Is good hygiene important to you?
It's funny how word association can trigger thoughts and lead into some interesting discussions, even when those discussions take us off into tangents that are wildly different than what we were talking about just minutes earlier. Today I was chatting with a friend about dating and the subject of hygiene, of all things, came up as one of the things she was looking for in a mate.
Apparently, she'd been on a few random dates lately and had noticed - and perhaps it was a new notice, or perhaps now she was just more sensitive and selective about the issue - that about half the men she'd been out with recently, well, there's just no other way to say it: they smelled bad.
As she described it in rather generous terms, it wasn't that they were totally neglectful of their overall hygiene and habits, yet would show up for these dates after a full day of work and without taking the time or energy to shower beforehand, or brush their teeth, or whatever. The thing was - it was very distracting, no matter what else happened on the date that went well.
Being the Organizational Development geek that I am, as soon as I heard the word hygiene, I thought about how the term is often used to describe the factors within compensation (or workplace conditions - which is a form of compensation all its own, actually) whereby workers expect something to be in place - a hygiene factor - and although its never a factor which is noticed on a day-to-day basis, it's foundational; something that all else doesn't really matter too much - if it's not securely in place, in the first place. The presence of a good hygiene factor doesn't cause a person to be satisfied with something, yet when the factor is missing, it creates dissatisfaction.
Having a workplace with bad hygiene factors, just like my friend's dates above, just sets the stage for ruining everything else built on top. Think of a house being built: You pay attention to how the foundation is engineered and built to withstand the materials above it, and then you forget about it. And if you don't, then you soon find that all the fancy walls, counter tops, and gold plated bathroom fixtures or whatever don't really matter, because, sooner if not later, they'll all come crashing down. Despite that my friend's dates reportedly all took her to nice restaurants, had generally pleasant personalities (and a few with nice physical attributes), none of those things got the chance to make much difference, because, as she put it, she had spent most of her time on those evenings trying to stand upwind. It was all just too distracting.
Yet, in the rather complex world of workplace relationships and Human Resource Management, one eventually finds that good hygiene factors set the stage for good things to come, as more complexities and expectations enter into the relationships. Just like with people in their personal lives.
Because within time, people in a workplace start to pay attention to not only their own hygiene factors established with their employer, yet those of their co-workers - and how it's affecting the workplace relationships. It's just normal to see what's going on with others, to see how their world is compared to yours.
And here we come into the complex issue of what's known as internal equity - the perception a worker has about how their own hygiene factors are stacking up with the person twisting widgets together standing next to them. Or in our case, prepping the dinner, or mopping the floors, or directing the traffic of vendors coming in and out of the gates. Notice I said perception, which points toward each worker, in any workplace, having the valid concerns about what is fair. Concerns which exist within the very real dimensions of their own minds.
Estate employers (the estate owners, family office personnel, estate managers, et al) who understand and pay attention to internal equity in their workplace are, in essence, the best people to work for. That's because they pay attention to the thoughts - the perceptions - of their staff, and address hygiene issues as they arise - not simply once per year at the often non-existent annual performance review. That's important enough for us to pull out our big blog special font here and repeat:
...they pay attention to the thoughts - the perceptions - of the staff, and address hygiene issues as they arise...
I recall counseling one Estate Manager from some years ago when I had my domestic staffing and training agency; she had hired me originally to train her staff in formal table service and she also, on the side, wanted me to help her understand what had happened to their little yet growing housekeeping workforce - especially, as it related to needing to hire a new additional housekeeper almost every year. With no more property having been purchased and with no additional demands being placed upon the staff by anyone, it had become a mystery why the estate, with one original housekeeper, now somehow needed four.
After a pot of coffee and about two hours of staffing history, the answer soon popped out for both of us: internal inequity. Although I think we didn't use that fancy academic term, I think we both soon realized that each of the staff thought they each had a stinky deal. As in - bad organizational hygiene factors.
Notice I used the word "thought" - perception - which must be examined if one is to get to the root of this problem in a workplace.
Internal Equity - how am I doing compared to my co-workers here?
Although the topic of internal equity is no stranger to any industry, I believe the domestic staff industry is especially vulnerable simply because and there's just no other way to say it: most estate owners aren't seasoned line managers. Nor do they want to be, frankly, yet they are often thrust into that role. And some estate owners, over time, want to reward what they believe to be their most loyal household staff, and this often results in them creating inequity issues - and bad workplace hygiene.
