At Swept we talk about employee retention in the cleaning industry a lot.

Because 1, constant employee turnover almost always has a negative impact on customer satisfaction…

….and 2, we’ve surveyed janitorial business owners and found that keeping cleaners is one of the biggest challenge the industry faces.

Employee turnover rates in the janitorial industry average between 75% and 375% each year.

So even though we’ve written articles about how to improve cleaner retention (like this post about celebrating small wins in your business and this post about employee recognition,) we feel like there is more to be said on the topic.

We want to get to the root of the problem and understand:

What actually causes high turnover in the janitorial industry?

As business owners we have a tendency to blame employees for being unreliable or not being committed to their jobs.

Which is sometimes true.

But the unpopular truth is that as employers we also play a role in their decision to quit (or not show up to work…)

In this post we use Patrick Lencioni’s theory of “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job” to uncover why cleaners leave their jobs and how to prevent it from happening.

We highly recommend picking up a copy of the book, but for a quick overview of the principles outlined by Lencioni, scroll on.

The 3 Signs of a Miserable Job


In his book, Lencioni offers three signs of a miserable job. Here’s a look at each of them, with our own suggestions for how to overcome each of them in the janitorial industry:

1. Anonymity

According to Lencioni the principle of anonymity, is that “people cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known. All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority.”

This problem is particularly relevant to the janitorial industry because the majority of cleaning staff work remotely, in the middle of the night, and often alone. 

Sadly it’s not uncommon for cleaners to go weeks or even months at a new job without meeting their direct supervisor. They are simply treated as a number, not an individual with personalities and interests and strengths.

There are lots of ways to combat this, but one that we have seen work well in the cleaning industry is to create a group message board to allow employees and managers to communicate about the job, as well as to provide opportunities to get to know one another.

Swept software offers a message board for cleaners and managers, but you could also use a Facebook group or an instant messaging platform such as Slack.

Once you have this setup you can encourage cleaners to use it to share:

  • Feedback about the job
  • Personal milestones or exciting life events (anniversaries, birthdays, etc.)
  • Articles or events that might be of interest to other members of the team

2. Irrelevance

Another common theme in the janitorial industry is employees not understanding how their work impacts the jobs and lives of others. And there’s nothing worse for a person’s motivation and work ethic to feel like their job doesn’t matter!

As Lencioni puts it, “everyone needs to know that their job matters, to someone. Anyone. Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment.”

To combat this feeling of irrelevance, clearly communicate during their job training the impact their work has on the day-to-day lives of your company’s clients.

Perhaps it helps improve morale at the client’s office, allowing the whole team to feel happier at work. Or maybe it’s about maintaining the client’s image in front of their clients who come into their space for meetings.

Then, continue to look for opportunities to reinforce the idea that good performance as a cleaner has a positive impact on others. For instance, when thanking a cleaner for consistently showing up on time, or always completing all their assigned tasks.

Finally, when you receive positive feedback from a client, be sure to share this not only with the cleaners assigned to that location, but then entire team.


3. Immeasurement

The last principle, immeasurement, states that “employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. They cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person.”

Do your cleaners know what success looks like for them?

Clearly explaining what is expected of employees and providing each with a measurable way to know whether or not it’s a “job well done” is not only important for improving their job satisfaction, but it happens to also help you deliver quality services to your clients.

It’s win – win!

Some ways to do this in the cleaning industry would be to provide cleaning instructions for every location you clean. Ideally with photos so that there are no misunderstands about what is expected.

Here’s an example of what your cleaning instructions could look like using Swept:

Engaged Employees…

According to Lencioni, managers willing to address the three causes will experience engaged employees who:

  • Find fulfillment, enthusiasm and passion in their work
  • Show more attention to detail
  • Develop a sense of ownership and pride in their work
  • Pitch-in in areas outside of their own responsibility
  • Stay within the organization; thereby, reducing turnover
  • elp attract other quality employees

Sounds worth it, right?

Final Thoughts…

You may have noticed that the common theme throughout all three signs of a miserable job were around a lack of communication.

Failure to communicate that the cleaner is appreciated as a unique individual.

Failure to communicate that the cleaner’s work has an impact on the lives of others.

Failure to communicate what success looks like for the cleaner.

If you’re interested in improving team communication and boosting employee engagement, we recommend trying Swept for 14-days. It’s completely free, no credit card required.

If you have questions or concerns, we want to hear from you! Post your comments below or email

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