Good Help Easy to Find at PLCS
It’s May Day again, the International Day of Labor, the original Labor Day meant to honor workers and not as a sop for preserving elite social management, so it’s time once more to formally recognize all the hard work the good help at our company do — as well as that of all our fellow maids and janitors working throughout the city, the state, the country, and the world. By way of such well-deserved recognition, we’d like to invite you behind the scenes this year with a consideration of some of the social circumstances behind your help.
Reader Advisory: This is an honest look at cleaners and cleaning. If you prefer Horatio Algers fantasies, please click away now.
Good Help: The Cleaning Industry’s Dirty Little Not-So-Secret Secret
Ever wonder why good help is so hard to find? It’s because the cleaning business is so ironic: where else does so much depend on just the right person — which status of “the right person” will change from home to home as different homeowners will have different opinions of the very same cleaner — even though the skill set involved is not something that’s hard to acquire?
This is why we’re not afraid of competition from Johnny-Come-Latelys to the party like Handy and Homejoy. They’re just whiz-kids like McNamara was, the former Secretary of Defense who thought war was just a simple matter of crunching numbers, of tallying body counts. Attrition. Arithmetic. Our competitors think the same way, that the cleaning business is just a matter of hooking up any desperado with any unsuspecting cheapskate, and you repeat this enough times you’ve got yourself a viable company.
Well, as usual, the founders do make out like bandits while the workers slave away raising their stock price. But the cleaning business is such that everything’s highly dependent on that worker. We’re not talking widgets here, after all. Which is why good help is so hard to find, even for the upstart startups, and why they will fail. This isn’t the kind of place where big boys can rule: as any evolutionary biologist will tell you, while competition results in an arms race (i.e., price/features war in business), an environment of scarcity necessarily curtails how much bigger any one species can become. And the human dynamics of the cleaning business are such that it’s an eternal Ice Age (and even woolly mammoths are nowhere the size of animals in previous epochs or warmer climes) — so there’s a very natural limit to how big a company can grow to be in this industry.
The Industry’s Rotating Cast of Thousands
First of all, good help is defined differently for different households. In well over nineteen years of business, we’ve seen it all: many folks want their beds made, others think it’s a waste of time; some want the laundry done, while most don’t care for a maid to do that; a few want windows done, and out of this few, even fewer care about the outside panes, or the channel, or the sill…there’s no one size-fits-all in this business. Which is why Handy’s venture capital funders are likely to lose their shirts — home cleaning is highly dependent not just on the individual worker involved but also the individual customer: there is no standardized service possible because people are not standardizable, and this business relies almost entirely on the actual cleaning, which is up to the individual worker, and the appreciation of that cleaning, which is up to the individual customer — none of whom are standardized and thus predictable, reliable. It’s not only an eternal Ice Age in this business; it’s a veritable Eternal September of sorts!
Plus, there are many, many millions of highly unreasonable people in this town (psychotherapy is an established industry here for a reason) — so there’s that. Good help is hard to find because good customers are hard to find: if a tree falls in a forest and no one’s around to hear it, who’s gonna know it fell? Likewise, we’ve had people dislike some of our best veteran workers and others praise some of our less experienced newly hired help. And this is because we’re talking about people, after all, who are highly unpredictable because they’re always changing…and, of course, highly variable in their personal preferences to begin with!
Oy, Vey; You Want Me to Do What For What?
Another reason is that, obviously, this is a really, deeply, tough, tough job. It’s manual labor. But because we’re talking about people here, human beings with all their human foibles, it’s more than just manual labor — it’s also a bit of psychotherapy and, even, sadomasochism at times.
Remember those multiple millions of highly unreasonable people mentioned earlier? Many of them are exceptionally bored housewives with too much time and money on their hands. They hire maids not so much to clean — that’s the rationalization — but as a substitute for the human interaction they so desperately crave. But, for whatever reasons stemming from their own life-situations, it’s not a genuine relationship based on mutual respect (never mind the inherently unequal power dynamics in a worker-owner situation for now) but one based on dominance (well, actually, this is the very epitome of a worker-owner situation, isn’t it)…the United States likes to pretend socio-economic classes do not exist but of course they do — any hierarchical society possess them; that’s the very definition of a hierarchical society — and it’s blatantly obvious in the cleaning industry, where folks reveal their true selves in their own homes.
