Managing Overtime in Facilites Services

Rob Snyder
March 12, 2019

     In a tight labor market, every industry faces challenges staying appropriately staffed.

In the facility services industry, staffing difficulties are magnified by three factors:

  1. It’s a competitive industry. There are thousands of competitors in the core janitorial business, plus customers are price-sensitive and often renew contracts annually. These dynamics mean the facility services industry is in a continuous battle to lower prices. To do this, efficiency and cost minimization is key.
  2. It’s a difficult job - especially at today’s wages. Industry veterans complain about turnover levels that exceed even the fast food industry. Janitors face increasing expectations of quality, productivity, and tech-savviness - this continually-raising bar creates stresses that lead to injuries, absenteeism, and turnover.
  3. Increasing janitor unionization. Most of the big players in the facility service space have unionized operations, which introduces challenges in efficiently staffing up and staffing down to meet demand. Plus, in union workplaces, employees receive benefits like sick time and vacation time. These benefits are great for employees and help reduce turnover - but they introduce complexity into staffing.

With a competitive industry, a difficult job, and (often) union rules, how do top-performing facility services companies handle volatile staffing requirements?

Thin margins mean that a few overstaffed shifts can lead to a totally unprofitable operation. On the other hand, high customer expectations mean that a few understaffed shifts can lead to customer dissatisfaction and business going out to bid.

This means facilities services companies need to ask themselves three questions when dealing with employee absences and understaffing:

Question 1: Do we really need to backfill this shift?

      The answer to this question depends partially on contract type and partially on workplace-specific factors.

For a fixed-fee contract, a supervisor may decide that filling the shift isn’t necessary - the existing staff can pick up the slack. (However, this decision often weighs against employee morale - they’re being asked to work harder at an already difficult job.)

For certain cost-plus contracts, supervisors may still want to fill the shift because their account is reimbursed - plus margin - for the hours their janitors work. Importantly, they’re not reimbursed for budgeted hours not worked - which means there’s an imperative to backfill every shift.

Of course, everything depends on the workplace itself: If not filling the shift means an account is now in violation of its Terms of Service (especially relevant if the now-absent janitor was the only one scheduled to clean a particular building), the shift needs to be backfilled.

Question 2: Who should we call to fill this shift?

      If you’ve answered “yes” to Question 1, it’s time to determine who to call to backfill the shift.

In union environments, there are often stipulations in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) - for example, “offer shifts based on seniority.” Or, “don’t offer the shift to temps until you’ve offered the shift to all internal employees.”

Of course, many other factors aside from your CBA are relevant in determining which janitors to call, and include:

  • Who’s currently working, or would be working an overlapping shift?
  • Who’d be overtime?
  • Who’s qualified and knows the building’s “lay of the land”?
  • Who’s nearby and can make it to the shift in time?
  • Who’s available?

Today, supervisors spend 15-30+ minutes trying to fill a shift. They’re occasionally unsuccessful, often give out overtime unnecessarily, and (in union environments) rarely follow the CBA rules - creating a significant risk of costly grievances. In a tight-margin, highly competitive environment, paying for lawyers to contest grievances is a path to lose on pricing.

But if they are able to fill the shift...

Question 3: How do we ensure that replacements are successful?

      When a janitor says “yes” to working a shift, the supervisor is far from the end of the process. Often, the janitor needs to find transportation to the site, and may request time to confirm that transit options are available.

Post-confirmation, janitors often need specific instructions: Where specifically do they need to go once they arrive at the building? Each building and account has specific nuances - what are the expectations and responsibilities? If the shift spans multiple buildings, where is the janitor expected to go? Supervisors must communicate these, often prior to the janitor arrives on-site.

It’s no wonder facility services supervisors consider managing absences a frustrating, time consuming, and stressful part of their job - if managed unsuccessfully, absences can crush an account’s profitability. If managed successfully - which is extremely difficult to do manually -

Increasingly, facilities services companies are turning to absence management automation solutions like SYRG. These solutions help supervisors quickly fill shifts so they can get back to supervising. Plus, they automatically follow union CBAs, generate reports for the union, and avoid costly errors that could turn an account unprofitable.

Interested in absence management automation? Let’s talk:

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