Finding good staff and motivating them to stay with your company are some of the biggest challenges in the residential cleaning industry.
Our industry expert Katie Pearse says staffing was by far the toughest part of her housecleaning business. “At first, we had no idea who would be the best cleaners,” she says. “We tweaked every variable we could to try and figure out how to get good staff.”
After experimenting with various hiring processes, Katie and her partner eventually built a core group of eight loyal staff who stayed with the company for several years. But to build to that loyal eight, Katie estimates over 200 staff came and went. The average time most of these people stayed with the company was three months.
Hiring: What Traits to Look For
In the beginning of your business, “the right people” are most likely to be you and any business partners you start your company with. It’s harder to hand off the cleaning work to someone else when you’re starting out.
“We really had to do it ourselves in the beginning while we got the hang of our business and worked out our hiring process,” says Katie.
In her case, she and her partner did all their cleaning until they got so busy that they had to hire staff to help them. This took just three months, by the way!
If you’re busy enough that you need to hire staff, here are the traits you should look for when hiring.
Previous Cleaning Experience
You can lose a lot of time and money training people who are new to cleaning and who might quit after a few months. “It’s very physical, and it’s just hard for some people,” Katie explains.
Although you’ll probably need to hire some people who don’t have a lot of experience, try to look for people who do have cleaning experience and even want to make a career out of it. They already know how to do the job, they already understand what hard work it is, and they already know they like cleaning.
Independent, Self-Motivated and Hard-Working
Cleaners go out into the field on their own, so housecleaning is a job for people who are highly independent and self-motivated.
“You definitely need people who like to work on their own, because you are working alone most of the time,” says Katie. “You might have a partner, but you’re not working side by side.”
So your staff need to be comfortable working alone and able to do their work without a supervisor standing over their shoulder.
They also need to be able to work hard physically, because the job is physically demanding.
Although your ideal cleaners are the kind of people who are comfortable working alone, it’s still important that they’re friendly too, as quite often they will communicate with clients on your behalf. In many ways, your cleaners are the face of your company—to your clients, they are the company. It’s essential that they make a good impression.
Commitment to the Job and Loyalty to the Clients
Your staff must be able to commit to showing up every day without the other commitments in their lives getting in the way.
“You have to be committed to serving your clientele,” says Katie. “If you don’t show up, there’s nobody else who can step in.”
“I had a few staff with such a high level of commitment that they would genuinely be upset if they got sick. They felt bad that their clients that day weren’t going to get their houses cleaned.”
Genuinely Care About Helping Clients
“You genuinely have to care about your clientele, and you have to be committed to serving them.”
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3 Reasons Employees Stay, and 1 Why They Don't
In the early years of Katie’s business, the churn of staff coming and going was a constant grind. Towards the end of her time with the company, she resolved to figure out the solution to staffing once and for all. “I went through everything—went through my records over eight years and tried to figure it out,” she says.
Her biggest discovery?
Money is not as good a motivator as you might think
“It’s not money at all,” says Katie. “In later years we were paying almost double what we paid in the first years, but the same amount of people didn’t make it through training and ended up leaving. It didn’t improve our retention at all.”
Fortunately, Katie found three other factors that did motivate staff to stay.
When Katie’s company put a health benefits program in place, it “changed everything, literally almost overnight,” she says. “People started looking at our company as a place for a career.”
“We got better quality of applicants. We got serious people who wanted to clean for a living and who identified themselves as career cleaners. And then staff retention was great.”
“Health benefits changed my company. That was the number one thing that turned everything around for us.”
“We didn’t pay 100%—we couldn’t afford it—but we asked for the best package possible. We said, ‘Give us everything you can,’ and we paid 50%. So our staff had health care, vision, dental… And their kids had prescription coverage.”
“I think it said a lot about the company. It showed that we cared.”
Empowering Your Staff
“As an owner, you’re not out there meeting your clients. There’s no way you can meet everybody,” says Katie. “So you’ve got to have your staff be your representatives. For me, I was always huge on empowering them and giving them all the tools they needed in order to make decisions.”
“They never had to run things through me,” she explains. “I tried to educate them on what my philosophy was, what I wanted the customer experience to be, and then I would support them in delivering that, however they felt it should be done.”