As well they should; folks need to feel comfortable in their own homes, of course. And with the right person, the level of comfort increases — that’s ultimately what makes any one cleaner the right person as opposed to another with the same skill set. Again, while the work is hard for many reasons, the necessary skills involved (and yes, there are definitely skills needed in this business, however humble and easily acquired those are) pale in comparison to what’s really needed, a certain personality. “It’s not what you do but who you do it with” that counts, as the old saying goes, and in cleaning one may equally advise “who you do it for” as well.
All this makes for the industry’s rotating cast of thousands, compounding the good-help problem: low wages, no respect, unsteady schedules, long commutes, and hard work at best. That’s because we’re talking about people. Different customers have different preferences, live in different places, have different needs, and will behave differently. That’s just how it is. And that’s why the labor pool available will of necessity be folks who are, let’s face it, trapped in some sense. Who would clean if they could help it? Even those bored housewives can’t be bothered!
Micro-managing, hovering over you, counting every last minute they feel they’re owed, wanting you to work faster and faster, hiding pennies around the premises in a bid to catch you slacking off (think about this for a moment and think about what kind of an utterly bored mind devises such schemes), and they think they’re being generous with a one-time five-dollar tip. And that’s when you actually get the privilege of working for them, when they’re not cancelling on you suddenly!
Entitlements of the Entitled and Charmed
So that’s why we will refuse service to customers who can’t appreciate how good they’ve got it with us: constantly nickel-n-diming us, angling for a discount every imagined chance they have, resorting to manufacturing discontent just to shave off still more but won’t take a subscription even though yet more savings are so damned important to them despite their obvious wealth and clear comfort already.
But the truth is — because we’re always honest — entitlements run both ways. It’s a very Buddhist thing, a very Yin-Yang thing here, subtle yet obvious once you recognize it: every action has an opposite and equal reaction. So the karma of it all is that the available labor pool from whom we recruit also comes to feel entitled and embittered: it’s a Hobbesian War of All Against All.
We pay almost half of what we make to every worker at least: many make more, and some make much more, based on performance and/or seniority, to the point of receiving the vast majority of what we charge in several cases. And still we ourselves often have trouble staffing all our accounts — it’s like Dutch boys at the dike every week with some of our Polish ladies! — because everyone is just so damned entitled.
Where else can you start off making almost half of what the boss makes every hour? Where else can you make more than half of what your boss makes every hour within six months?? Where else can you make more than half of what your own boss gets per hour after a year??? From 40% to 56% — then 66% to 75% thereafter????? Without any specialized skills???????
We chauffeur them when logistically feasible (traffic, scheduling, etc.) and pay full fare for mass transit when that’s more practical. We provide free health and safety equipment — gloves, goggles, quality face masks with air filters, etc. — and uniforms so they don’t have to dirty their own clothes. We provide birthday and end-of-year bonuses, and try accommodating our workers’ personal schedules as best we may. But despite having few foreseeable prospects themselves, some are still highly unsatisfied with our humble offerings.
And so we bid them farewell, just as we do those clients who do not appreciate the good that’s done for them.
It’s a Hard-Knock Business
Ultimately, good cleaning help is hard to find because this is one helluva hard-knock business — and many customers don’t often know or care why that’s so, so they can’t properly appreciate a good thing when they do get it. (Incidentally, our best customers so far have always been those whose own mothers had been maids, though oddly enough not necessarily those who had been maids themselves!)
We love our workers and we love our customers, all the more so because it takes a really decent human being to be a good worker or a good customer. Thankfully, the vast majority of the folks we come across are good, whether as employers or as a service provider: we wouldn’t have been around for almost twenty years now without them, customers and workers both! But it’s another unfortunate hard-knock fact of life that 20% will account for 80% — 20% of the customers account for 80% of the complaints; 20% of the workers account for 80% of the work done; 20% of already slim profits takes 80% of our time to earn…that’s just how it is. And we hope you appreciate us telling it like it is. To the thankfully vast majority of our customers, thank you for your continued support of Polish Ladies Cleaning Service, the only staunchly pro-worker family-owned and operated housekeepers left in town!