In house employees versus contractors – how to decide.

Commercial cleaning really got started about 50 or 60 years ago. Before that almost all buildings were cleaned by janitors who were employees of the building owner.

Some still are – hospitals most notably, nursing homes usually, some specialized type buildings also still employ their own janitors.
Overwhelmingly tho, commercial buildings are cleaned by independent cleaning companies like ourselves.
Not for the reasons most people think. The perception is that commercial cleaner wages are so much lower that this is a pure cost of labor outsourcing decision – similar to sewing garments in China or Mexico.
Rarely true – for some big companies the hourly rates would be way above the rates contractors pay janitors – but hardly the majority.
The main reason for using a commercial cleaning contractor is supervision. A building owner must create a separate supervisory and purchasing and recruiting competence to deal with a separate janitorial workforce working a different shift performing a function that is outside their core competency.
First, cleaning is most efficiently done when the building is vacant – hence the need for a separate supervisory and recruiting architecture.
Second, cleaning is a repetitive, but not quite assembly line manufacturing process – namely it requires decision making about what needs cleaning and what doesn’t to be performed efficiently – unlike an assembly line where every work element is handled exactly identically. Janitor work is more like construction – and one of the reasons those construction trades get paid a lot is that they have to make decisions as well as have strong backs.
Reinforcing the need for dedicated supervision – not just adding janitorial to the supervisory duties of a manufacturing foreman.
We’ve converted perhaps 1000 in house crews to Coverall accounts over the last 20 years – and on average we’ve seen a 40 % reduction in labor hours – 60 % plus increase in efficiency with contract supervision.
Usually with better outcomes / cleaner buildings – always with at least equivalent outcomes.
The cost savings come predominantly from efficiency.
Ecolab, 3M, Advance and Tennant are all companies in my market that have substantial expertise in cleaning (they manufacture the cleaning equipment and cleaning chemicals we use). They all use commercial cleaning contractors – does that tell us anything ?
Security is the other issue we frequently hear.
In house employees actually appear to commit more crimes than contract cleaning employees.
Repeat – using your own employees reduces security – doesn’t increase it.
In 20 years I haven’t seen a violent or property crime committed by a cleaning contractor employee severe enough to make the papers. Not one. I’ve seen at least a dozen committed by in house employees – and remember there are probably 3 times as many contract cleaning employees as in house janitorial employees.
I’ve seen two such instances – one an embezzlement – in the last 60 days by in house janitorial employees.
By the way – which is usually easier to fire – an employee or a contractor ? We have a situation with a customer in Prior Lake as we write this where one of their employees slipped thru their screening process with a prior rape conviction. Litigation is expected to take months. And lots of legal fees.
Enough on the security issue.
Finally “control” – I hear that having your own janitorial employees gives you more control. You either have much better control of your employees than I do, or are delusional. Probably delusional – refer back to my discussion at the beginning of this piece on the issues with supervising employees outside of your core competency on a shift where you generally don’t have a lot of management people present. In theory this may be true, but my office isn’t in theory – it’s in Bloomington.
’nuff said,
Bob
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