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Shorthanded: How is the Cleaning Industry Affected by Labour Scarcity?

Wooden block symbolizing labor shortage

In the fast-paced, challenging world of commercial cleaning, a silent but profound crisis is taking root: the labor shortage. This understated challenge is having a significant impact on the entire industry. Recent studies indicate that the janitorial services sector is facing an alarmingly high turnover rate, with some regions seeing up to 50% of their staff change every year. But what are the underlying factors behind this worrying trend? An in-depth exploration of the origins of this shortage reveals aspects such as changing demographics, often difficult working conditions and the general perception of the profession.

The consequences of this labor shortage go far beyond simple numbers. They impact on companies' operational efficiency, the quality of service provided and, inevitably, on management costs. Faced with these challenges, managers need to adopt innovative human resources management strategies and optimize their operations.

Finally, the importance of technological innovations and improvements in policies and practices to mitigate the crisis is highlighted. Robotics and automation are emerging as potential solutions to the labor shortage, but how effective are they really? And how can improved working conditions policies and innovative recruitment strategies play a key role in transforming the industry?

Are you ready to explore these questions and discover how to adapt and thrive despite the shortage of janitorial skilled labor? Dive into an in-depth analysis of a constantly evolving industry and discover practical solutions for filling positions that are essential to the quality of our public environments.

Understanding the Labour Crisis in the Cleaning Industry

The labour shortage in the commercial cleaning industry is a complex reality, influenced by a number of factors. This crisis impacts not only service companies specializing in commercial cleaning, but also the quality of hygiene and sanitation in commercial buildings, and of course the satisfaction of occupants and the reputation of organizations.

What are The Sources of This Shortage?

There are many factors contributing to the shortage of janitorial workers. Demographics come first. With an aging population and fewer young people entering the job market, the cleaning sector, which often relies on young, less-qualified workers, is struggling to recruit. According to a study conducted by EnviroCompétences, new-generation workers (aged 15 to 24) account for just 14.7% of housekeeping staff, a proportion similar to that of the overall Quebec workforce, which stands at 13.1% (2021). However, this industry suffers from an over-representation of workers aged 55 and over, who make up 27.3% of the workforce, compared to 21.7% in the overall Quebec workforce (2021). Newcomers also represent a significant proportion of workers in this sector, with 23% of the workforce, and this proportion rises to 41% in the Montreal metropolitan region. However, these workers often face challenges such as language and cultural barriers, adaptation to Quebec labor standards, and limited access to transportation.

What's more, working conditions in this industry are also often perceived as difficult: low wages, irregular hours and physically demanding work. Some 57% of companies in the sector report a problematic annual turnover rate in excess of 15%. Around one in five companies has to replace more than half its staff each year. The main reasons for departure include uncompetitive working hours and wages. Difficult working conditions, including irregular hours and physically demanding, off-putting tasks, make these positions unattractive. Evening and night shifts are a further challenge for employees who rely on public transport to get around.

How Does this Affect The Industry?

The impact of this shortage on the cleaning services sector is significant. Companies are facing delays in the completion of tasks, a drop in the quality of services and an increase in operating costs. One reason for this is the ongoing training of new employees, who must be brought in quickly to join inexperienced teams on-site. Labour shortages also affect supervisory positions, compromising the maintenance of high standards of cleanliness and hygiene. The biggest impact is on customer satisfaction, as service continuity and reliability are unstable. Managers in the housekeeping sector urgently need to find solutions to adapt to this labor crisis, to ensure the continuity and quality of their services.

Impact on Operations and Management

What Challenges Do Managers Face?

The labor shortage in the housekeeping sector presents managers with a multitude of critical challenges. These challenges go beyond staff recruitment; they involve the overall management of human resources, the maintenance of service quality, and customer satisfaction.

Human Resources Management

Managers face increasing difficulties in recruiting and retaining skilled employees. High attrition and a shortage of skilled labor require constant efforts to train and integrate new employees. This also involves managing the diversity of employees, particularly immigrants, and adapting to their linguistic and cultural training needs. Managers must be able to navigate a multicultural workplace, while ensuring that quality and productivity standards are met.

Maintaining Service Quality

With an ever-changing workforce, maintaining service quality is becoming a major challenge. The retirement of a significant proportion of employees deprives the industry of valuable know-how for the execution of various technical tasks. Managers need to ensure that new recruits are properly trained and supervised, and that cleaning and safety standards are consistently met. This may call for additional investment in time and resources for training and quality control.

Customer Satisfaction

Customers' satisfaction is directly affected by service quality. Managers must therefore strike a balance between the efficient use of human resources and the provision of high-quality services. Customers' expectations of cleanliness and sanitation are high, and managers must ensure that these expectations are met despite labor constraints.

Coping Strategies

Faced with these challenges, managers of janitorial service companies need to adopt a proactive and innovative approach to overcome labor shortage challenges. This involves flexible management of human resources, investment in training and skills development, and optimization of operations to maintain quality and customer satisfaction.

