The Fallacy of Labeling and testing for “environmentally safe”

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In my Service Order Agreement I have the following term.

HAZARDS – Due to environmental and worker safety concerns, customer agrees to secure approval from Washroom Wizard! before using urinal, toilet bowl or air treatment systems.

I learned many years ago that the labeling and branding of products, especially chemicals, cannot be trusted.  Therefore, I had to develop another standard of trust.  My standard for “environmentally safe” became Section II of the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet).  To meet my standard for “safe” this section must have NOTHING listed.

The purpose of Section II is to identify components of the product that are known to be hazardous to a person’s health.  In the case of air freshener products, there are very, very few products that have nothing in this section.  Most of them list 2-6 ingredients.  This list is a very good indicator that use of the product will produce adverse effects in individuals when exposed to it.

Effects such as eyes tearing, noses running, coughing from an irritation to the throat and becoming dizzy or nauseated can be experienced.  This is not an exaggeration; this is exactly what happens to me.   The probability of these adverse effects increases the longer a person is in a room where these products are used.  A user of the restroom can escape after a minute or two; my workers cannot.

Chemical exposure of this nature is not what I want for my workers.  We are a mobile service, regardless of where our work is performed I have a responsibility to ensure the safety of my workers.  My client’s workplace becomes the workplace for my people; therefore, the term on HAZARDS.  This term reverberates a positive effect for the employees and customers of my clients by sustaining a healthy environment for them.

No, dummies can’t clean

Aside

Every once in a great while I do find a little wisdom on the internet when it comes to cleaning services. Regretfully, I did not record the source when I saved the excerpt below.

Money and Time Considerations
Some business owners seek cost efficiency by outsourcing to companies providing cleaning services.
They do this because they understand attempting to use in-house resources can take valuable time away from core business needs.
Outsourcing cleaning services allows in-house resources to continually support the primary business rather than dedicating them to cleaning and maintenance issues.

I wish that more people were this savvy. I have seen this type of benefit, over and over again, with my clients. They have more of a payback as a result of the professional cleaning services we provide than the cost of those services to the business.

This benefit comes in the form of high employee morale resulting in increased productivity, happy customers that share their experiences with others, and the lifting of stress from the owner because they no longer spend their time and energy disciplining employees for not cleaning.

There is, however, one very important point that was left out. The statement, even though it recognizes the value to business of outsourcing cleaning services, seems to erroneously presume that anyone can clean.

When I started my business, I naively presumed that I could teach anyone to clean. Boy was I wrong. I found that some people just don’t see dirt. The level of perceptual detail to even identify places that need to be cleaned cannot be taught. I also found that some people can’t move their bodies in a fashion that would allow them to complete the work efficiently.

So when one presumes that anyone can clean; that’s like saying anyone can dance, anyone can do math, anyone can be an artist or an accountant or a chemist. We all have different skills. Yet, when it comes to cleaning, it seems that the mantra “any dummy can clean” is a hard one to dispel.

People Don’t Get It

Things PEOPLE don’t get

Not everyone can clean

Some businesses rotate the task of cleaning the restroom among employees. This makes sense if you want morale to quickly deteriorate. Using a protocol such as this makes every one feel like they are cleaning up after everyone else; great for your reputation as an employer.

Other businesses use a competition as a way for employees to avoid being assigned restroom cleaning tasks. The employee who ranks at the bottom on a particular measure has the privilege of cleaning up everyone else’s shit (literally). This has the effect of being a method for punishing and/or embarrassing employees.

Another way of assigning restroom cleaning duties is to assign the task to the newest hire. When the new hire applied for work, this information was left out of the job description. When the applicant was interviewed, this aspect of their position was never mentioned. The new hire hears about it on their first day of work. That would certainly make anyone feel like a valued addition to the staff.

The undercurrent of attitude in all of these ways of operating is the fallacious assumption that everyone can clean. It is this erroneous assumption that results in so many dirty and filthy restrooms which leads us to the next “thing”.

Just because a place “looks” clean does not mean that it “is” clean
Some of the filthiest business restrooms I have ever seen were actually pretty. Unless you knew what you were looking for, you would never suspect that there were multiple layers of filth everywhere. Yes, there was a flower arrangement, and nice pictures on the wall, and pretty containers for soap and paper products; a mirror that shined, fragrance in the air, and attractive lighting. But, beware, the level of bacteria was so high on most surfaces that you should have been wearing gloves and a respirator to be in the room.

Mental Illness and Restroom Behavior

Over the last couple of years we have experienced a cleaning problem which is becoming more prevalent. It is an irrational behavior among people who are mysophobic (germophobic). This particular behavior does nothing to minimize the spread of germs (it actually worsens the situation); yet, it creates a very frustrating experience for the person who has to clean it up.

The Behavior

The hand soap is spread in a thin layer all over the sink and in may cases the counter tops in the restroom hand wash area. This layer dries and becomes invisible; that is, until you try to clean it.

The Resulting Cleaning Problem

When you put soap on your hands and add a little water, it get sudsy. This is exactly what happens when the cleaner begins to wipe down this restroom surface. It creates the following frustrations for cleaning personnel.

