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Helen Ross
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Cleaning Up The Cleaning Industry

There is no doubt that more and more people are investigating the services of a cleaner to help around the home. After all, the last thing people want to do at the weekend after a long week at work is start scrubbing the toilet – there are places to go, children to engage with and generally spend some time relaxing before Monday comes knocking again.

I have been running a cleaning and housekeeping business for the past 12 months. Although I did my due diligence and market research before I launched the business, it was not until I got into the day to day running of the business that I realised what a choice and what a difference there is between the types of cleaning services available.

As a business we pride ourselves on being an ethical employer by offering full contracts of employment, paying above the minimum wage, paying travel time and mileage, holiday pay and taking a keen interest in our staff to ensure their needs are met and they enjoy their jobs. I don’t want to come across like I am blowing my own trumpet, but after my recent 1-2-1’s with all my staff, they have all said how much they enjoy their jobs, rating it 5 out of 5 in terms of happiness in their role. I have worked for some, let’s say, not very nice bosses in my own career, so now that I am an employer, I want to make sure my staff are treated fairly.

For anyone who runs a business and employs people, there is no doubt that staff are the greatest challenge. Finding the right people, taking care of them and empowering them to grow with the business has its ups and downs, however it is also the most satisfying element of the job as well. I have a number of staff who have struggled to get back into work after having children, or who have jumped from one job to the next without feeling respected or cared for. The stories I’ve heard from staff with previous cleaning industry experience has been quite an eye opener for me. I have been told stories of them having to provide their own products and cloths to clean a client’s home, that they have had to travel up to an hour between jobs, which they did not get paid for and often had to make their own way using public transport. When I tell them in interviews what we offer as a professional business they want to bite my hand off as it is such a contrast to what they have experienced before. Of course, I am pleased that we can provide such a happy, warm working environment and nothing gives me more pleasure knowing that they love their jobs and want my business to succeed. However, it does show what a contrast there is within the cleaning industry and that there are a lot of companies out there providing cleaning services while treating their staff in such a disrespectful way.

When I pitch my business at a networking event or a sales enquiry, I like to emphasise the ethical nature of my business; it is important to me and I want potential customers to understand what we do and why we do it. I also want to educate people that there is huge difference from one cleaning company to another. I treat my staff well, and I want customers who value and appreciate that too. Of course, because of the way we operate we cannot compete with cash in hand cleaners, but I want customers to understand that it is not just about the price point, it is about providing local people with a good job. Yes they can get their homes cleaned elsewhere for cheaper, but it is about the bigger picture. Staff who are well looked after and cared for, care about their jobs and want to keep them, they want to progress and succeed and they know the only way to do that is to look after our clients’ homes and always give 100%. When the cleaning industry has an average client retention rate of 55%, it clearly shows what difference it makes by looking after your staff, as our client retention rate is 90%.

It is also interesting to look at where we have come, in the centenary of women earning the right to vote, things have changed dramatically over the past 100 years for women. It is great to see that women now head up some of the most important businesses and countries in the world, climbing the ladder to be on a par with men. However, it is also disappointing to see that cleaning is still seen as an inferior industry and that it is acceptable to offer poor working conditions and pay, yet typically “male” unskilled work is well paid with good benefits. As I move into my second year in business, I am determined to educate people more on this. I do believe if people understood the true price of what they pay, either an individual or an unethical cleaning company, I don’t think they would. While £10 or £12 per hour sounds a good price to an individual, when you take into consideration the time it takes them to travel to a property, the lack of holiday pay or sick pay, in most cases it’ll be less than the minimum wage. For those of us women who have been able to make a successful career for ourselves and need the services of cleaners or childminders, then we should try and support these industries and use a service that provides good pay and a nice working environment.

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