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The Outsized Role of Housekeepers in 2020

Environmental Services Week / International Housekeepers Week is a global celebration that has been held the second full week of September since 1981. Officially sponsored by the International Executive Housekeepers Association (IEHA), this is a week dedicated to recognizing the efforts of cleaning employees who have one of the toughest jobs in a building, but also one of the most important. “Buildings that aren't properly cleaned can lead to illness and productivity loss for the people who visit, eat, live, work and play there.” This is particularly true of hotels.

During International Housekeepers Week 2019, Down Etc recognized the ways in which housekeepers invisibly perform the tasks that keep our favorite hotels running. In 2020, with the reopening of many hotels closed in response to COVID-19, the spotlight is on housekeeping. Housekeepers are instructed to be anything but invisible.

The addition of new cleaning protocols is the most basic change implemented by hotels as “hygiene guarantees” are being demanded by guests. Efforts to make guests aware of cleaning procedures are viewed as necessary “housekeeping theater.” Housekeepers who may have cleaned hotels in the overnight will now be doing so “in the light of day” for the benefit of nervous guests. Housekeeping staff will be required to participate in additional training and to model personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves while they work. A recent article in Travel + Leisure cited Unite Here, a union representing workers in the hotel and other industries, saying, “In the time of COVID-19, routine, daily room cleaning is essential to protect guests from being infected by coronavirus particles that may enter their room during the course of their stay or spread through a hotel’s ventilation system. Further deep cleaning of each room is needed after checkout to eliminate any virus particles left behind by the previous guest.”

Hotels are hoping the higher levels of transparency regarding hotel cleaning protocols will lead to increased comfort levels and the return of clientele. In this era of consumer reviews, word will travel quickly regarding positive and negative practices. Housekeepers are at the center of this new focus.

Recognizing the Hazards Faced by Housekeepers

Last year, we noted the risks to which housekeepers are exposed. An article in the LA Times in 2014 reported, “They have the highest injury rates in the hospitality industry.”  In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had, prior to Covid-19, “identified four categories of hazards that affect hotel housekeepers: Ergonomic hazards that result in musculoskeletal injuries were the biggest contributor to injury. That was followed by slips and falls, exposure to chemicals that can lead to respiratory problems and infectious diseases that lurk in biological wastes as well as blood-borne pathogens.”  This final hazard came to the fore in 2020. It is crucial that housekeeping staff have access to proper protective equipment, health screenings, additional hand washing stations, and designated areas for the donning and doffing of protective gear.

Show Your Appreciation by Tipping Your Housekeeper

Housekeepers make the difference between an average stay and one that results in a great night’s sleep.  In a guest room, the housekeeper’s presence can be felt in everything from the cleanliness of the bathroom to the positioning of the pillows on the bed. Like porters who assist with luggage or valets who arrange transportation, housekeepers work hard to satisfy guests’ needs. The housekeeper is typically the first employee to whom a guest will reach out when in need of assistance. However, unlike porters and valets, travelers are often unsure whether it is appropriate to tip housekeepers and in what amount. Experts recommend the amount be determined by the experience, including: the length of stay, the degree to which the room is used, and overall satisfaction. Before COVID-19, Tripsavvy.com recommended, “For the housekeeping staff, tipping $1-5 per night is appropriate, but you should leave more if you leave the room particularly messy.” In light of the new cleaning protocols, travel experts recommend leaving $5 per day, believing it’s “a small price to pay for extra safety and comfort.”

Guests should be sure to leave a note with the tip so that the housekeepers know the money is meant for them. Housekeepers work hard and often alone so tipping is appreciated.

In this year of Women’s Equality in which we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women voting equality, we should recognize that most hotel housekeepers are women, and many are the breadwinners for their families. In a recent article, Travel & Leisure noted hotels have made efforts to improve communication between guests and housekeepers including, “incorporating room attendant postcards with personalized notes into hotel rooms, which both encourages tips and provides a place to leave a tip.” This communication should continue even as postcards are removed from guest rooms, along with other marketing collateral, as part of the housekeeping response to the pandemic.

Celebrate Your Housekeepers

Hotels realize their success depends upon the work of their housekeeping staffs. For that reason, Down Etc recommends hotels celebrate the housekeeping team’s success with prizes, monthly drawings to win luxury bedding items, or programs to support housekeepers’ health and wellness. The ways in which hotels celebrate International Housekeepers Week vary from providing a special meal to a week of activities with games and prizes. Down Etc has been honored to provide its bedding products for giveaways and awards. Down Etc believes housekeepers deserve a great night's sleep!

If you feel your housekeeper has gone above and beyond during your next hotel stay, take a moment to write a review or to let the hotel management know.

Updated Links July 31, 2022

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