  • The first frustration is that you cannot see the film of soap; so, when you proceed to clean, with what you think will be a simple one wipe situation, you are presented with the opposite.
  • The second frustration is that the more water you add, the soapier and sudsier the situation becomes. As your cleaning cloth becomes saturated with soap and suds the third frustration arises.
  • You must repeatedly rinse your cloth as it becomes saturated with suds. Doing this over and over again and again takes an inordinate amount of time; especially, compared to the single wipe that it takes when there is NO soap on the sink or counter top.
  • Lastly, as cleaning professionals we cannot ignore spending all of the time that it takes to remove the soap residue because the surface cannot be sanitized unless the surface is clean and all of the soap has been removed.

A Suggested Solution

Firstly, I urge all mental health professionals, who have clients with this type of malady, to get very specific with defining behaviors their clients participate in that are of this nature.
Secondly, I would suggest that you recommend to your clients that they carry sanitizing wipes. Instead of spreading soap all over the restroom surfaces, suggest that your client wipe down the sink and counter top with the sanitizing wipe. This action would in fact have the benefit that the person desires and not create havoc for cleaning service personnel.

The Necessary Evil

Business owners do not like to spend money unnecessarily.  Unfortunately, the perception of spending money for cleaning is many times viewed as unnecessary. Unlike paying for a product that you then resell at a higher price; cleaning services are viewed as a line item that offers no return for the money spent. It is an outflow of cash that offers no return on the investment.

Now comes the therefore. Therefore, it doesn’t make any difference what service you hire; so, hire the cheapest. It is a necessary evil. Here is what you get with a cheap cleaning service.

  • Disgruntled employees, low employee morale
  • Sick employees, more sick days
  • Higher employee turnover
  • Lower business image
  • Customer complaints
  • Customers who never return
  • The need for more frequent facility repairs

So, really, is there no return on your investment when you hire a quality cleaning service?

People Lie

Below is a chart from a survey of Facilities Managers (the people responsible for hiring the cleaning services used by their companies) regarding cleaning services. The chart depicts the results of the question “What would validate paying a higher price for cleaning?”

Survey of Facility Managers regarding justification for paying higher price for cleaning services

As you can see the highest number of respondents (84%) claimed that the delivery of “good, consistent service with a minimal complaints” would warrant them paying a higher price for cleaning. This means 8 out of 10 decision makers stated that they are willing to pay a premium price for their cleaning services. This is a LIE.

My experience is that less than 1 out of 10 businesses really understand that paying a premium price for quality cleaning services actually saves them money AND are willing to pay that premium. All the others end up using price level as a primary criteria when making decisions about which cleaning service company to select.

Why do people say this when they know that when it comes time to make the decision, other criteria will carry the day? I don’t know.

Odor Control Service in Restrooms-A Value Perspective

There are two ways of looking at the value an air freshener service provides from the perspective of a business owner.  The first is to outline what you get when you buy a service.  This outline is commonly called features.

  • Installation of unit
  • Servicing of unit
  • Provision of supplies

Looking at this list does not really convey much in the way of value.  These facts, however, can be translated into a way of looking at the service from another value perspective called benefits.

In light of these features, let us now consider what you, as a business owner, will NOT be experiencing when you hire our service as opposed to trying to do it in-house. When you have the air freshener service of Washroom Wizard!, what you would NOT experience is:

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Restrooms as a “Cornerstone” Principle?

There is a leadership theory called “cornerstone” which purports that focusing on excellence in one area (the cornerstone) can then support and permeate the entire company. That’s what I have experienced among my clients over the years. When the restroom is clean, neat and orderly I begin to see changes in other areas of the business. Work areas become cleaner, a greater level of order is noticeable, and good habits for proper use and disposal of supplies and equipment are observed. The employees and customers of the business start relating to the entire workplace from a perspective of meeting the standard they experience in the restrooms.

Clean is not a benefit of our service; it is the feature. The BENEFITS are all of the other results you experience. These include:

  • heightened employee morale,
  • retention of customers,
  • projection of a stellar business image,
  • reduction in management stress and time, and
  • protection of the health of restroom users.

With all of these benefits; does it really COST to have our services? Think about it?

Employee Morale – Does Restroom Cleanliness Really Affect Morale?


The Cue Card is a quality control communications tool we leave for the client after completing our service call. It serves a couple of different purposes.
ACCOUNTABILITY
It not only documents that the service call was made on a certain date but also ensures accountability on the part of the worker by requiring them to (much like an artist) sign their work (see right side of form).
CUSTOMER FEEDBACK
The form allows our customers to ask questions or give us feedback on our services. The Cue Card below came in recently.

It was filled out by a number of the employees of the organization. As you can see the first one states:

Our office morale has dramatically improved

We experience this type of response over and over again. Employees approach us while we are doing our work and tell us how grateful they are for our services.

I will never forget one client that was part of a national chain. They changed managers almost every year. Usually when a new manager arrives, one of the first things they will do is examine expenses and fire our service. In this case, however, as soon as a new manager arrived; the employees would go to them and let them know that our service was not disposable. They conveyed what it was like before our service began and let the new manager know that they did not want a return to that situation again. As a result of the advocacy of these employees, we survived (six) 6 new managers. It was only when corporate took away local control of some areas of decision making that we were fired.

If you need to improve employee morale; hiring a restroom cleaning service like Washroom Wizard! is an extremely good way to start.