The Power of Diversity in The Cleaning Industry

The below article was written by Biological Preparations and published in The European Cleaning Journal, 5th June 2024.

The value of the cleaning industry has stood testament over recent years. From being one of the few industries that has continued to grow through a global pandemic, uncertain global economies, and other challenges, Europe’s cleaning sector is driving its market value and is expected to reach €310 billion by 2026.

But to maintain a prosperous industry, businesses within the European cleaning sector must maintain a steady workforce. And with Europe being a melting pot of different cultures, languages, and nationalities, ensuring your multicultural and diverse workforce is a happy one to will need research and planning.

The Benefits of a Diverse Workforce

The concept of diversity is not new in Europe. Scientists have found that ancient bloodlines, from Africa to the Middle East, have been present in Europe since the Ice Age. But now in modern times, cultural diversity has been given much attention by the media, economists and legislators. Through being a varied mix of different cultures within the regions in Europe, multiculturalism has been proven a driving factor in Europe - tapping into new markets and business success.

The proven success of a diverse Europe doesn’t just benefit the continent, businesses can be seen to benefit too from a diverse workforce. Diversity is seen as a cornerstone of strength for the European cleaning industry through:

Innovation through new perspectives: With an array of different experiences and viewpoints, having a diverse workforce allows for new creative solutions that can evolve a business’s cleaning practices.

Reach for clients: As the cleaning market continues to diversify, having team members who can effectively communicate and understand different clients, from cultural norms to language, a diverse workforce is a USP towards enhancing operational efficiency and client satisfaction.

Talent pool: The demographics in Europe are changing. Citizens are living longer and an increasing number of households are raising fewer to no children. These drivers are shaping the ways European businesses are recruiting, looking into a more diverse labour market to draw on its strengths, talents, and diversity. With the working-age population shrinking in Europe, employers must tap into the continuous stream of new talent brought about by globalisation and increased mobility.

Onboarding a multicultural workforce is imperative for the success of many cleaning businesses across Europe, however, some policies and procedures must be implemented to maintain this success.

Language and Effective Communication

The Free Movement Directive 2004 has been a catalyst for diversity across all regions in Europe. Whether it’s an EU citizen exercising fundamental rights, or a non-EU citizen relocating to Europe - EU immigration policies have fostered a vast multilingual continent. The European Parliament recognises 24 official languages but also notes there are more than 255 living languages specific to Europe and 7000 spoken languages worldwide.

Navigating the linguistic diversity of this continent’s workforce could present challenges, particularly in the cleaning industry, where effective communication is essential. Communication with your stakeholders will align to better efficiency with cleaning, ensuring end-user safety when handling cleaning technologies and ensuring profitability is on track through correct dosing and product use.

There is a plethora of different routes for businesses to streamline their communications within a multilingual workforce. From visual aids rather than written ones, utilising AI language conversion tools and taking the added step of lifting the language barrier by providing language learning opportunities.

Incorporating these measures not only helps businesses stay in line with health and safety compliances, investing in your team’s learning will help morale across vertical and horizontal stakeholders. Rather than avoiding the challenges of a diverse workforce, implementing procedures to overcome potential language barriers will help your business positioning in the long term.

Religion and Belief

Under The European Charter for Human Rights (ECHR) article 9, religion and belief are fundamental rights. And employers have certain obligations to accommodate workers to uphold these rights. Whilst there are too many global religions to quantify there are guidelines in what the article constitutes as a religion/belief. Even the core religions in Europe differ in terms of practice and worship so as an employer it is essential that when onboarding your staff your equality and diversity policies are up to date.

However, there should be extra measures of support and understanding for specific individuals undergoing religious rituals and festivities. For example, fasting is a popular practice in some religions (Islam with Ramadan, Christians during Lent, Yom Kippur in Judaism, etc) when the person is typically abstaining from eating and drinking during a certain period (e.g, during Ramadan when worshippers do not eat during daylight hours for 29-30 days).

During this fasting period businesses could make certain changes to help their staff continue to work optimally, such as:

Sensitivity and understanding: Try not to organise lunchtime meetings and avoid organising team events that involve food and drink.

Energy: Employees will have more energy earlier on in the day, try to allow for a more flexible working schedule during this time. Also, a dip in energy by the afternoon can affect productivity so incorporating earlier shifts can help to maintain that.

Also, take into consideration if products are fit for use for that space and employee. For example, there is a common misunderstanding that Halal certifications simply apply to food products. But the term actually defines what products are permissible for use, extending Halal certification across many different products from cosmetics to vaccines.

This encompasses the use of cleaning products. As most cleaning products use alcohol (which is not permitted under the Muslim faith), which leaves residues on the surface (cleaning wipes, hand sanitisers, etc), unless their use is followed by a wash/rinse, they will be considered Haram (forbidden). Looking for products that fit under these guidelines provides respect and inclusivity for both Muslim cleaners and customers.

Technology and Upskilling

Technological innovations are changing the ways that many industries work and this is no different for the cleaning industry. So a vital measure for cleaning operatives is to have ongoing training and reskilling. According to the 2023 Workplace Learning Report skillsets across all jobs have changed by around 25 per cent since 2015, with an expectation of this to double.

Approaching cleaning operatives through a culture of learning and agility will be key to maintaining a robust and reliable workforce during these changes. For example, the cleaning robot market is expected to grow by 22.9 per cent by 2026. By being proactive in their development, cleaning businesses must start to upskill their staff in areas where the robots are unable to clean/maintain.

Training isn’t just restricted to cleaning operatives - team leaders and managers alike should also be subject to cultural sensitivity training. To truly empower your team all hierarchies should be on the same page, in terms of your business’s missions and policies. Keeping your management team up to date with inclusive leadership practices, recognising diversity and even unconscious bias, can help maintain a happy motivated team.

Bringing the Team Together

To foster collaboration and maintain individuality within your diverse team, implementing both team-building activities and employee resource groups (ERGs) can be essential for collaboration and morale. Firstly, organising team-building activities and cultural exchange events promotes understanding and unity among a diverse workforce.

These initiatives encourage cross-cultural collaboration, break down barriers and strengthen team cohesion. Additionally, embracing diversity involves providing a platform for employees to connect, share experiences, and enable management to gain insights into the unique needs of their workforce.

Inclusive and Supportive

Although the European cleaning industry stands as an example of resilience and adaptability to other industries in uncertain times, the next stage of its success is to ensure job satisfaction across a growing diverse workforce. As Europe continues to be a melting pot of culture, languages, and traditions, cleaning businesses must proactively be working to become a more inclusive and supportive employer. Empowering a diverse workforce has been shown to improve stability, maintain your team and enhance competitiveness.

By embracing the practices I’ve discussed here and fostering a true culture of inclusivity at all levels of the organisation, cleaning businesses will unlock benefits - including innovation, client satisfaction and employee engagement. Investing in ongoing training and development in this respect not only future-proofs businesses but also demonstrates a commitment to the growth and wellbeing of employees.