You can overcome staff turnover by investing in your hiring process and the good employees you already have.

Finding and keeping good employees has been one of the top complaints of commercial cleaning company owners for more years than I can remember. To make matters worse, unemployment is at record lows. While this is fantastic for the economy, it’s not so great when you are trying to recruit new staff. Difficulty finding quality employees just makes staff turnover all the more troubling.

While it’s easy to blame environmental factors for staff turnover, and they do certainly play a part, a real cause might actually be self-inflicted. In the busy chaos of managing a cleaning operation, failure to implement clearly defined and effective employment practices can predetermine a less than desirable outcome.

High Staff Turnover and a Shrinking Pool of Applicants

Everyone is working. The unemployment rate in the United States has recently been as low as 3.5 percent, a 50 year low. The economy is booming and jobs are plentiful. So the good employees that might have worked for you in the past have moved on and found a career elsewhere. Additionally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. labor force participation rate as of Oct. 2019 has been holding steady at around 63.3% which is less than it was in the ’80s. If everyone is working, who is left? Those who aren’t working might have a reason. Some just may not want to work.

The situation is difficult. You have work that has to be done now and done with excellence. You will lose customers if you can’t find good staff. Hiring inferior employees just won’t work. You’ll be replacing them in short order. If they don’t quit, you’ll likely have to fire them.

So how in the world are you supposed to find those employees who are worth having and will stay in the long run?

“Growth should never be a detriment to the satisfaction of your existing customer base. Put the time in on the front side of the hiring process for optimal results. Shortcutting any of the steps can increase turnover and decrease satisfaction for both the employee and the customer.” – Lee Weeks, Office Pride 

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Employee Turnover

Finding the good ones

It’s time to pull out all the stops. You can’t afford to dawdle. If you can’t get the people you need, your business will go to your competitors. The solutions are not easy, but they are necessary. 

Let’s start at the beginning. You won’t find good employees if you can’t find good applicants. The process has to start here and it’s going to require creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. If the applicants in your local labor pool have options, why should they choose to apply with you? What makes your business stand out as a great place to work? 

Take a step outside your company for a minute. What do people see when they think of your company? Think about every detail:

  • Is your sign dilapidated?
  • Is your website well designed and up to date?
  • Do your employees wear clean, professional uniforms?
  • Is your office attractive and inviting?
  • Are your printed materials well designed and printed or just old photocopies?

Every detail, even the seemingly insignificant ones, communicate something about your organization. In a highly competitive labor market, your applicants will have many choices. What do you want applicants and your community to see and know about your company?

So how do applicants find you?

Back in the day, you could buy an ad in the classifieds that you were hiring and get a long line of applicants. Today, not so much. It can be hard to get the news out to the right people and the situation calls for casting a wide net.

You may already employ some of these strategies, but in case you missed some, consider:

  • Internet job listings (Indeed, Craigslist, Glassdoor, Snagajob, local career center)
  • 24/7 walk-up paper applications (put a lockbox outside your office)
  • Local career fairs
  • Local staffing solutions systems
  • Social media platforms
  • Church bulletin boards
  • Customer referrals from outgoing services
  • Community involvement (Take some employees and go build a house with Habitat for Humanity)
  • Internal announcements (Let your employees know when you have jobs open)
  • Demographic networking
  • Reconnect (Contact diligent former employees who left on good terms)
  • Employee business cards (to give to hard-working people they know or meet)
  • Temp agencies
  • Employee-referral bonus programs
  • Employee-based job websites

Of these, probably one of the most often overlooked but most effective strategies is looking toward your existing good employees. Individuals with great work ethic tend to associate with others that share their values. Hard-working people hang around other hard-working people. These employees can be a great resource for identifying new hires. Offer employees a referral bonus when you hire someone they referred.

Establishing a steady flow of new, and preferably motivated, quality applicants is critical to combating staff turnover.

Employee Turnover

Solid Process

You might be shocked to hear that 46% of owners have little or no established hiring process. If you’re not shocked, you should be! You can’t neglect the process and expect good results. A carefully defined, well-executed process is critical to fighting staff turnover.

In his book, Making Cents of a Dirty Business, Troy Hopkins outlines the process he uses for hiring. This is an ongoing process. They are constantly working to identify and hire quality personnel so that when the time comes, the team is ready to go. Consider the following example process of how Troy suggests a hiring week might go.