In this particular situation, as the Estate Manager explained, the principals had actually told the original #1 Housekeeper that all she needed to do from this point forward was to sit and drink coffee. That was, incredulously, her only two responsibilities going forward. And at $60K + full benefits, it sounded like a great deal; too good to pass up.
Yet, over time, even that became too much like work, and Housekeeper #1 reduced her sitting and drinking coffee hours from 40 to 30, then to 20, and then to coming in just two mornings per week, for four hours each visit. Eight hours of sitting and drinking coffee per week now earned her $60K per year, and she was finally happy, and finally felt compensated fairly for her many years of loyalty to the family.
Of course, as another full time Housekeeper was brought on board to actually do the cleaning, it wasn't long before internal inequity set in with that domestic worker, as well. Pretty soon, resentment caught up and Housekeeper #2, over time, began to get a whiff of the bad hygiene on the estate; she felt her deal was getting more stinky as Housekeeper #1's deal became more sweetly fragrant, and eventually reduced her hours to around 20 (yet was able to maintain full salary/benefits), at which point Housekeeper #3 was hired, to help out a little, as was justified. Now, with three housekeepers, at a total payroll for that department of $180K plus full benefits for all three, the house was finally getting cleaned again. For a little while, that is.
Until the resentment of inequity set in again, as Housekeepers #2 and #3 realized that even working 20 hours per week was a smelly deal when compared to #1 who was really working zero, and again they slowed down, and somehow a fourth Housekeeper was hired. Now, with $240K plus full benefits being spent on maintaining the same space which one Housekeeper had done only three years earlier for $60K, the Estate Manager, who was a well-meaning and likable enough person, yet still only a figurehead with no real authority to manage staff, began to feel the awkward notion that this was just all wrong, despite the principals' agreement to keep hiring, seemingly with no end. And the house wasn't even really clean - either actually, or figuratively. Things just smelled wrong.
Everyone coming on board was shooting for equity, was shooting for the Holy Grail: that of getting the same great deal as #1. Not because they were lazy, mind you, but because they yearned for the normal human desire to be treated fairly. To have equity. That's worth repeating here in our big blog special font once again:
...they yearned for the normal human desire to be treated fairly. To have equity.
External Equity - how am I doing compared to those in similar positions at other estates?
From Compensation Cafe below is the link to a great discussion which compares both internal and external equity issues in the workplace, noting, quite correctly, that internal equity gets the nod.
|Oh, dear. Time to clean up some internal equity issues?|
And that's because Housekeepers #2, #3, and #4 would still see Housekeeper #1 working zero, for a total of 8 hours per week (with estate owners looking the other way and pretending not to see the effects) while earning her own $150K. Gone now is the comparison with all those nearby $60K Housekeepers, because they still think their deal stinks - because of what they see as unfair, unequal and odorific treatment by their boss, right there in the internal confines of their own workplace.
This is why many estates, in order to keep their domestic staff "happy" when they see them exhibiting behaviors of sadness, depression, slowing down, and even sabotage, simply toss more money at the staff and write bigger checks. Yet, within an inequitable and bad hygiene workplace environment - this sudden influx of money happiness is always very short-lived.... as the odor dissipates for a few minutes... but only until everyone on staff... then... once again... notices...
How do we define the better estates in which to become employed?
Could it be an estate workplace where...
- Good organizational hygiene factors are created?
- Human Resource Management means more than just sending in the time sheets to the payroll vendor?
- Thoughtful and ongoing reviews are conducted of how each domestic staff team member is compensated, performing to agreed-upon standards, and just as importantly - how each domestic worker is perceiving fairness, right there, within their workplace on a day-to-day basis - and how these perceptions affect the service efforts of the staff and ultimately the good service delivery to the Principals?
What is important in a domestic staff citizen workplace... to you?
For further review of this fascinating and critical workplace topic, please go to:
And for those wishing to dive deeper and have a look at Frederick Herzberg's theories of organizational behavior as related to hygiene factors, I encourage your visit to:
And - even more importantly...
...if you're one day lucky enough to have a date with my good friend, please take a shower first! She thanks you for your considerate hygiene enthusiasm in advance, and she guarantees you 100% equitable consideration from her own personal presentation, as well.