There’s one thing that almost no one knows about me: for the past 10 years or so, I’ve worked almost exclusively as a cleaner. Not for those 10 years entirely, but on and off. I have about 5 years of experience cleaning. One thing has always been consistent through those years: everyone looks down at you.
But I’m here to write a bit about why you’re no better than a cleaner, and why cleaners are no better than you. We’re all people at the end of the day, but it’s quite clear that cleaning, to a lot of (if not most) people is the bottom of the bottom (or close to it). By the way, this entire piece of writing could be applied to other jobs: garbage collecting, fast food service etc.
Firstly, you do not know why someone is a cleaner. There are many reasons people go into cleaning. For me, it was because I didn’t finish school and have social anxiety. It was the easiest thing to get into with no experience and no connections. Someone may get into it because they’re not very academic and never have been, they’re just happy cleaning. Maybe, just maybe, they had a different job but they’ve decided to work in cleaning part-time because… it doesn’t even matter why.
Let me tell you something I’ve learnt through my experience. Cleaning is fucking hard. I have to swear to put across just how hard cleaning is. Everyone says anyone can do it. No. I’m sorry, not everyone can do cleaning for a living. The amount of people that try cleaning and give up after a day is rather astonishing. Even I have. It’s hard going. Not only is it physically demanding, it’s mentally exhausting due to the repetition, and cleaners are often taken advantage of. Oh, and the injuries. Bad shoulders and back, carpel tunnel, tennis elbow. The chemical inhalation? Most companies don’t bother to provide masks.
I worked in a hotel chain for a year and it was the hardest job I’ve done. I was restricted to 20 minutes per room and often had 16+ rooms per day, working roughly 5 hours. We made up time with “stays”, rooms that are still occupied, as they didn’t need a full clean but that was often only a small amount each day, and they were generally a mess anyway. I worked over my time consistently and didn’t get paid extra. It’s even worse now, by the way. Something closer 17 minutes. It’s impossible to clean properly under those conditions. Many corners need to be cut. All the while you have management breathing down your neck that rooms have to be perfect, or they’ve had too many complaints. Well, yeah, no kidding.
I heard a story recently. Someone dropped a piece of paper on the floor and was told to pick it up. Their reply? “It’s okay, the cleaner can do it.” This seems a common thing among those working “above” cleaners. They think they don’t need to clean up after themselves because the cleaners will do it. This kind of attitude really bothers me. Most of these things they think the cleaners will do aren’t things in our job description (eg: doing dishes in a staff room: you’re grown adults, do it yourself). Of course, not all people are like this. There are plenty of nice people out there but they are few and far between.
Ultimately, I think the worst thing for me though, and the thing that has really pushed me to my limits, was most recently when a colleague was telling me about her experience as a cleaner. She was saying how she always says hello but most people we work around (not cleaners) don’t bother to say hello or even smile back. She said she often just feels invisible, and the worst part? I’m pretty sure she was about to cry. I quickly changed the subject, to spare her any embarrassment, but that really had an impact on me and drove home how lonely it can be being a cleaner. You really do feel like you’re nothing.
But at the end of the day, I am more than just a lowly cleaner. I am a person who has been down on their luck in life. I am a student working hard towards a degree. I pay taxes just like you (okay, I don’t at the moment because I work part-time). I work hard just like you. I have interests and hobbies and friends and a partner, just like you. We are all just like you, even if you don’t see it.
We all work somewhere with cleaners. The world would stop without cleaners and garbage men and those that serve you your burger at McDonald’s. Oh, let’s not even get onto cleaners AT McDonald’s! Just think, without us all, you’d have to clean it all yourselves. Either that or you’d be swimming in your own muck. Couldn’t have that now could we?
Next time you see your cleaner, give them a smile! 🙂