by Tanya Hughes
he legendary football coach Vince
Lombardi once said, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to
their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”
I think about that quotation often as I reflect back to January 6, 1984, and
all the days that were to come after it. I was being given the opportunity to
work at a prestigious university, the University of Florida, and I felt like my
life was about to change. The day I first went to work on campus, just putting on the uniform
gave me an adrenaline rush. The passion that ran through my veins helped me
understand the accountability that comes with a high-level commitment to an
organization that is making an investment in you. When a person can hold on to their passion
within an organization, even if they are not sure of the road ahead, this demonstrates
an inner determination. For myself and many other custodial and maintenance
workers, with all the challenges and uncertainty that we have faced over these
recent months, being able to draw on this passion has been a valuable resource.
Things certainly have changed over the
decades I have worked in this field. When I first became a manager, I relied on
a lone clipboard and legal pad to perform inspections, chart employees’
progress, and track inventory. Now, in the 21st century, technology has put us
in a cutting edge arena filled with different devices, software, and equipment.
The old rotary machines that we used to strip floors have been replaced by new
automatic orbital equipment, which can empower an operator to cover more square
footage and to be more efficient. At the same time we increasingly incorporate
sustainability initiatives as we embark upon green cleaning initiatives to
create healthier cleaning alternatives. This allows our organization to reduce
the negative impact on both the ozone layer and our landfills. All of this
is part of creating a climate and culture that erases the former ways of doing
our jobs and embraces change for a safer, more efficient workplace.
At times it feels like these changes
could be classified as nothing short of a miracle. But that type of growth is
due to the passion of leaders who were determined to make jobs easier and to
serve as thought leaders who would move our organizations and profession
further forward. This growth led to improved training and identification of new
trends. This commitment to making an organization better means not settling for
Now the world finds itself in the middle
of a pandemic. Custodial and maintenance staff all around the globe have had to
remain on their campuses as essential staff to ensure that the campus is safe when
students return. While many of these workers have continued to display their innate
passion, loyalty, and dedication, managers also have to find ways to motivate their
teams and continue to propel them forward. During such times of uncertainty, I
have found it beneficial to be able to fall back on my passion and my
principles and use them to guide the training, preparation, motivation, and
management of campus teams. It is pivotal to provide the required training and
not forget that staff are invaluable assets and should be treated as such.
While passion can occur naturally, it is also something that can be taught and
nurtured. How can this best be done? In my view, there are five principles that
should ignite the passion to persevere through adversity and serve as reminders
of why people show up for work each and every day. The first principle is to be
honest and true. Never be afraid to say you don’t know an answer or admit you are
not familiar with a situation. Honesty is and will always be the best policy.
It builds strength, stamina, and character as the driving force for reaching
and impacting others’ lives.
The second principle is to maintain a
positive attitude. Showing up to work with a positive attitude sets the stage
for the day and makes for a productive one, which in turn creates an atmosphere
of unity and harmony. When individuals show up and do not mind assisting in the
areas where there are shortages, this means they recognize that the team must
act as one and will work to make a day’s work as seamless as possible.
The third principle is to be knowledgeable.
A worker willing to gather all the knowledge they can about the profession sets
them miles apart from the rest. There should not be anything a person does not
know concerning the facilities they are responsible for. Having the passion to
excel means possessing the latest technology, enhancing professional
development opportunities, and staying abreast of trade information to remain knowledgeable.
The fourth principle is to demonstrate ownership.
Passionate staff who have ownership of their position become problem solvers,
know how to respond to crises and involve other stakeholders, and take pride in
their area. Staff who demonstrate ownership become advocates for making sure everyone
understands that their success depends on the success of their teammates. Ownership
means having a built-in passion meter that sounds when there is an issue in a
facility, or when something just can’t be figured out, and then being willing to
step in and help locate the appropriate resources to solve the problem.
The final principle is to accept responsibility.
A responsible staff person will own up to mistakes and ensure that others who work
with them will take responsibility not only for what goes right but also for when
things don’t go well. Oftentimes a person’s passion will fade or be withdrawn if
a decision is made and it doesn’t turn out the way it was expected. However,
when true passion runs deep that person will understand the importance of not
giving up and will remain true to what creates a sense of responsibility. When
working with a team of individuals, it is a manager’s responsibility to make
sure each person has what is needed to advance further in their careers and to
regularly enhance their professional development.
