Custodial Staffing Guidelines for Managers

Staffing the custodial department is a constant challenge for higher education managers. There are a number of issues that are often faced daily, including staff shortages, training and conflict resolution. College Planning & Management recently spoke with Brian H. Wormwood, assistant director of Physical Plant for Orlando-based University of Central Florida (UCF), about custodial staffing issues. With 25 years of experience, more than four of those at UCF, he has plenty of insight to share.


CPM: What’s the custodial staffing situation at the University of Central Florida?

Wormwood: We have 150 housekeepers. It’s a separate department from the maintenance department because our mission is different: We clean it; they repair it. Maintenance trade positions call for higher salaries because they’re skilled labor, and custodial/housekeeping services is considered (not by us!) a nonskilled job. It’s usually the lowest-paid job.

At the same time, I’m competing with many housekeepers in a small area because of our location near the many theme parks and hotels in the area. When I first got here, our housekeepers could walk across the street and make more money at McDonald’s and not have to clean bathrooms. We’re more competitive with our starting salary now.


CPM: How do you determine how many custodial employees are needed?

Wormwood: The state of Florida has guidelines that are based on square footage. We try to match those guidelines with the Custodial Staffing Guidelines for Educational Facilities, which is sold by APPA, the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers.

APPA has done us all a great favor by writing that book, plus they have one for grounds and one for maintenance. (See Staffing Resources sidebar.) They save us from reinventing the wheel. It’s a tool for determining staffing needs, and we use it for planning upcoming budgets. We also use it for staffing new buildings.

You choose, on a scale from one to five (five is the worst), what cleaning level you want, based on what your budget can afford. Depending on the type and size of the building, you determine how many people are required to clean it.

I’m shooting for a cleaning level two most of the time, but funding and hurricanes sometimes interrupt that and slide the cleaning level down. We try to maintain a cleaning level three. Then we keep trying to come back up to a level two again.

We’re continually looking down the road. For instance, an engineering building is scheduled to open this month, and new housing is scheduled to open this fall. We need to hire for those buildings. Plus, we have to look at the budget. We start to figure out what we need and build it in.


CPM: What kind of training does your custodial staff need and how often?

Wormwood: Training is something that doesn’t stop. It can’t stop, for a number of reasons.

If we stop training, even in the basics of housekeeping, the custodial staff starts to invent things on their own. For instance, they’ll use more cleaning chemicals than necessary because they believe more is better. So we have to give continuous reminders and training in the appropriate ways to use chemicals.

Another thing that impacts our ability to keep a high cleaning level is the staff’s safety and health. If our staff is out on worker’s comp because of injury on the job, it impacts our ability to provide service. So, twice a month, we do safe lifting training.

Also, equipment changes through the years, and how to use it changes. We’re always training on how to use machinery appropriately. We’re professionals at cleaning, and yet, people seem to think that cleaning is really simple. I respond,“You do it every day and see how easy it is.” To that end, we need to use machinery appropriately because, if you don’t, it affects the cleaning level you are able to provide.

We also work closely with the university’s Environmental Health and Safety department. We train on such issues as blood borne pathogens and safe lifting procedures. For instance, we remind staff to test the weight of a trashcan before lifting it.

We have the police come in once or twice a year and talk about campus safety and security. One example is how staff must be careful when leaving work at 2:30 a.m.

Language is another training issue. It’s critical for us to provide training in both English and Spanish because we have a large number of Hispanic employees.

Training is the front line, so it has to be continuous. Even though we don’t let up on it, I think we never do enough of it. We even evaluate our supervisors on providing continuous staff training.


CPM: What is your reporting structure?

Wormwood: We have front line housekeepers who answer to front line supervisors. Senior supervisors manage front line supervisors. Senior supervisors report to an assistant superintendent. Then comes my position as assistant director. I report to the associate director, Montel Watson. I focus on managing my staff and helping them manage their staff. My boss reports to the director of Physical Plant, Richard Paradise.

It’s amazing how thin the layers can get when staffing is low. Supervisory skills are necessary for any layer, and it’s important to improve the supervisory skills through training.

The front line supervisors have a tough time because they’re also working a cleaning assignment. They work hard and are dedicated.


CPM: How are personnel conflicts handled?

Wormwood: We try to keep conflict resolution at the lowest possible level. The university has disciplinary standards, and we uphold those.

Our job is to hold our employees to appropriate standards of performance. If this doesn’t happen, it goes to the immediate supervisor to resolve.

The chain of command is critical to the process in order to allow problems to be solved at lowest possible level. Sometimes people come straight to me with their problems. If they think their problems can be solved by their supervisors, I ask them to do that. Otherwise, depending on the conflict, I’ll try to help.

If a supervisor brings a problem to me, I might take it to Montel and say,“What do you think we should do?” If it’s more formal, it ends up on director’s plate and I tell him what I recommend. He investigates the situation and sends a recommendation to Human Resources. Human Resources is the official spot for conflict resolution once an issue, such as poor performance or stealing, is investigated by the director.

One of the things I hold the supervisors accountable for is the front line housekeepers. They need to do what they’re supposed to do. If they are, then there shouldn’t be much conflict. Sometimes employees bring in personal baggage that gets in way of work. So we need to pay attention to the problem and find out why something is happening. Sometimes our supervisory staff needs to be understanding and supportive of the outside baggage and yet make sure the job gets done.

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