In other words, Katie gave her staff autonomy. According to management experts like Daniel Pink, autonomy is one of the most powerful factors for making people feel engaged with and committed to their jobs. Why? It feels gratifying to know that you are trusted to “be in charge” and make your own decisions. You’re more likely to take pride in your job.
One example of autonomy at Katie’s company was the responsibility she gave her managers for the hiring process. Her managers were completely in charge of deciding whether or not to hire job candidates.
"Create a senior position of manager for your cleaners who are ready to supervise other cleaners and help you with hiring and training new staff."
True Connections Between Cleaners and Clients
As we talked about in Commitment to the Job and Loyalty to the Clients, the cleaners who form a connection with their clients—who feel loyal to them and care about helping them—are far more likely to stick around.
Katie recommends that you look carefully for this trait during the hiring process, and encourage your staff to develop it more through your customer service philosophy.
Where and How to Advertise Jobs
The best places to advertise cleaning jobs are craigslist for the U.S. and Kijiji for Canada.
Because Katie’s company was in Canada, she found that Kijiji worked the best. “We tried a few different things like Monster and Facebook, but it was always Kijiji that worked like a charm,” she says.
With craigslist and Kijiji, you can make applying as simple as asking people to respond to your job ad with a message of interest.
"Keep your job advertising simple and cheap. Advertise for free on craigslist and Kijiji."
How to Write an Effective Job Ad
Try to make your job ad sound like the kind of applicants you want to hire. For example, you want your staff to be professional and friendly, so try to make your job ad sound professional and friendly.
“I looked at the job ads for luxury hotels and tried to mirror their terminology,” explains Katie. For example, the Four Seasons would talk about the “ladies and gentlemen of the Four Seasons.” Katie liked this respectful portrayal of the work and tried to make her job ads sound respectful too.
“The kind of people who respond to an ad like this, which emphasizes the importance of the service—those are the kind of people who are going to be very committed.”
Also, Make Sure Your Job Ad Includes This Information:
- Say that previous cleaning experience is preferred, but you’ll also consider people who are hard-working and have experience with physical labor.
- Specify if your staff need their own car to drive from job to job.
- Highlight any benefits you offer. For example, if you offer health benefits, feature the health benefits prominently in your ad. Katie says she got far better applicants after her company started offering health benefits.
Download Our Free Job Ad Toolkit
Want some more help writing your job ad? Download this job ad toolkit, and copy and paste the wording right into your ad.
The Hiring Process
“In my two-person cleaning teams, I always had one person who was the manager,” says Katie. “When we had a potential new hire, I would say to a manager, ‘I’ve got somebody starting with you tomorrow.’ That person would be an extra third person who would come in and shadow the manager all day.”
Auditions Instead of Interviews
So the “interview” was actually an audition in which candidates went out with a cleaning team and tried to do the job.
“It’s an audition,” says Katie. “That’s how I thought of it, and that’s what I even called it. I would pay them for the audition but explain they had to pass the audition to become an actual employee. I would say, ‘Come in, the manager will tell you exactly what to do, and just do your best.’”
“You need to literally watch your job candidates clean,” Katie explains. “You have to know what they do. There’s no point going through the official hiring process with someone if they can’t clean or don’t show much potential to learn.”
“You’re never leaving them alone,” Katie adds. “You clean with them: the manager and her shadow. It literally has to be a shadow.”
"You have to know how your cleaners clean. If you can’t observe them in a client’s house, get them to clean your house or a friend’s house so you can see how they clean."
Katie's Hiring Process
Katie posted her job ad on craigslist and Kijiji. She asked people to respond with a phone call or email. She would also ask them to submit resumes or cover letters if they had them. The main goal was to get them in for an audition.
When an applicant was qualified, Katie would invite for training, orientation, and an audition.
The applicant would then do an audition: working for a day, on real housecleaning jobs, under the close supervision of a manager.
Based on that audition, the manager decided whether or not to hire the applicant. At the end of the day, the manager would give the applicant feedback and tell her whether or not she was hired. The manager would also tell Katie the outcome of the audition.
If the applicant was not hired: Katie would pay the applicant for the audition work via a check or an e-Transfer.
If the applicant was hired: Katie went through her hiring checklist to make sure her new hire filled out all the required forms and received everything she needed to get started.
Make cleaning kits for your new staff: bags full of everything they need to clean. Keep your kits ready to go at all times.