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The Turnover Turnstyle

Staff turnover is a massive concern for all businesses, though everyone knows it is more prevalent in some sectors than others. Over the past few years the spotlight has shone down on worker satisfaction brighter than ever, the impact of the recession, Richard Branson’s attitude to ties and holidays, George Osborne’s latest budget have all brought staff happiness to the forefront of public consciousness, but cleaning remains one area where turnover remains incredibly high. CHT asks what can be done to address this problem, without simply throwing more money at it

Throughout history whenever your workforce seems disgruntled, the simplest solution has been to give them more money. Whether they were soldiers in some ancient army or doctors in the latest high tech hospital. However this is seldom enough. Research conducted by XpertHR Benchmarking in 2012 showed that the average annual turnover across the UK workforce was 10.6 per cent. There are an ocean of statistics for the cleaning industry, but the general consensus seems to be that the cleaning industry sees 70 per cent of staff leave each year.

Obviously this is a massive hindrance, as new staff have to be trained up and integrated into the company. Not to mention the wasted time and resources training those staff who have left.

But why are cleaning staff so desperate to escape? Is it the low pay? The public perception of the role, despite how invaluable it is? The lack of opportunities to turn a job into a long term career? Or something more? 

There are countless studies that show just how essential a clean and tidy office is to the productivity of staff, and therefore the business as a whole. Staff morale and pride in their surroundings can have a massive impact on the success of a firm. 

So how can managers try and redress the imbalance in their cleaning staff turnover? Obviously paying cleaning operatives extortionate salaries is a no go. The impact on the budget and morale of other staff could end up being horrendous. Excessive and frequent bonuses set a dangerous precedent and the novelty would likely soon wear off. Besides money is not necessarily a cure for these problems, how much would you need to be paid to do a job where you felt undervalued and unappreciated?


You could argue that the main goal of cleaners is to make the working environment more pleasant for the rest of the workforce. Therefore shouldn’t it be seen that the cleaners themselves work in decent conditions? 

It is difficult to see what could be done about the unsociable hours cleaners are obliged to work. They also have the benefit of generally working in dry, warm places. But plenty of operatives complain that there is no food or water supplied to them during their shifts, or that they are asked to work in unhygienic areas (such as washrooms) without the protection of face masks or similar. 

The nature of the work, and the contracts on offer, frequently mean that sick pay, holiday pay, pension schemes and similar are never offered to cleaners. This may not be financially viable, but also may be a question of conscience for the employer. Either way, it will undoubtedly impact on the cleaners themselves, who will look for a career where these perks (necessities?) are on offer.


There are two parts to making sure that a cleaning operative feels part of an organisation. All too often you hear complaints from cleaners who feel that they work for the team, rather than being part off the team. If the former is the case then of course that will lead to unsatisfied workers and poorer results. The later will instill a sense of pride which will improve standards.

Cleaners should also feel as if there is the possibility of advancement for them. 

Whoever you are and whatever sphere you work in, you will definitely want to know that in 10, 20 or 30 years time you won’t be doing exactly the same thing you are doing today. Cleaning staff need to be shown that they have a career path, not just a stop gap role.


Everyone, no matter who they are or what they do, knows something you don’t. The people on the front line actually keeping buildings clean often understand problems their managers don’t and could suggest solutions that supervisors wouldn’t think of. A manager who would be open to taking suggestions from staff would earn their trust and respect. One who took no counsel at all would have staff wrestling to get out the door. 

It doesn’t always have to be this complicated. A report published six years ago on mckinsey.com suggested that more people would be motivated by praise, opportunities to take the lead or even simple pleasantries than bonuses. 

That being said you don’t have to trust people to the extent Richard Branson does by allowing staff to set their own working hours and take unlimited holiday. Similarly Google’s famous “20 per cent” policy, where it encourages staff to devote a fifth of their time to projects of their choice wouldn’t work well in cleaning. 


So far we have covered fairly standard ideas which are easy to implement, and pose virtually no risk to your organisation. There are however plenty of quirkier theories that are popular at cutting edge organisations, or perhaps that should read organisations that want to be seen as cutting edge. Some of the latest trends in motivating without money are listed below. They’re not only applicable to cleaning, but they would certainly be relevant. 


People have gotten so used to working for a manager or supervisor that they almost can’t conceive of an alternative. However removing a project leader has been claimed to foster team spirit. It gives people more pride and responsibility.

Apparently people try much harder to please team mates than managers and this leads to them working harder, faster and with more energy as well. 


Many experts in motivation advise to regularly socialise with your employees, perhaps by taking them to lunch. This doesn’t just mean people who work just below you, but members of staff from across the organisation. It makes people feel like human beings and offers them the chance to pitch ideas and get to know the company they work for. 


When your company does well, celebrate. Make it clear that your firm succeeds (and fails) as a team. You don’t have to go all Wolf of Wall Street and throw a coke-fuelled orgy in the office, but perhaps clocking off an hour early and handing out some drinks and nibbles could work.


Offer employees (even if it is only the best ones) the chance to pick their own responsibilities, within reason. Or let them trade roles with a colleague. As long as the member of staff is deserving and competent then it develops trust and a sense of freedom with no risk to the firm. 


Employers recognise that staff would rather be somewhere else. But perhaps they forget that there are other people who want them elsewhere as well. Many companies make a point of including staff’s families as part of the “workplace family” especially if the employee works long or unsociable hours, missing events at home. This can be as simple as inviting families to work parties or sending them Christmas cards. 

You don’t have to implement all of these ideas. In fact doing so would probably be considered really quite weird. But certainly there will be ideas and suggestions out there for how to motivate staff which would work for your organisation. At the very least you should be aware that simply handing out bonuses and pay rises won’t be enough, and if you believe the research, it could have the opposite effect than you were hoping for.

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