Workforce wellbeing

20th of December 2022
Workforce wellbeing

With the growing importance of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors, cleaning businesses are having to not only consider the impact they have on the environment, but also how they support the wellbeing of their staff and the communities they work within. Sally Ann Van Blerk, group sustainability director at Ecoserv Group, writes exclusively for ECJ.

With the growing importance of ESG, cleaning businesses are having to not only consider the impact they have on the environment, but also how they support the wellbeing of their staff and the communities they work within. Any effective sustainability strategy needs to have clear objectives that reinforce a company’s focus on its social and ethical responsibility.

The cleaning sector is massively labour-intensive, employing many people who may be in disadvantaged and challenging situations. While delivering a vital service, cleaners can often be largely invisible – unnoticed and unappreciated – and are most likely to be the lowest paid workers in the building. Wellbeing is not something we can simply pay lip service to. These vital workers need to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect, and this in turn will have a positive impact on our industry.

Positive wellbeing is about balancing the psychological, social and physical needs of staff, so any strategy has to understand and reflect this. Nurturing financial stability and professional enrichment, alongside diversity, equality, and inclusion, will have a significant impact on employee welfare. This in turn, will typically lead to increased resilience, better employee engagement, reduced absenteeism and ultimately improved performance.

In the current economic climate, where people are increasingly concerned about the cost-of-living crisis, it will be the lower income people who are the hardest hit, so it becomes even more important for businesses to support their workforce. Financial stability will be crucial in the coming months and having mechanisms in place for staff when they are struggling can go a log way to alleviating workplace stress and improving their home life.

Many employee benefits just require some clever thinking and do not have to add significant financial burden to a business. For example, it could be possible to offer short-term loans to pay for unexpected expenses; provide a corporate discount scheme to help wages go that little bit further; or offer a free course that provides guidance on better financial management. However, rapid rises in fuel, energy, rent and food cost, have resulted in inflation far outstripping wage growth, so the cleaning sector needs to take responsibility and champion fair pay that eliminates in-work poverty.

In the UK, the real living wage is a voluntary rate, which is calculated independently by the Living Wage Foundation based on actual living costs. With pace of inflation running at a 40-year high, the hourly rates that more than 11,000 companies have opted in to has been raised earlier than usual to provide more financial support to hundreds of thousands of workers. They have gone up by £1 to £10.90 across the UK and by 90p to £11.95 in London.

Below minimum wage

The Living Wage Foundation estimates that around 75 per cent of cleaners still fall below the real living wage rate, which means there is still a long way to go. Progress is dependent on true partnership within the industry, with suppliers and customers working together and often having difficult conversations, but a truly sustainable cleaning sector should be demanding fair levels of pay as standard.

A fair level of financial reward does offer significant benefits to both cleaners and the provider. Any shortfall in pay often results in people having to take multiple jobs or accept extra shifts, seriously affecting quality of life. And a tired and stressed workforce will undeniably have a negative impact on performance levels.

In fact, those companies that have chosen to opt into paying the real living wage have typically experienced a range of operational benefits. Such as higher retention levels and an increase in quality, with noticeable improvements in productivity, operational resilience, and cost savings.

Everyone should feel valued and comfortable within their job as well as have the means to achieve their full potential. The cleaning sector is all too often seen as a low paid, low skilled industry so the challenge is to create a culture of social mobility, with professional cleaners who feel empowered and rewarded, within a positive working environment.

Training and development are crucial for any cleaning business, and when done well, can be hugely beneficial to well-being. It is about providing the resources and knowledge for them to do their jobs safely and with confidence, while also giving a pathway to progress within their careers.

The challenge is to ensure staff have the time, desire and means to improve their skills. Providing interactive courses online, via an e-learning portal such as UhUb, can certainly offer flexibility, but it is important to ensure everyone has access to a computer or smartphone. If cleaners can complete accredited courses, perhaps give them additional time off to take exams or complete course work. It is about ensuring everyone has access to upskilling and is given the incentive and encouragement to learn.

Reward programmes are also an effective way of recognising  hard work. Whether this is at a local or central level, it provides greater visibility for a remote workforce, which can make them feel appreciated and more motivated. Even a simple Cleaner of the Month Award is a great way of celebrating achievements, and anything that makes cleaning staff feel rewarded and valued, will contribute towards an inclusive workplace where everyone feels they belong.

According to one study, one in five people in the workplace experience a mental health condition, and while many employers are developing policies to support a healthy workforce, there is often no shared vision for mental health. For labour-intensive sectors such as cleaning, this could represent a significant number of people who are suffering or at risk. Businesses must put reactive and proactive measures in place to support them.

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can certainly help staff deal with personal and workplace problems that might be impacting their performance, health and wellbeing. A helpline, with access to experienced counsellors or financial/legal specialists, can provide guidance in a moment of need. Often issues can spiral out of control and leave someone feeling helpless, so it ensures they know they are not alone and support is available.

Mental and physical wellbeing

Companies also need to take proactive steps to protect and involve their cleaners. Having effective communication channels where they can freely share and discuss their ideas, thoughts and concerns, is a strong first step, and this needs to be something that is embraced across the business. A defined complaints process for customers is also a useful way to take the pressure off by channelling issues away from individual cleaners on site.

While supervisors and line managers have a duty to protect their cleaning teams, a company also needs to take responsibility to ensure they are not placed in environments that put them at risk or under undue stress. This must start at board level with a commitment to only working with customers that share their values and standards. The cleaning industry needs to target and negotiate sustainable contracts that encourage the highest levels of respect and partnership.

Cleaners represent the backbone of the cleaning industry and are members of their local communities. Ensuring they are treated fairly, with dignity, cannot be overlooked and is a moral obligation for any cleaning business. Every cleaner deserves a decent reward for their efforts, alongside good working conditions and job security, so if their wellbeing can be prioritised there are genuine benefits for the business, its workforce, the sector and society as a whole.


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