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21st Century Housekeeping

publication date: Sep 14, 2016
 | 
author/source: Soenke Weiss
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For decades, the management of housekeeping labour has been reliant upon two pillars: the credit system and paying room attendants by the room. Now, with ever-increasing demands for operational efficiencies, is it time to review the basics of our management methodology?

Housekeeping does many things, but there is this one thing that takes up 90% of its time: cleaning rooms. This is the primary activity of a department whose payroll makes up the largest single line item in the hotel budget and is charged with looking after the core product of the hotel.

Over the last two decades, most hotel departments have seen considerable change, mostly for the better! However, the cleaning of rooms and the management methodology behind it, has not changed at all. As hoteliers, we are still expected to make considerable gains without actually changing anything fundamentally.

 

21st Century Housekeeping | By Soenke Weiss 21st Century Housekeeping | By Soenke Weiss

The Credit System

The introduction of property management systems (PMS) in the early 1980s saw these software solutions incorporate the prevailing housekeeping methodology, which relied on the credit system. Since then it has become a global standard. During this time, PMS have also greatly evolved on many levels, yet the sophistication of housekeeping modules has remained stagnant and the credit system is still used globally.

The credit system, however, has one fundamental flaw: It is grossly inaccurate.

Picture this: Two identical rooms side-by-side; both are allocated 2 credits on check-out. One is occupied by a conference guest for one night, the other by 2 adults with a child who are in town for the theatre. On departure, room 1 might take 20 minutes to clean and room 2 takes 50 minutes. This is a 30 minute difference in cleaning time! When scaled over a 300-room hotel, this results in 9000 minutes (150 hours) of cleaning time submitted to the mercy of averages.

To this day, these cleaning time differences are being ignored by most in the hotel industry. Yet when the key variable – the guest – is introduced into the equation, efficiency improvements become obvious. By including the guest factor, a hotel is able to accurately forecast individual cleaning times and consequently produce very accurate, individual work plans that can be optimised for efficiency and guest arrival times. Progress against these work plans can be measured in real time and problems addressed before they occur.

The end result is an improvement in both productivity and guest arrival experience that is otherwise impossible to replicate with the credit system and traditional, manual housekeeping processes.

As commercial enterprises subjected to the profit pressures of the 21st century, we cannot continue to operate on 1950s standards or ignore advancements in housekeeping labour management. At the core of hotel operations, housekeeping is too vital to be relegated to the 'too-hard-basket'!

Significantly, a time-based work plan is also fairer for room attendants, as it enables them to know how many hours they will spend at work on a given day in order to complete their allocated credits. A balanced workload can raise morale and productivity in a significant way, resulting in lower staff turnover and higher quality output.

Paying per room

So, what if we make changes to the management of labour resources or enable further efficiencies through updated tools, cleaning procedures, etc.? Unfortunately, for the majority of hotels, this does not mean an automatic saving on the bottom-line.

Most hotels pay their room attendants for each room cleaned. When considering that all other hotel personnel are paid for the amount of time spent at work - we do not pay porters by suitcase carried or waiters by covers served - it appears unfair at first.

When digging deeper though, it also becomes clear that this payment methodology prevents hotel managers from reaping the profits from the improvements they have implemented, potentially at considerable cost. Paying per room results in a fixed cleaning cost: a 300-room hotel will pay $3000 per day at 100% occupancy (at $10/room), no matter whether the department cleans the hotel in 8 hours or 6 hours as a result of the management's initiatives. The end result is that the room attendants simply get to go home earlier and management do not see a cost reduction. And because of the pressure to ensure room availability, it is much more likely that overstaffing will take place, rather than understaffing.

Initially, this method was developed as an incentive to clean rooms quickly and has since been adopted as a standard by many unions and in enterprise agreements. Often backfiring with a reduction in cleaning quality and the room attendants cleaning only to meet fixed credit expectations, rather than as many rooms as possible, the methodology is now widely contested.

Implementation

Similar to the implementation of yield management practices in the early 1990s, the above changes are difficult to implement without a supporting software solution. The sophistication of the credit system is sufficient for managers to process in their heads, however, the addition of a third dimension is beyond human capacity and needs the support of a solution capable of determining intelligent and dynamic work plans.

Unlike revenue management systems, changes in housekeeping need to take into account the human factor. Changes to processes and standards need to be explained carefully to staff and implemented in a sensibly designed and structured manner with the complete support of management.

The changes outlined above represent a golden opportunity to effectively manage even the largest payroll in line with 21st century business requirements, whilst at the same time being fairer to staff and delivering quality and service benefits. With an expected productivity improvement of 8-15% as a result of an evolved methodology, hotel owners and operators need to consider carefully whether they can continue to ignore it.

[This article was first published in the May 2012 edition of the 'Asian Hotel and Catering Times']

About the author:
Soenke Weiss is a housekeeping evangelist and Founder of Optii Solutions. A passion for housekeeping management combined with a revenue management background has driven Soenke to create the world's first and only housekeeping software solution focused on management of labour resources to drive profitability and guest experience.

 

 

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