Flexible Management

Flexibility has become a key component of janitorial management. This includes flexible scheduling to meet the varied needs of employees, and the use of innovative working models to maximize efficiency. For example, introducing shorter or staggered shifts can help attract and retain employees seeking a better 'work-life' balance. Traditionally, retail and office cleaning was carried out outside business hours, often at night. Today, it is becoming increasingly common to see more teams deployed in the daytime. This trend emerged in the wake of the pandemic, and can be explained by organizations' desire to highlight hygiene and sanitation activities to reassure their employees and customers. With the popularity of telecommuting drastically reducing office traffic, it's becoming easier to assign employees to day shifts.

Training and Skills Development

Investing in ongoing training and skills development is paramount. Managers need to focus not only on technical training, but also on the development and leveraging of skills such as leadership and intercultural communication. This can help prepare employees for supervisory roles and improve employee retention by offering career development opportunities.

Optimizing Operations

Managers should look for ways to optimize their operations to compensate for labor shortages. This can include implementing technology to automate certain tasks, improving processes to increase efficiency, and adopting more sustainable work practices to reduce overall workloads.

Moving Towards Sustainability

Technological Innovations

The adoption of innovative technologies is an excellent solution to the labor shortage in the cleaning industry. Technologies such as robotics and automation offer an opportunity to improve efficiency and reduce manual workload, in addition to attracting a new generation of employees.

Robotics and Automation

The introduction of autonomous cleaning robots and other automated equipment can compensate for staff shortages. These technologies make it possible to carry out repetitive or physically demanding tasks, freeing up staff for activities that require more specialized human intervention. The use of these technologies can improve cleaning quality, guaranteeing consistent, uniform cleanliness.

Smart Building Systems

Smart building management systems can help optimize cleaning operations. For example, the use of traffic sensors can enable a more targeted and efficient approach to cleaning. These systems can also provide valuable data for planning and resource allocation.

Improved Policies and Procedures

To attract and retain janitorial staff, it is essential to improve working conditions and develop innovative recruitment strategies. Similarly, partnerships and sector collaboration can play an important role in alleviating labor shortages.

Improved Working Conditions

Companies should strive to improve wages, benefits and working conditions to make jobs more attractive. This can include offering more flexible working hours, better occupational health and safety conditions, and opportunities for professional development. For example, allowing employees working on the same contract to manage their schedules amongst themselves can bring greater autonomy and a sense of control over their work, thus improving their commitment and satisfaction. Also, given the growing importance of immigrants in the industry, strategies must be put in place to limit the impact of the language barrier. This could include offering linguistic courses, multilingual support materials, and adapted communication methods to facilitate the hiring and retention of these workers. On-site courses or language assistance programs can help newcomers integrate more easily and feel valued in their working environment. These initiatives help create a more inclusive and welcoming work environment, where employees feel valued and motivated. By improving working conditions and adapting to the varied needs of the workforce, companies can mitigate the effects of labor shortages and build a more stable and committed team.

Creative Recruitment Strategies

In an industry often depicted as a "behind-the-scenes" activity, it's essential to recognize and value the crucial role of cleaning professionals. These essential yet discreet workers make a significant contribution to the smooth running and cleanliness of both corporate and public spaces. Now is the time to put this profession in the spotlight and change the public perception of it.

To attract fresh talent, companies must think outside the box and use creative recruitment strategies. This can include advertising campaigns featuring cleaning staff as essential elements of any organization. For example, videos and testimonials highlighting their daily contribution can help change perceptions of the job and attract motivated candidates. Recruitment campaigns and training programs must go hand in hand with constant efforts to recognize and value the work of janitorial staff.

By adopting these strategies, companies can not only meet today's recruitment challenges, but also transform the perception of the janitorial profession, positioning it as a viable and rewarding career choice.

Partnerships and Collaborations

Collaboration with other companies, industry associations and government agencies can facilitate the sharing of best practices and the development of joint solutions. These partnerships can also help promote the cleaning industry as a viable and attractive career choice. For example, establishing partnerships with schools, universities and vocational training organizations can be an effective strategy. These collaborations can lead to the creation of specialized training programs that prepare students for the realities of the janitorial trade, while emphasizing the positive and rewarding aspects of this occupation.


Now is the time for leaders and decision-makers in the cleaning industry to take action. By adopting a proactive vision and embracing change, the commercial cleaning industry can transform itself into a respected, attractive and essential part of society.

Clearly, the challenges are numerous, but not insurmountable. The solutions lie in a combination of technological innovation, improved working conditions and creative, inclusive recruitment strategies. By focusing on modernizing practices, valuing cleaning professionals and adapting to new generations of workers, the sector can not only survive, but flourish.

The question now arises for managers: how will you implement these changes in your organization to ensure not only the long-term survival of your business, but also contribute to the positive evolution of your industry? The answer to this question will determine the future of the cleaning industry and its role in our society.


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