“And those who were seen dancing, were thought to be crazy,
by those who could not hear the music.”
By Tim Thorlby, February 2019
Our perception of something is greatly influenced by where we stand, by what we see and hear.
My involvement in the cleaning sector for several years has taught me that the prevailing view of cleaning by many is that it is, essentially, just a dull necessity.
The managers of many organisations see a service which is ‘low-tech’ (“I mean, anyone can hoover, right?”) and therefore it is surely easy to deliver. And so (the argument goes) the only thing that matters is buying your cleaning service as cheaply as possible. It is a bit like buying a stapler for your desk – you just buy the cheapest you can, because they are all the same. Why waste money?
This common perception is only made possible by distance. The closer you look, the more you see. In reality, cleaning is very different to what many imagine it to be.
For a start, the very purpose of cleaning is surprisingly important.
Cleaning reveals the world as it truly is.
We clean in order to remove the dirt and see the true colour and nature of an object. It can brighten a room, reveal beauty, make a space more attractive. What a difference a spring clean can make.
We also clean to remove bacteria – to make a surface safe to touch, preventing illness in shared spaces. In public buildings and shared offices, cleaning protects our community.
Cleaning is also protective, preserving the life of furniture, carpets and paintwork. It maintains and sustains for the future.
In short, cleaning is all about caring for a space, which matters because we care about the people using that place. Cleaning is a caring service. It is much more than a dull necessity, it says something about an organisation’s commitment to its people.
The second important way in which cleaning differs from the common perception is in the way it is delivered.
Cleaning is very much a ‘personal service’.
Every cleaning service is delivered with a personal touch, because every shift requires a huge amount of personal judgement.
Can most people use a hoover? Of course. But not everyone can clean a large office efficiently in a short space of time. This takes experience and skill. It also requires a lot of judgement and prioritisation to get it right every day. Every building needs a different clean each day because the challenge is different every day, depending on how the spaces have been used (was there an event last night?), the weather (muddy footprints today?) and whose birthday it was (Kevin does like his cake). A good clean requires skill, speed, experience and judgement.
If you add to this the fact that most cleaners are working at anti-social times (early in the morning, late in the evening) and often doing unpleasant jobs (cleaning our toilets, emptying the mouldy sandwiches out of our bins), then perhaps this ‘low tech’ job doesn’t look quite so easy anymore? Any takers?
Cleaning makes our daily experience a better one. It is also harder than it looks; requiring a personal service with daily commitment and flexibility.
Cleaning is also revealing in a different sense; how an organisation treats its cleaners says a lot about that organisation’s values.
If they are doing an important and difficult task for our benefit, we should surely care for them too? At the very least, we should be providing decent terms and conditions for them and a living wage, and the respect and dignity which every worker deserves.
So, those organisations which only seem to count the cost of cleaning (“the lowest price always wins!”) and are happy to drive the price down to rock bottom (minimum wage, minimum everything) have failed to see what cleaning actually involves. Such a single-minded focus on cost is usually only possible with distance. We find that when organisations get to know their cleaners by name and face, and understand who they are and what work they are doing, then they begin to understand the real value of their service.
It’s a question of perspective – we just need to get a little closer to see what is really going on.
Cleaning is revealing. What does the cleaning in your organisation say about your employer’s values?
Clean for Good is an ethical cleaning company for London, cleaning offices and workspaces across the city. It is a Living Wage Employer, it directly employs its cleaners and it trains and manage its cleaners professionally. Founded in a church in the City of London, it launched in 2017 and continues to grow.
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Tim Thorlby is the Managing Director of Clean for Good. You can find him on Twitter too at @TimThorlby.