Day 1 – Pre-screening phone interview:

Call 60 applicants that have been pre-selected from a large pool of applications. Between disconnected numbers, wrong numbers, and other pre-selection issues, you will find roughly 45 potential candidates that would like to meet you.

Day 2 – Meet and Greet:

Invite the 45 candidates to an office visit with an open time frame. It typically turns out that 30 show up for the meet and greet (67%).

Day 3 – Formal Interview:

Fifteen are invited to a first interview and ten show up (67%). This means that five of the fifteen who looked you straight in the eyes and said, “I am so looking forward to the interview, see you tomorrow,” did not show up.

Day 4 – Orientation:

Seven are invited to the orientation, but usually, six show up (86%). One of the seven that you have spent a lot of time with thus far did not show.

Day 5 – Official Offer:

Six get assigned jobs and called back in to get uniforms and employment paperwork done. This time, all six show up (100%). 

This is just an example, but the percentages are very accurate. To get six hires with a reasonable chance of success, you have to start with 60 contacts.

Keeping the good ones

So now that you’ve found some good employees, what do you do? How do you incentivize staying? What are you going to do to make your company more desirable than your competition?

You could pay more. Roughly 40% of owners surveyed in 2018 said they choose to pay over minimum wage to retain talent. By increasing your pay rate by one or two dollars above minimum wage, you will increase the odds that an employee will stick it out.

You could create a performance-based incentive plan and reward those excel. This seems so fundamental, but so few do it. Your company succeeds or fails based on the quality of work you deliver. You want employees to perform? Give them a reason and make it a good one!

You could create an environment of empowerment. Managing employees that don’t care about the success of the company is disheartening. But why don’t they care? Because the company means nothing to them beyond a paycheck. Value your employees as people and show them respect. Tell them how important they are to the organization and show them how their contribution helps the company and in turn, helps them. Set clear expectations and define the desired outcome. Give them autonomy over their assignments and make sure they have the tools to get the job done. Create a sense of ownership or buy-in so that, instead of just working for a paycheck, they are working for the success of the organizations and ultimately, their own success.

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Lose the dead weight

It can be scary to let someone go when you have no idea how or when you will be able to replace them. Or worse yet, you know you’ll be the one that has to cover the account! But if they are ultimately hurting your company, then you definitely don’t want them to stay.

A recent Gallup research organization says 52% of employees are not engaged at work, and 18% are so disengaged that they actively work against the company. You cannot afford to have employees that are not working for your success, much less working against you!

It’s bad enough that poor quality employees won’t perform their cleaning tasks properly for you and your customers, but it’s even worse when they negatively influence and ultimately run off your good employees.

Don’t be afraid to cull the worst-performing employees and don’t drag it out. Just do it. If you establish a solid hiring process, staff turnover won’t be as bad, and it will be easier to fill an empty position without any downtime.

Be the hottest ticket in town

What would make your company the best place in town to work? What can you offer that’s so good, they’d be crazy not to stay? Seem like an unrealistic goal? It doesn’t have to be.

People need to pay the bills so they need a paycheck. Great employees can get a paycheck anywhere. To get them to work for you, you may need to offer more than the competition, not just in starting pay, but also in growth potential and incentives. 

Make it a party. Bring teams in for pizza and feedback discussions. Take top performers out to dinner or to a game. 

Listen to employees. Make them feel valued. Send a card when a family member is in the hospital. Show up to their kid’s ball game. 


Lately, I experienced something that is rarely seen, at least in my experience. My eldest daughter, who is on the spectrum, recently got a job in the kitchen at a fancy club as a sous chef in training. I wasn’t sure how it would work out. It’s a lot of hours on her feet in a hectic environment. Get this… She loves the job so much, she is excited, even giddy, to go to sleep each night so that she can get up and go to work the next day! How many adults have you ever known that love their job that much?

Why does she love this job so much? She hated her previous jobs. I believe it is in part because they make her feel valuable. They care about helping her be better at her job. They listen to her and love on her. I actually believe they care for her.

What would happen if your employees felt that way at work? Imagine the line of qualified applicants you would have if the word got out. It takes effort and time, but the reduction in staff turnover and the positive impact on your business will be measurable and long-lasting.

Save time and money with janitorial management software that keeps everyone in the loop. Schedule your free demo to find out how you can benefit from Janitorial Manager.