Dominic Ponniah, CEO at Cleanology, explains how firms that champion diversity and support their workforce will reap the benefits.

Contract cleaning firms come in many shapes and sizes, from local micro-businesses to large, national concerns. What links them, at least until recently, is the perception that cleaning is low-skilled, low-income work. As a result, the sector attracts a large number of overseas workers. Historically, this has been viewed as unfortunate, yet unavoidable. However, cleaning companies that embrace diversity and take steps to support their staff embed a culture of conscientiousness that benefits both customers and clients.

At Cleanology, for example, we firmly believe that diversity lies at the heart of our success. We are a family business employing staff from 36 countries – 17 European member states, and 19 non-European nations – to clean business premises across London. Around 78% of our operational management team have worked their way up through the company and, in a recent survey, every member of staff agreed that Cleanology is dedicated to diversity and inclusiveness.

The first step is to ensure that employment is ethical. Permanent contracts offer security and, since Cleanology is a recognised service partner for the Living Wage Foundation, staff enjoy above market rates. We also offer bonuses based on criteria such as attendance, client satisfaction, and quality of work.

With staff coming from such a wide range of countries, cleaning businesses may represent a particular threat in terms of modern day slavery; vigilance needs to be maintained at all levels of the company. In our case, senior managers are given training, and staff sign an annual declaration to confirm they are familiar with company policies, including our anti-slavery policy. Employees and contractors are subject to checks to ensure they are genuine applicants operating as free agents, and we encourage anyone with suspicions to speak out.

Staff retention helps contracts to run more smoothly. Low turnover makes for a happier workforce, resulting in higher customer service delivery. It also makes it easier


for FMs to treat regular cleaning operatives as part of their team, which improves communication, enables staff working in the building to feel more comfortable with the cleaning team, and enables effective planning.

Our initiatives to encourage high retention levels and recognise staff loyalty range from the practical, such as a free counselling service, to discretionary perks such as birthday cake and bubbles. Staff can take an extra day’s holiday on their birthday, and everyone received a Christmas bonus, while outstanding staff are rewarded with a prize of £100. The annual Cleaning Oscars award teams across a range of categories.

These bonuses are available to all members of staff, but those with a long service record receive extra perks. For example, those with us for more than three years can upgrade their company car to an electric Audi, while employees boasting more than 10 years’ service receive an all-expenses paid holiday for themselves and their family. Sometimes, it is understandable that staff still want a change of scene. However, we find that a high proportion of managers who leave return to the company within a year.

Communicating with staff – and listening to their views – builds trust and loyalty. Our managers work closely with operatives, while regular appraisals allow staff to voice concerns confidentially. Staff can also place ideas in the company suggestion box and respond to the annual staff survey.

Finding – and keeping – good staff is a challenge for the cleaning industry. Many of our new recruits come to us by word of mouth, so maintaining a good reputation is critical. We are pleased that the diversity of our workforce helps us to attract an equally diverse range of candidates, and we hope that encouraging them to stay with us through communication, support and fair pay will become the standard for the cleaning industry of the future.

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