Honoring custodians and maintenance workers

by Jordan Green

When I walk into the Jesse Dunn Building at Northwestern Oklahoma State on a weekday, I can count on Dean Kilgore to smile, wave and have something kind to say.

Dean isn’t a professor, but he’s someone my university – and pretty much any school or business – couldn’t do without: support staff members, like custodians and maintenance workers, who work behind the scenes to keep our world moving.

Day in and day out, Kilgore and countless other custodians all around us work to make sure the places we live and work are spick and span. Their importance was highlighted during the pandemic, when they wiped down surfaces and kept our air purified so we’re safe.

I think we often don’t give custodians enough credit. Quite frankly, keeping our places of work and play clean is a dirty job.

According to Zippia, an employment data tracker, the U.S. has more than 1.4 million custodians. In a country with millions of businesses, school, hospitals, you name it, that figure seems a little low.

Chances are, the custodians you know are overworked and probably underpaid. Worst of all, they’re grossly underappreciated.

When I was a kid, the school janitors were some of the nicest people a kid would come across at school. Sometimes, the janitors were the first people kids would talk to if they were having a bad day. I think that’s still true today.

I can’t even begin to name all the custodians I met through my years in school, but I remember them even better than I do many of my teachers. They were kind, sincere folks. Real people.

Custodians do more than just mop floors. In most places, they’re the ones who turn on the lights to get our days started, and they sanitize the surfaces we’re so good at making messy. They set up tables and chairs so students can have clean classrooms, and they make sure our meeting rooms are spotless so we can impress business partners. Hospitals come to mind as another place were custodians are absolutely vital.

At universities, this is true: Guys like Dean are just as important as the dean.

Maintenance workers fit into that same category. As summer rolls around, think about how miserable we’d be if people weren’t keeping our air conditioners working. We can thank maintenance workers at our places of employment for preventing that from happening.

More than that, they’re the ones who plug holes in our roofs, fix backed-up toilets when they overflow and keep our sidewalks smooth, to name just a few tasks. They also make sure our businesses’ flower gardens and yards are looking sharp.

According to data from Career Explorer, the U.S. has about the same number of maintenance workers as it does custodians. Once again, it seems like these folks are probably overworked.

Without maintenance workers and custodians, I can promise you that I wouldn’t want to set foot in a lot of places. You wouldn’t, either. Sometimes, we don’t notice how valuable people are until they’re not around. But that’s because of our own short-sightedness.

People sometimes pass by support staff members at work without so much as saying “Hello.” I think it’s time to change that.

This week, I’d like to challenge you to thank a custodian or a maintenance worker for what they do. I’ll all but guarantee that person will be highly appreciative. They deserve our commendations – and a whole lot more, too.

We don’t have to go out of our way to do this simple task. It won’t take long, either, and it won’t cost a dime. This act of kindness, however, could really bless someone else’s day. If it’s so easy, why not try it?

Custodians and maintenance workers are real people performing real jobs – and finishing them really well. I think it’s time we acknowledged and thanked them.

In case you were wondering, we do have a holiday to celebrate support staff like custodians and maintenance workers: Nov. 22. But you don’t have to wait that long. Every day ought to be a day to thank these folks for what they do and who they are.