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Behind the scenes of hotel housekeeping (Part 1)


Have you ever arrived at your hotel early and huffed and puffed because your room wasn't ready? There's a good reason for that: Preparing a hotel room for a new guest can take twice as long as cleaning a room for a guest who is staying over. For a new arrival the room maid has to go through the full inspection list, which may have around 100 check points. There are so many things that must be attended to that you wouldn't think of, including making sure the proper TV Guide is there, checking for stains on the amenity cards and ensuring the bed linens are completely wrinkle free. I would go so far as to call housekeeping, when properly executed - the ‘unsung heroes’ of guest satisfaction. The guest experience within each and every room, as far as cleanliness goes, is a critical factor in ensuring that your guests keep coming back.


An US Army General once emphatically stated “it’s not glamerous,it’s not typically high scoring, it can be plain boring at times, but I’m going to go so far as to say that the infantry is the most important role in the Army”. In the hospitality industry the housekeeping department must surely be the most important. It has the most staff, the largest proportion of hours to cover and also the one the guests notice first and foremost if anything is wrong. Depending on the size of hotel, the housekeeping department can have the following staff: Housekeeper and assistant housekeepers, floor supervisors, room maids/boys, public area attendants, linen keeper, linen maids, seamstress, laundry supervisor, valets and laundrymen. The staff hours of cover depend on the hotel and type of guest attracted by the hotel- business people require different time schedules to those on holiday including families. Staff  therefore, need to be scheduled accordingly and in a ratio corresponding to the number of guests staying in the hotel. Hotels operate on a 24-hour / 365 days fluctuating cycle of guest occupancy and unless one has to have the right number of staff on duty - it shows. Fortunately, most people book ahead and the workload are known well in advance, especially during peak periods.


The staffing requirement will depend on the occupancy of the hotel. It is not very difficult to get quite good estimates of staff numbers based on average times to do tasks, such as cleaning a room. By establishing this information, one can then allocate a pre-determined number of rooms per room maid/boy, per shift. It is also then quite possible to estimate the total number of staff needed in a year for a task. This however, is a very simplistic approach and in reality can be extremely challenging. When one considers the high variability factor of guests leaving or entering their rooms at different times of the day or night, the mix of ‘dirty’ rooms vacated by guests, requiring timely and efficient ‘cleaning’ for arriving guests, managing the day-time cleanup of occupied rooms, the evening ‘turndown’ service, staff absenteeism from sickness or leave, and a host of other things – it can push any housekeeper over the edge.


Good housekeepers succeed in finding a way of effectively sharing the yearly workload on a day-by-day basis. To carry out these myriad tasks just how do you allocate the maids/boys so that you have the right number on every day? Well, the answer depends on where you are at the moment. An existing hotel staffed, is different to a new hotel unstaffed and that is entirely a different story which I will address on another day.


Preventing injuries in housekeeping


Housekeeping staff on a daily basis clean 14-16 rooms and make up to 8000 movements during an eight hour shift. It is a physically demanding job which primarily involves making beds, cleaning rooms, bathtubs, sinks, fixtures removing stains and vacuuming. It is a profession highly prone to sprains and strains and hoteliers must cultivate work practices that prevent injuries from occurring. Some suggestions to reduce injuries in the housekeeping department are:


  • Providing lighter service carts that are well maintained can go a long way in preventing injuries.
  • Tires should be fully inflated and wheels properly aligned which minimizes the force required to operate a cart.
  • The housekeeping staff should be trained to push the carts as opposed to pulling them in ignorance.
  • Some hotels have done away with carts and room staff work with hand caddies.
  • The team ensures that the linen closets on each floor are fully stocked with supplies.
  • Providing lighter vacuum cleaners with low noise levels should also be considered.
  • Staff should wear shoes with plenty of cushioning to minimize stress on the back.
  • Our bodies function best in neutral and comfortable positions. When making beds, housekeeping staff should be trained to kneel or squat and bend from knees rather than the back.
  • To increase reach and access to distant places, step stools and other tools with long handles should be used when cleaning bathrooms.
  • Room maids/boys should step inside the bathtub to clean the walls and back of the tub, rather than do cleaning by standing on the edge of the tub.
  • Training plays a key role in accident prevention in the housekeeping department. Topics should include knowledge of workplace hazards, lifting methods and pre-shift warm up sessions.


Following the guidelines outlined above along with other simple safe practices will help you keep your housekeeping department safe whilst avoiding injuries to employees that can severely affect employee performance, productivity and morale.


To be continued

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