First impressions of a hotel's cleanliness are lasting, from the lobby to the guest rooms. Guests are quick to score a hotel and to share a negative review. The responsibility for the appearance of cleanliness falls in large part upon the housekeeping staff. Often invisible, their efforts may go unappreciated. Since 1981, however, the second full week of September has been designated International Housekeepers & Environmental Services Week. 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.
The Ongoing Effects of the Pandemic on Housekeepers
We had hoped hotel occupancy and staffing would return to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. However, as the New York Times reports, “nearly half of the more than one million jobs cut in the lodging industry during the pandemic have yet to be recovered, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the recovery has been uneven, with resort markets bouncing back more quickly than cities, which rely on business travel and large conventions or conferences that have not yet returned.” Since reopening, hotels have seen extended guest stays and instituted “daily housekeeping only upon request.” As a result, many housekeepers have not been called back to work. “A recent report by Unite Here, a hotel workers’ union, found that eliminating daily housekeeping as the industry standard would cost at least 180,000 jobs, held overwhelmingly by women of color, and $4.8 billion in lost wages.”
Those housekeepers who have been called back are performing increased duties as extended stays and periodic cleanings take more time and effort. Additionally, housekeepers continue to perform the cleaning protocols instituted in response to COVID-19. However, as business travel, with its shorter and more frequent stays, increases, there may be “some recovery of those jobs.”
Recognizing the Efforts of Housekeepers and the Hazards They Face
The addition of new cleaning protocols as a result of the pandemic will likely be a permanent change 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.
The risks to which housekeepers are exposed have not changed. 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.
Showing 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.
Most hotel housekeepers are women and many are the breadwinners for their families. 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.”
Take a Moment to Thank Your Housekeeper
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. Down Etc has been honored to provide its bedding products for giveaways and awards. 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.
We wish all housekeepers a great night's sleep!
Updated Links July 27, 2022