In-house cleaning employees, outsourcing cleaning services present different advantages


By Terry Sambrowski

Many cleaning employees in government, known as in-house workers, are excellent workers. But there is also the view of many facility managers who have switched from hiring employees to outsourcing these services to private cleaning companies that the overall cleaning has improved. There are pros and cons to both approaches and there likely are as many government managers that prefer working with in-house cleaning workers as there are those that prefer outsourcing.

Some cite the aforementioned belief in contracted cleaning services being an improvement as an example of the free marketplace in action— the contracted custodial staff is well aware that the quality of their work helps secure their jobs.

Furthermore, some large cleaning contractors, which are typically hired to clean and maintain large government buildings, belong to what are called group purchasing organizations. This allows them to purchase many products, from cleaning solutions to equipment, at reduced costs. Very often they are able to pass on these savings to their clients, which is reflected in their charges.

But some building managers that have outsourced their cleaning say there are also some downsides. For instance, according to Allen Rathey, a cleaning expert with years of experience in the industry, “One of the dilemmas…of cleaning being contracted out is that you do not know the people anymore. They knew ‘Joe the Janitor’ [but with cleaners working for a cleaning company] they are all strangers. You lose that sense of community.”

In addition to losing that sense of community or a friend, a bigger dilemma with outsourcing is “control.” When in-house cleaning workers maintain a government facility, they are usually responsible to a manager working for the same government entity. Their performance or lack thereof will be evaluated as it is with any government worker. When working with a contract cleaning company, some of this control is lost. It is replaced by “results.” If government managers do not believe they are getting satisfactory service, the contract typically runs its course with the contractor leaving or in a worst case scenario, the contractor is asked to leave before the end of their contract.

Whichever path an agency takes, it is key to ensure cleaning expectations are clearly expressed. The best way to do this is to prepare a request for proposal (RFP), even if the decision has been made to work with in-house workers. The RFP lists clearly—for managers and cleaning workers alike—all the services that are to be performed, the frequency of these services, and the expected outcomes.

But the RFP must be kept up-to-date, as professional cleaning is evolving. Along with the use of environmentally preferable cleaning products and processes, facilities are re-evaluating, for example, if or how often floors are to be refinished or when carpets are to be cleaned. New technologies have helped stretch refinishing and carpet cleaning cycles, which helps protect the environment, promotes sustainability, and reduces costs. Government housekeeping administrators must be aware of these changes.

Ultimately, cleaning is greater than these issues — proper and effective cleaning keeps your staff healthy. Whichever direction one takes, taking health into account must be the primary concern. 

Terry Sambrowski is the executive director of the National Service Alliance, LLC. She can be reached through her organization’s website at



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What's Viewpoints?

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Derek Prall

Derek Prall is a professional journalist who has held numerous positions with a variety of print and online publications including The Public Manager magazine and the New Jersey Herald. He is a 2008...

Jason Axelrod

Jason Axelrod is an award-winning journalist who has reported for The Seattle Times, The Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Business Journal and Mother Nature Network, among other outlets. Jason...
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