Ron Segura, founder and President of Segura & Associates, discusses why all cleaning contractors need a grey wooden box.

Tensions and friction between staff can develop in all types of organisations, including janitorial cleaning companies. For many cleaning contractors, it evolves slowly over time, and because many have never dealt with such a situation before, they are not sure what to do or where to start to address it.

One reason it evolves slowly is because most cleaning contractors start out with just a few customers and a small number of workers. Often each worker cleans a facility on their own or with only one or two others.

But with business growth and the cleaning of larger facilities, whole teams of cleaning workers may be required. That’s when tensions and frictions can arise between individual cleaning workers, their supervisors, and management.

It’s often the result of power struggles, or when one group of people does not feel another team is carrying their weight, and sometimes workers don’t like the way others are performing their jobs. In-house cleaning crews are not immune to staff tensions: because worker turnover is often less among in-house custodial workers, stresses and issues can boil under the surface for years, never fully being resolved.

And there is more to it than just tension. When workers do not feel comfortable working with others, it can impact their job performance, morale, and their views about their work and the facilities they clean.

It takes energy to be unhappy on the job, and we need that energy directed in a positive direction, like making sure the customer’s facility is kept clean and healthy. That’s why cleaning contractors and managers cannot allow tensions and friction to simmer. So, how do we turn things around?

The first thing to realise is something observed by Dale Carnegie, famed self-improvement and corporate trainer, many years ago. He found: “when dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotions.”

This means the best way to address on-the-job tensions and frictions is to bring them out in the open, don’t let them fester, and talk about them as a group or between the individuals involved.

Here's how I handled just such a situation years ago when I was hired by the Walt Disney Company. At that time, their cleaning operation was in a difficult situation. Building managers were complaining about unsatisfactory cleaning service; cleaning budgets, projected to last a year were exhausted in about six months; and tensions between many of the more than 100 cleaning and maintenance workers, their supervisors, and building managers was palpable.

So, I put a locked, grey wooden box in the lunchroom where most of the workers ate their lunch. I did this every


Thursday and asked everyone to place comments in the box regarding any issues or problems they were grappling with on the job or with each other.

The first month, the box was full just about every Thursday. I read each comment. Many of the comments were accusations and issues that were not work-related, but others were. With those, I would investigate the situation, bring in the parties involved, and work with them to resolve the issues.

The box became a symbol of change. Everyone knew that when issues arose, no matter what, they would be addressed and not ignored. Initially I suspected that I would be placing the box in the lunchroom every Thursday. But something unexpected happened: after three months, it was no longer needed.

Issues had resolved. Tensions that had rankled some workers for years were no more. When new problems arose, workers knew how to communicate with each other and resolve them quickly, and the number of complaints from the different building managers in the Disney organization dropped significantly.

This is why I highly recommend all cleaning contractors and in-house building managers make sure they have a grey wooden box on hand, just in case they run into situations like this in the future.

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