Why you should be nice to cleaners

It’s been nearly five years since my father died. That was a time of much reflection and spending more time with my family than I have in years.

After the funeral, there was a small reception in the catering hall attached to the chapel. The woman who ran the buffet was quite rude and whisked your cup and plate away as soon as you put them down, even if you weren’t finished with them.

On the way home, we were complaining about her and how rude she was. My brother said, “I stopped to say thank you to her. It’s what Dad would have done. ”

He didn’t do it to shame the rest of us; this was his reaction to my Dad’s passing, to think of how to honour his memory. After all, we four children had just stood up on public and praised our father’s virtues as a humble man who treated everyone with dignity and respect.

I also spent some time after that thinking about my father’s legacy. He was a modest man, his name was never in the papers except when he was married and when he died. Despite our family never being rich, I grew up knowing that you should always help someone worse off than yourself. Charity begins in your childhood home and after his death I organised myself to give regularly to charity.

But I wanted to do something more than just give money.

At first I tried to give blood, which he had done regularly for many years until the blood service told him that at 75 years old (he lived to 92) he had done his bit and should keep his blood for himself now.

It took me a year to get cleared to give blood between illness and travel to restricted countries. And then when I did get cleared they only got half a donation from me (tetchy veins) and I passed out when I tried to leave so I had to stay in the tipped up chair for an hour drinking squash and eating biscuits before they would let me leave. So that was a fail.

Then I started to think about how my father treated everyone with equal respect. And so I started to engage with the cleaners at work.

There are people who work in my building who are lazy pigs and leave the toilets and kitchen in a terrible state for the cleaners to deal with. (“What must there houses be like if they behave like this at work?” is the question my colleagues often ask when we discuss the latest horror.)

I started talking to my friend the Spanish-speaking cleaner (who had been moved to another floor, I haven’t seen her in ages) when she was cleaning some baked on gunge out of the microwave. (Someone’s curry had exploded all over the wall and ceiling. They took their dish away but left the baked on mess behind…because they are too important to clean it up of course.

I expressed my concern that she had to deal with this, and apologised that someone I worked with (hopefully indirectly – I’m sure no one in my team would do this) had left this mess for her.

After that I made a point of smiling and saying Hello when I saw her. Or saying something in my hideously broken Spanish. Or commenting on how I hadn’t seen her in ages when I bumped into her in the cafeteria.

Now I always say hello to the dark haired woman who cleans on my floor. If she has her cleaning trolley parked outside the toilets, I ask her if it’s OK to go in which I figure is only polite.

Maybe I was doing this before my father died (he didn’t raise any of his children to behave in a rude and arrogant manner) but now I do it consciously.

I do it to show that our cleaners that they are as much a part of the staff as any highly paid banker, that I see them as individuals and not just as “cleaning staff”, and to let them know that I appreciate the work they do to keep our building clean.

It’s what my father would have done.

And that’s how I honour his memory.

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