You Don't Have to Learn the Hard Way

By Michael Catanzaro, Master REH, CLLM, CHESP

August 29, 2015 | Formats: Article | Content Areas: Administration | Tags: Career Development, Communication, Leadership, Management

Throughout my father’s entire life he proved to be a man of generosity for his family, friends, neighbors, and church. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I found him reluctant to share one of his greatest gifts.

At the time of his retirement, my father had spent more than 40 years working as a pocket maker for a manufacturer of fine men’s coats. He explained to me that he must teach a co-worker his craft. Pocket-making is more than just sewing a few pieces of cloth together; there are intricacies not obvious to the layperson in making flaps and matching the patterns and designs.

I asked how many others had he taught. He replied this was the first time he ever taught. Since he was going to retire it was now okay to pass his craft on just as his father passed it on to him. It wasn’t his responsibility to teach others. Learned skills and techniques are valuable; competition is fierce, teaching others tricks of the trade is equal to taking food off your family’s table.

Today, however, times have changed... or have they?

I got my first break in our profession when a contract cleaning outfit hired me as the director of housekeeping for a 120-bed hospital in Brooklyn, New York. (I wasn’t completely new to the field—I previously had my own office cleaning business.)

The day before I started working, I met the company’s operations manager at the facility. He introduced me to the hospital administrator, the director of nursing, and a few key players in the housekeeping and linen departments.

He told me to report to work at 7:00 a.m., and he’d spend time going over everything I needed to know. The next day I reported into work bright and early, but there was no operations manager. Finally, at 9:30 a.m., I received a call from him. He said there was an emergency at another location and he couldn’t come. He told me to do the best I could and he’d be there as soon as possible.

Two weeks later, he showed up. Two weeks later, of course all was under control—no thanks to him or the company’s support system. Trial and error are hard-knock teachers, and no way to learn a profession. Even “old dog” managers who may be used to learning the hard way can work to stay ahead of the ever-changing intricacies and innovations of their complex profession. No longer are we considered glorified housekeepers, the porter in-charge. We are managers— controlling large budgets, staffs, and resources.

Exchanging Information

Our peers are a valuable resource of help and information. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone if there’s a problem you have and are not sure how to handle it. Contact your counterpart in another facility.

There is nothing you are going through that someone else hasn’t already gone though or knows of someone who has. Whether it’s a technical how-to question, a problem motivating staff, or a customer service challenge, there is always someone out there who can help—or at least point you in the right direction.

The days of clean shiny floors being housekeeping’s number-one priority are long gone, just as working in a vacuum is no longer feasible.

Our departments have evolved and our role has become exceedingly more complex. As health care professionals we face new challenges and responsibilities as our industry adapts to changes in the economy and health care reform. What will determine whether or not, as managers,
we are successful will be our understanding and reaction to those challenges and industry changes.


Exchanging information with other managers and professionals is a good resource to enhance your own career prospects.

Professional organizations offer great opportunities for networking—birds of a feather flock together. Know which organizations are most active in your region and can best provide you with the type of information you need.

For me in the northeast, it’s the New England chapter of AHE, the Association for the Health Care Environment. The New England chapter leadership includes representation from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. 

Make a case to attend industry conventions and tradeshows. For example, AHE’s EXCHANGE show is an amazing opportunity to get up to date on the latest developments in environmental services and take a peek into the future of the profession through structured education and networking.

Subscribe to and read business journals. For example, EXPLORE, the official quarterly magazine of the AHE, provides expert information on both technical and managerial questions. Health Facilities Management, produced by the American Hospital Association, is also a great resource for environmental services professionals. All issues and articles are available at