Fluffing pillows, changing sheets, wiping down windows to a glistening shine — these might seem like fairly simple tasks, but factor in multiple rooms, availability of linens from laundry operations, hiring and training staff and balancing the social and physical welfare of a hotel’s most physically taxed employees and the challenges of housekeeping become apparent.
The Hamilton, Ont.-based Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety estimates that “a housekeeper assumes 8,000 different body postures every shift,” and the most common injuries include repetitive motion injuries. That’s why hotel operators have become invested not just in the trendiest new cleaning products but in sufficient training for their housekeeping staff.
Learning the Ropes
Starwood Hotels and Resorts makes training an annual affair. “Our Annual Health and Safety training session [reacquaints] housekeepers with proper working techniques,” says Cynthia Bond, director of Public Relations for Stamford, Conn.-based Starwood Hotels and Resorts, explaining how housekeepers learn how to lift properly, when to use equipment with extensions and where to find germ hot spots. “It also workshops new technologies available to housekeepers.” However, perhaps the most essential feature of annual training is risk prevention.
Todd Seiders, risk manager at California-based Petra Risk Solutions, says housekeeping injuries can be dramatically reduced if hotel managers provide strict rules on the number of rooms to be completed per day. “Our analyses have found that the max any housekeeper can do without incurring risk to themselves is 15,” says Seiders. “Once a staff member is pushed to do more than 15 rooms per day, they are entering what we call the ‘danger zone.’” Studies at Petra Risk Solutions showed that once the rooms-per-day quotient reached 16 or higher, the rate of injuries increased significantly. “What happens then is a domino effect, because injuries lead to time away and possible compensation, which then leads to a rotating staff and new hires, and really efficient, knowledgeable housekeepers aren’t so easily disposable,” says Seiders.
Delta uses training videos to highlight exemplary techniques and safety measures for good housekeeping. “We recently launched a new training video on cleaning a guestroom, which takes into account safe cleaning practices while ensuring all the key touch points [are reached]. For example, remote controls get covered,” explains Paul Gardian, executive director of Brand Operations at Toronto-based Delta Hotels & Resorts. Delta also has housekeepers participate in a regular stretching routine to minimize the risk of injury. “Housekeepers can sometimes be looked down upon in some hotels and that is such a mistake,” cautions Gardian. “Their jobs are so important to the overall guest experience. If you grant them the respect and recognition they deserve, housekeepers will do a better job.”
Keeping It Clean and Green
While housekeepers’ health must always remain top of mind, Tim Oldfield, managing director of Choice Hotels Canada, also notes that one trend never goes out of style when it comes to hotel cleanliness: it’s the ‘wow’ factor a guest experiences upon first entering their suite. “It’s captured in that first glance,” says Oldfield. “The crisp, white bedding, clean windows and mirrors, spot-free glasses and coffee makers, no dust or hair on the counters or hair in the sink or tub.” He notes that even something as minor as residual perfume or other scents can be a potential detriment to guest loyalty. “Today’s customer wants a scent-free environment,” says Oldfield. “A ‘leftover’ scent can indicate that the room wasn’t properly cleaned, and that’s never an impression you want to leave with guests.”
So many hotel managers are taking that guest preference to heart, adapting the use of ‘green’ or fragrance-free products; such a move also feeds into a property’s overall sustainability strategy.
Take a look at Delta Greens, the environmental program launched in 2010 at Delta Hotels & Resorts. This company-wide green initiative provides transparency to its guests by outlining the brand’s goals for water and electricity consumption online; it also showcases its sustainable purchasing policy. “Delta purchases cleaning products with the least amount of artificial agents and the smallest environmental impact,” explains Gardian. “These products can deliver the same quality of clean, the same perfect white sheets. But they don’t tax the environment. That’s something guests care about — beyond the superficiality of a clean room — which they also want.”
Delta hired Mississauga, Ont.-based Ecolab, a provider of water, hygiene and energy technologies
and services, to source detergents with the least amount of packaging and artificial cleansing agents. And, once again, workers’ health and wellness factored into the decisions about which products to purchase. “When purchasing new laundry washers or dryers, we’re always thinking about the heights of the machines in proportion to laundry staff,” he says. “We’re looking for appliances that require the least amount of bending and lifting. Training employees to lift properly is also a key component to maintaining staff health and longevity.”
The Big Picture
Keeping one hotel clean is an accomplishment, but what about an entire franchise? “It’s always a question of how to train at the local level to ensure cleanliness levels are on, or above, standards,” explains Choice’s Oldfield. Aside from regular training and coaching programs for hotel staff, Choice Hotels employs franchise performance consultants who travel cross-country to provide assistance and progress check-ups at each property. “It’s good to have an outside party who has the explicit function to compare properties,” says Oldfield. “But we also gauge our progress with our Guest Insight scores.” And, the Choice Privileges loyalty program just reached more than one-million members. “Nothing speaks to the quality of our cleaning programs more than customer loyalty,” Oldfield says with a laugh.