It is essential to hire people who are a good fit with the hospital during recruiting, hiring and onboarding processes.

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In today’s environment, environmental services (EVS) leaders must find new and creative ways to attract, hire and retain great employees. 

It becomes an even greater challenge when opening a new facility, which may require hiring 100 or more employees. Additionally, EVS leaders may be competing with neighboring hospitals trying to attract the same employee pool. 

With a focus on customer service and improving the patient experience, it is essential to hire prospects who are a good fit with the hospital during recruiting, hiring and onboarding. Some proven strategies to attract, interview, hire and retain staff are discussed here.

Recruiting strategies 

Today’s EVS leader is up against stiff hiring competition, but this competition may also prove to be a valuable resource when searching for potential new employees. The following community entities are resources to consider:

Other hospitals and health care facilities. Although hospitals and health care facilities in a hospital’s immediate vicinity compete for employees, EVS leaders should still send new job announcements to EVS directors or managers at neighboring hospitals. This is because neighboring hospitals could be in the middle of a hiring freeze or layoff, or they might have on-call or part-time employees looking for full-time positions, more hours or another job to supplement their current job. 

Long-term care facilities and assisted living facilities. Skills are similar and transferable between EVS technicians who work in health care facilities and long-term care facilities, sometimes referred to as nursing homes. 

Hotels and resorts. Although hotels are not under the same regulatory requirements as hospitals, their staffs are usually trained in cleaning techniques, equipment operations, and the safe and effective use of cleaning chemicals and solutions. Most top-notch hotels have high standards for the cleanliness and orderliness of their guest rooms, so the training that hotel EVS technicians receive would be of value to hospital-based EVS departments.

Universities and colleges. College students always can use a part-time job to offset their college and living expenses. Most of the students are bright, hardworking and reliable. The only staffing challenges EVS leaders will have with this group of employees is during breaks (e.g., holidays, and spring and summer recess) and when they must prepare for exams. The key here is for EVS leaders to understand their needs and their department’s needs before they offer students a position. 

Association job boards. Professional associations and societies such as the Association for the Health Care Environment (AHE) have job boards where employers can post announcements for EVS management positions. AHE’s job board is called AHE CareerLink. 

Church job boards. Some local churches have job boards available for posting job openings. 

Recruiting variables

In today’s competitive employment market, some recruitment and retention variables that should be considered by EVS leaders include: 

  • Is the hospital unionized? Hospitals with unionized employees generally tend to provide better wages, better benefits and more job protection than nonunion hospitals. In some states, many hospital EVS staff members are unionized, so salaries are pretty much aligned. 
  • Does the organization offer an attractive benefits package? In some cases, the benefits package (i.e., vacation, sick leave, medical insurance, dental insurance, optical insurance, disability insurance, retirement plans and legal services) could be worth up to 50% of the employee’s annual salary. 
  • Who is the competition? Hospitals, long-term care facilities, hotels, and assisted living facilities and other retirement communities compete for the same employees. 
  • Are neighboring hospitals building new facilities or wing additions? A new hospital or addition brings excitement to any community with the prospect of new jobs, which improves the standard of living for many families.

Although this may be good news for the local community, hiring managers usually struggle with attracting applicants and filling newly created positions for several reasons, including a shrinking pool of available applicants, a hospital location that presents transportation challenges, a low rate of unemployment, or being in a resort town with numerous hotels and attractions that employ service workers. 

  • What is the hospital’s reputation? Does The Joint Commission accredit the hospital? Is the hospital “nurse magnet” designated? Where does the hospital rank on the annual report of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals? This may not be a consideration for hourly staff, but some management applicants may consider a hospital’s reputation. 

Interviewing strategies

Prior to receiving resumes from potential candidates, EVS leaders should have their recruiter pre-screen applicants based on agreed-upon criteria before the resumes are emailed to EVS for consideration. 

A phone screening will allow the recruiter to ask specific questions based on the job posting requirements, and the recruiter can provide an objective opinion on whether the applicant meets the job requirements and if the applicant would be a good fit for the EVS department. At this point, the EVS leader can decide which applicants to schedule for interviews. 

Hiring hourly staff. When EVS leaders are attempting to hire hourly staff (e.g., EVS technicians and leads, linen services personnel, office staff and dispatchers), they should have a well-thought-out plan for their interviews. EVS leaders should work closely with the human resources (HR) department to develop a game plan for recruiting staff. HR also may be able to assist with creating relevant interview questions. 

When preparing the process, EVS leaders should consider these questions:

  • How many applicants will need to be interviewed to fill this position? 
  • Should the EVS leader conduct the interviews or assign them to someone else? 
  • Will the interview be a panel representative of the candidate’s supervisor, peers and customers? 
  • How long should each of the interviews last? 
  • Will the recruiter prescreen applicants by phone before the EVS leader sees the resumes? 

Double Tree Hotels interviews high performers currently doing the job to find out what makes them so good — the attributes or competencies they want to interview for. Similarly, EVS leaders should interview employees that managers identify as top performers within their department. This information offers managers insight into the nature of the work and the reasons for high turnover if it exists. 

EVS leaders should interview several applicants for each position. Out of the candidates interviewed, some may decline a job offer, and some might not meet the job requirements. Additionally, EVS leaders may want to have a few extra candidates for future positions, or who could be contacted should the initial hire not work out.

EVS directors usually do not need to be a part of the interviews for hourly employees. Once the interview has been held, the interviewer or interview panel will score each candidate and provide their overall scores and hire recommendations to the director. At that time, the director may elect to hold a second interview to meet the candidate and to ask a few more questions to ensure that the candidate is a good fit for the department.

