills as younger people, but their commitment and willingness to learn make up for this. 

For the hotel Industry - and this may also be true for other sectors - I could explain the low willingness to learn new things as a result of the workload among this group of cleaning staff. Their role has been eroded. They often work extraordinarily hard but then fail to finish and hear negative comments about their work. When this is the case, you don’t tend to think about learning new things. You are just surviving.

In short: there are plenty of reasons why cleaning staff may experience barriers to learning new things. But what’s the real deal? The hotel Industry  wants to gain more insights. To begin with, therefore, we are seeking contact with housekeepers  through a survey in the near future. They see and speak to the target audience every day and undoubtedly have a better idea of what concerns them.

Our goal is ultimately to work with the people involved - leaders and employees - to remove any existing barriers and to increase the opportunities for cleaning employees in the Hospitality industry  and in their career.