What do you do if an employee calls out?

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by Tom Watson on November 10, 2013

Once you get your cleaning business up and running odds are you’ll hire some help to lighten the load a bit.

This comes with advantages and disadvantages to various degrees depending upon how you view things. With that said, if you want to grow the business and enjoy some time off every once and while you’ll need to hire folks.

When you do get this far the first question many people ask is… “What happens when they call out?” While this is certainly an issue you’ll have to deal with from time to time, if you hire the right candidates in the first place this problem will not be a huge issue. At least not while your company is small.

You have two choices when someone calls out

The main choices you have when someone calls out are to call someone else to see if they can do it or bite the bullet and go do it yourself. On a certain level doing it yourself is quicker and easier on the brain. No need to scramble to get a replacement PLUS you get the piece of mind knowing the job was done right.

On the flip side putting on your Superman cape and fixing every issue yourself will get old real quick. Not to mention that your ultimate goal of owning a cleaning business may be to just “run” the business and not actually perform all that physical labor. How you fix the issue depends on that to a degree.

If you notice, I didn’t really leave an option for “re-scheduling” the cleaning. While that may be a valid option for many, in my business I never went that route. My goal was to deliver what I promised to the customer. If someone called out that was a problem that needed to be solved on my end.

I was of this mindset all the time because many of my accounts were daily type cleaning assignments. We were hired to clean 5, 6 or even 7 days per week. There was no option for me to reschedule. I had to get the cleaning done. The customer DEPENDED on it. So in short, I carried that mindset over to every single job.

The problems with getting someone else to clean

If you decide to get another staff member to clean the account this raises another whole set of issues. None of them are insurmountable or anything, but they do need to be thought through so things can go off without a hitch.

Needless to say there are pro’s and con’s associated with each approach. If you have someone else do the cleaning you’ll need to figure out how do they get into the home or office without a set of keys. After that hurdle you still have a another problem facing you. Does the “fill-in” know the particulars of that given account.

Stuff like customer preferences, supplies used at that account and how to disarm any potential alarm pads play a large role in making things go off without a hitch. After that you are still left with one problem… Do you have enough time to find a replacement?

There may be times when the phone rings 10 minutes before the job is about to be cleaned. Or even in some cases 10 minutes AFTER the account was supposed to be completed! If this happens during day shift it’s manageable in most cases. At night it’s another story. Let’s review each issue briefly…

The key issue – The key issue is the main hurdle in many cases. Generally the regular cleaners who service the account are the only people with keys “in hand”. The other set of keys would be at your office or in your possession. So if they call out getting the keys to the replacement can be an issue.

The knowledge gap issue – Does the replacement know enough about the account to perform the duties? At least just enough to struggle through for one time? That can be a big question on some accounts. While most accounts are simple, some will be more challenging, perhaps even physically. With all that said, an experienced cleaner can usually fill in without anyone knowing the difference.

The time issue – The actual time of day when someone calls you to say they can’t work plays a factor in how easy it is to fix. Getting a call out during the day shift is generally considered easier in my opinion. At night is the tough one, as the ranks of those willing to help dwindle as the clock ticks later into the evening.

Simple solutions to implement

1 Hire better. The very first thing you can do is hire high quality people. People who really care and have some integrity won’t leave you in the lurch unless they have a serious issue of some kind. Seek out those who have solid work histories, as that is the greatest barometer you can go on when hiring.

2 Team Cleaning. Consider hiring two people for each account (assuming it’s large enough). Team cleaning has many advantages and the biggest one is COVERAGE when one person calls out. You would still have one person to get it done. They may not like it, but they can rise to the occasion when needed.

3 Be More Prepared. Cross-train some employees so that they can fill in as needed on other accounts. This will take some time and perhaps a little money to implement but the benefits far outweigh the costs. Knowing you have an experienced replacement is priceless.

4 Reward People. Take care of those who take care of you by rewarding them for dedicated service. If they don’t call out for 6 months send them a gift of some kind. It doesn’t really have to be all that large. A simple $20 or $30 gift card with a BIG “THANK YOU” CARD will do wonders. It not only makes employees feel appreciated, it builds a better cleaning company.

While you can never prevent people from calling out, you can be PREPARED for when it does happen. The ideas I just shared have worked well for me over the years and I hope they will help you too.

If you have any other thoughts or suggestions, or even stories of how you dealt with someone calling out feel free to leave a comment below. I look forward to hearing how this issue has impacted you and how you solved it.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carpet Cleaning Maidstone November 24, 2013 at 11:56 am

Hi Tom

firstly thank you for your ongoing Blog advice which is really useful. With our cleaning business we had to cover for illness and holiday ourselves initially. However once we got to a certain size we could justify having a cover cleaner who is on call every evening (all our contracts are evening only) and has to cover sites where cleaners are off. he also has a company van so he can get to site quickly, and he gets a salary so that in return he will cover at a moments notice. In addition he has his own set of keys to some sites so that if the cleaning needs to be done out of hours it can be.

2 Tom Watson November 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Hi! I’m happy you enjoy it, I love hearing that. Anyway… you have a GREAT plan in place. Thinking through a good plan makes you sleep better at night that’s for sure. Thanks for sharing!

3 www.cleanicol.co.uk December 30, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Hi Tom,
Thank you for all your advice- it has been a life saver! Staff issues are always a problem and planning ahead is key!

4 Tom Watson December 30, 2013 at 3:30 pm


5 Cleaning Service April 14, 2014 at 10:24 am

Hi Tom,
Thank you for the article!
Do you copy every customer’s keys in order to give one for the cleaner and keep one for yourself, or even one more copy if you have a replacement cleaner when someone is ill? Or could the customer give you two or three set of keys? Thank you

6 Tom Watson April 14, 2014 at 11:01 am

Hi! We don’t make copies of the keys, instead we ask for at least two and sometimes three sets depending on circumstances (one for the cleaner, one for replacement and one for me). Most customers have no issues, but some will complain (in which case you’ll have to decide on what to do on a case by case basis).

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