Polishing up your image

19 September 2013

With housekeeping becoming a strategic concern for many companies, Catherine Christie examines how uniforms can play a significant role in creating the right impression

For hotel customers, cleanliness is the number one concern. More than comfort, luxury facilities or a customer service focused attitude, recent research suggests, guests simply want to be free from filth.

The findings, which are part of a new white paper from support services provider Emprise, indicates that a single bad review is likely to cost hotels around 30 customers. Given that, the report makes the case for using housekeeping as an effective means of adding value.

In a competitive environment, projecting the right image is important, and uniforms play their part. Hotels have long viewed front-of-house staff – from the receptionist to the doorman – as walking adverts for the business, but cleaning operatives can be an afterthought.

The power of positive dressing

Helen Harker, design manager at professional workwear provider Simon Jersey, part of the Kwintet group, argues that housekeeping staff should be dressed to impress.

"Even though cleaners and housekeepers are often classed as back-of-house, they are in fact very visible and, just like in any profession, the uniform plays a major role in creating a positive first impression,” she says. "A smart-looking housekeeper will help convey cleanliness and professionalism. The style and colour of uniforms can also make the wearer feel good, which translates into a job well done.”

Their effect on performance is not limited to psychology: functionality is a vital component of any uniform, helping the worker to carry out their duties as well as protecting them from hazardous environments, and should be tailored to the individual position’s needs.

Debbie Leon, managing director of Fashionizer, which designs and supplies uniforms for luxury brands, says: "The main consideration for cleaners’ clothing in all environments is that it should allow movement in the most comfortable way possible. Cleaners have to conduct a variety of tasks that involve bending, stretching and carrying, and their clothing needs to allow all of those movements.

"Other factors are dependent on the job role. At many high-end hotels, for example, cleaners may spend some time cleaning on their knees and having trousers can provide some protection. Likewise, if a company’s preference is to dress their female housekeeping staff in dresses or skirts, the garment must be constructed modestly, so that the staff can bend over and the required level of decency is achieved.”

Uniforms can be cut in a way that does not restrict movement or ride up for the wearer, while fabrics such as Lycra can create flexible and stylish garments. The type and quality of fabric can also have an impact on the durability and longevity of a uniform as well as how easy it is to maintain – this is crucial considering that the uniform is being worn day in and day out, and must look as good at the end of its lifecycle as it does at the beginning.

Helen Harker from Simon Jersey says: "The fabric needs to breathe and move with the body, but it also needs to hold up well to grime and cleaning products. Housekeepers and cleaners can benefit from wearing a poly-and-cotton-mix fabric. The cotton, being a natural fibre, provides comfort, allows the body to breathe, and is soft to the touch. The polyester counterbalances this by making the fabric hardwearing and gives it good crease recovery. It is also very easy to care for and wash.” 

The appearance of garments can be maintained through the clever use of colours and accessories. Kathryn Adams, hospitality expert at workwear and corporate clothing provider Alexandra, says: "A dirty, unkempt uniform can quickly undo the perception cleaning staff are trying to portray – that their surroundings are clean and up to standard. Dark colours such as navy, grey and black are commonly adopted to prevent the obvious appearance of dust and dirt.

"Furthermore, many businesses are recognising the value a tabard or overcoat brings to minimising dirt. If worn over a uniform while completing particularly dirty or messy tasks, this can easily be removed once the task is complete so the uniform isn’t marked.”

A growing understanding of the practical demands of housekeeping has influenced the current style trends of housekeeping uniforms.

"Where in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s cleaning operatives, particularly in housekeeping, wore traditional dresses, it is far more commonplace nowadays for professionals to wear polo shirts or tunics, trousers and protective tabards, which are worn universally by both men and women,” Kathryn Adams from Alexandra says.

"The move away from traditional dresses has been prompted by an understanding of the need for uniforms to be more practical, washable and easy-to-wear, allowing for more flexible movement.”

The hotel industry is worth around £40 billion a year in the UK, but occupancy and room rates are expected to fall this year. Hotels therefore need to find ways to focus on enhancing the guest experience and, as cleanliness is very much a deal-breaker for guests, there is a compelling case for ensuring housekeeping teams are viewed positively.

The right equipment and training will raise standards, but uniforms can go a long way towards shaping perceptions, both internally and externally, and giving staff the comfort and confidence to work as effectively as possible.