Passionate employees thrive on helping others while creating a strong and inclusive developmental work climate where others can feel empowered and know that they made a difference in someone’s life that day.
There are other steps a manager can take
to better inspire passion within their team. First, it should be obvious that leaving
the office confines establishes a strong bond that will unite a staff. Communication
in the heart of a crisis cannot always appear in an email. Managers build trust
within a team when they make time to visit the front lines and provide
direction. These actions change the dynamic of a team. It is also important to
lift up a team and remind others of the many changes that custodial and
maintenance crews have had to undertake during these months: working to introduce new disinfecting chemicals, drastically
revise cleaning schedules, update standard operating procedures, change
staffing patterns, incorporate the use of personal protective equipment, and reinforce
high-touch surface cleaning. The importance of these initiatives and the
willingness to weather this storm has been stressed through countless face-covered
conversations. It’s not always easy, but the passion for the profession wins
out most every time.
Perhaps most of all, though, this
passion can come from recognizing who this work is done for. Ask almost any
custodial worker and they will say that when they are in the residence halls they
are keenly aware of the students who live there. They feel responsible for
those residents and recognize that parents are entrusting them to protect their
child while they’re away. They see it as their job to remove any impediment that
may adversely affect a person’s day. It is their responsibility to make sure
residents focus on studying instead of worrying about their health and
well-being in unclean facilities. Each time they are there to help open and
close halls at the beginning and end of the semesters, they see opportunities
to assist a resident with learning soft skills and life skills that will aid
them in the way of life. And it is their passion that drives them to create
environments that will deliver the wow-factor when guests, families, and
students first arrive in these facilities.
I believe that every day brings about a
chance to do a job better than the day before. Just as people notice someone
who is doing the bare minimum, those who take that extra step can create a domino
effect that will inspire others and change the minds of those who may think janitorial
work is a menial task. Displaying a passion for this type of work creates a
culture where people don’t mind working the late hours, will volunteer without
excuses, and are with the team from start to finish. They will roll up their sleeves during a
building flood and not think twice about the un-pleasantries that come with the
job. Rewarding them for their effort because of hard work, sweat, and tears allows
the passion to soar to a whole new level. This, in turn, will pay off in a
number of ways.
Instilling this passion means having and
retaining staff who know the buildings where they work inside and out. Promoting
from within sets up the ability to ensure that the institution has a team who not
only knows the facilities but is also part of the history of the area. They
take pride in their tools, their closets are in pristine order, and their equipment
looks like it just came out of the packaging. They work behind the scenes
without striving for recognition. Passionate employees thrive on helping others
while creating a strong and inclusive developmental work climate where others
can feel empowered and know that they made a difference in someone’s life that
day. This successful group joins together to create a dynamic collection of
individuals who pause and reflect on their journeys and note how their passion
leaked into the hearts of others without their even knowing it. A passionate custodial
staff carries its keys with pride.
During such times of uncertainty, I have found it beneficial to be able to fall back on my passion and my principles and use them to guide the training, preparation, motivation, and management of campus teams.
From time to time I will ask my
custodial department to describe themselves and their work with just one word.
Some of the words that I often hear include positive, belief, serious,
hardworking, real, patient, detailed, dedicated, respectful, happy, and
grateful. The passion of a custodial worker is exemplified in the lives of
staff who are ready to create change and move the dial forward to produce
highly cleaned and maintained facilities and to do so in environments where
their work is appreciated and acknowledged no matter the crisis. I know I cannot
assume that others will possess the same passion I do, but I also know that the
passion I have can be transferred to others. Again, during times of uncertainty,
when there are challenges, I urge everyone to act on their principles to guide them
in the training, preparation, motivation, and managing of teams.
The pandemic and everything that has
come with it has made many of us reevaluate priorities and values. Considering
how much time we all spend at our jobs, it is impressive and a blessing when the
job can also provide fulfillment and confidence. I am thankful that I have had
the opportunity to acquire this passion I hold so true, and I appreciate how it
serves as a resource that continues to motivate me to help others on their
journey. I think back to my previous supervisors who I thought were hardcore
and all of the times I could not necessarily understand what they were trying
to teach me. In retrospect it turns out they were shaping and building my
skills into what I know today. They helped form my passion. Now I hope to pass
it along to others.
Tanya Hughes is the associate director
for facilities management building services at the University of Florida in
Gainesville where she has worked for more than 36 years.