The supervisor and the manager to whom the position will report should conduct interviews for EVS technicians and leads, linen services staff and dispatchers. In some cases, EVS leaders may elect to add a peer (e.g., EVS technician) to the interview panel. 

EVS leaders should allow no more than 45 minutes for each interview of front-line staff candidates, including the interview and scoring. Questions should be pertinent to the job and not of a personal nature. 

In the past, questions were strictly about the tasks to be performed and about attendance and attitude. With a focus on the patient experience, some questions should be about customer service and communications skills. Below are sample questions, but these questions should be tailored to the facility and the jobs that are being filled:

  • Describe your experience in the EVS department. 
  • Describe how you would properly daily clean a patient room and high-touch items you would clean in a patient room. 
  • Explain proper waste management procedures, including biohazardous waste handling. 
  • Provide an example of a situation in which you were asked to do several different urgent tasks and tell how you accomplished them. 
  • Provide an example of a time when you provided excellent customer service or service recovery. 
  • Provide an example of a time when you went above and beyond your employer’s job expectations to get a job done. 
  • How do you define teamwork? 
  • Describe what great customer service means to you. 
  • Do you know what AIDET® (Acknowledge, Introduce, Duration, Explanation, and Thank You) means and how it would be applied? 
  • Share your knowledge of cleaning chemicals and computer programs. 

Hiring supervisors and managers. The EVS director should organize an interview panel or panels for hiring supervisors or managers. Potential panelists could include the EVS director/assistant director, manager, supervisor, lead, aide, nurse manager, facilities director, safety officer and/or director of infection control. The interview should last no more than 45 minutes, with additional time to discuss and score the questions, and prepare for the next candidate. 

Here are sample interview questions that may be useful: 

  • What qualifies you to provide overall direction to supervisors and staff to ensure that all customers are pleased with the services provided; ensure all assigned buildings and areas are clean, sanitary and aesthetically pleasing to patients, visitors and staff; ensure a comprehensive training program is in place for compliance with medical center policy and regulatory requirements; and oversee a robust recycling and waste reduction program at all locations? 
  • What do you see as the key challenges of the position? 
  • What would you want to accomplish within your first six months? 
  • Share your knowledge of regulatory and accreditation agencies with which health care facilities must comply. 
  • Share your knowledge of AIDET and HCAHPS and discuss measures you’ve taken to improve HCAHPS scores in your department.
  • Who are your customers? How would you structure your day to ensure a high level of customer satisfaction? What tools do you use to measure customer satisfaction? What is your experience in developing and conducting formal and informal training to staff, leads and supervisors? What software programs are you experienced with using?

Background and expectations 

After EVS leaders have selected the candidate they plan to hire, it is important they work with their HR department concerning any background checks or testing requirements. Most health care organizations require background and criminal record checks, and they may also do a credit check. Hospitals also may require some type of drug testing. 

It is always wise to check on the work history of the candidate. EVS leaders should keep in mind that HR departments may only give out certain information, such as dates of employment, reason for leaving, eligibility for rehire and hourly wage at termination. Some HR departments utilize an electronic questionnaire that is sent via email to the candidate’s employer references. These ask more specific questions about performance, behaviors and attendance. 

Before making an offer, EVS leaders should review the job position and job duties list with the candidate to ensure that they understand what will be expected of them once they start. If there is no conflict out of this discussion with the candidate, the EVS leader would proceed to make a job offer and discuss a start date. 

Once a new employee accepts a job offer, it is important to send them to new employee orientation (NEO). At NEO, the new employee may learn about the organization’s history, culture, mission, vision and values. Other topics covered could include safety, infection control, personnel policies, payroll information, benefits and other employee perks. 

The employee also would have an opportunity to meet key leaders, including the CEO. After NEO, the employee would participate in the EVS department-specific orientation program to learn about the department’s policies and procedures, view many documents and video training, and shadow more experienced employees to learn the many tasks the EVS staff performs. 

A tool used during the initial department orientation is the employee initial competency review form. This allows the employee and the employee’s supervisor to document that the initial hire training has been successfully completed. The original document is usually placed in the employee’s personnel file located in the EVS office. A copy can be provided to the employee upon their request. 

Looking to hire 

EVS departments typically have the largest number of employees next to nursing. With such large numbers, EVS will always be looking to hire new employees to fill job vacancies. 

The key to a great employee is ensuring that there is an orderly, comprehensive and professional process to attract, hire, develop and retain the best staff. 

Working closely with the HR recruiter will provide support in hiring staff. Additionally, peers who also manage EVS departments are a tremendous resource, so reach out to them! 

Providing rewards and recognition 

Once environmental services (EVS) leaders have recruited, hired and trained their new employee, in addition to holding them accountable for cleaning thousands of tasks and square footage, they must continually provide leadership, guidance and support as well as perks so they feel valued. 

Suggestions for rewarding staff include:

  • EVS Week celebrations.
  • Gift cards for participating in staff meetings and working safely or making safety suggestions.
  • Gift cards or certificates for perfect attendance.
  • Free uniforms, coats, hats and work shoes.
  • Quarterly lunches for top performers with the EVS director and their boss.
  • Holiday potlucks.

Suggestions for recognizing staff include:

  • Greeting cards or flowers for occasions like birthdays or illnesses.
  • “Thank you” cards handed to the employee or mailed to their home.
  • Acknowledging anniversaries at staff meetings.
  • Creating a department newsletter recognizing promotions, retirements and accomplishments.
  • “Employee of the Month” poster boards.
  • Administrative Professionals Day lunches, flowers and gifts.

Carl Solomon Sr., MBA, CHESP, FAHE, LEAD Fellow, is director of environmental services and linen services at UC San Diego Health. This article was excerpted and adapted from his 2016 AHE paper “Hiring & Retaining the Right Staff.” He can be reached at