A Day In The Life Of… a Housekeeping Team Leader
In our series A Day In The Life Of…, we introduce – in their own words – some of our people on the front lines at Unite Students, working to make students’ accommodation experience the best it can be. Our second instalment introduces Joanna Radomska, who has worked for Unite Students in Sheffield for six years and was promoted to Housekeeping Team Leader in December.
Q: What’s your favourite thing about working for Unite Students?
A: It’s not just a job. You’ve got a lot of friends in here – a lot of good people, different people – and then you’ve also got students around. It’s not just cleaning: there’s more to it. Every day is different, and I think this is good. You can’t get bored at all in here.
What might a typical day in the life of a Head of Housekeeping at Unite Students look like?
As a Housekeeping team leader, I start preparing a ‘to do’ list for my colleagues and new team members for daily tasks – although things happen, so you have to be flexible. There’s no ‘typical’ day!
Obviously, you have to do your basic tasks as a housekeeper, like kitchen inspections – but it depends what shift you’re working and sometimes it depends on the day. If it’s bin day, take out the bin. You just need to think through what needs to be done and think about where people are. However, while theoretically you have a list and try to keep to it, if things change then you need to assess the situation, deal with it – and close the day with a smile!
How has your role changed since the start of the pandemic?
In the beginning, it was a bit scary for everyone, and obviously we tried to focus more on hygiene. We sanitised everything from the very beginning and tried to keep on top of everything.
I feel like we’re very close as a team and we check in with each other, as it makes you more sensitive to other people in your team – I think this is something positive. We had a hard summer, but as a team, we came together. Obviously, people are struggling because of Covid, and it is hard sometimes, but I feel like people are more open with each other right now. If I know that you’re struggling then we can support each other.
Our tasks are different now; we only go into the flats if we have to. We need to deal with complaints right away – but it was different before, as you could interact with students. Now, you don’t see students because they need to be in their rooms when we enter. When I came to do the first inspections during lockdown, students wanted to come and speak with me; they want this connection, but you can’t do it for their safety and for my safety.
In the past, we’ve been in the kitchens with students and you talk to them and joke around with them, ask them what they’re cooking and that kind of thing. Now if someone’s there, you need to ask them to leave, to give you the space, which is weird. You can’t even smile because you’re wearing masks now. I just hope things will soon be over and we can have that interaction again!
How have Unite Students supported you during Covid?
Our managers are trying to make sure that we are OK and give us the support we need, the feeling that they’re here for us. This really makes us closer – you don’t feel that this is your boss; you can be honest and say if you’re having a good day or if you’re feeling down. We’ve got masks, sanitisers, and gloves that they’re providing – but I think this is the most important thing. You can buy masks, gloves and sanitisers, but you need this confidence in your managers and feeling that this will be ok.
Three of my housekeeping colleagues are shielding, and I know that this is not easy for them at all, so we still try to involve them in what happening. They’re at home, feeling guilty; I try to chat to them on the phone and reassure them.
Tell me about some of the more unusual situations that you’ve come across in housekeeping in your time at Unite Students and how you’ve responded to them.
After the last few years, there are no unusual situations really!
We’ve had pets; we’ve had students running out naked when we’ve done a kitchen clean. A few years ago, I was doing room inspections, and there was a girl sleeping – she had been working on a night shift. I had knocked a few times and she hadn’t answered, we’d let the students know we were doing inspections, so I went in – and she was sleeping very deeply, and her hairdryer was on under the covers! This scared me so much.
She explained that she had been cold when she’d come in from work, so she didn’t know what to do. I told her to buy a hot water bottle – don’t do that! That was unusual; it was a good thing I was there.
I’m Polish, so sometimes I find someone speaking Polish or asking where I’m from. The interaction with students is great. We’ve found massive sofas in the kitchens, where there’s no lift – how have they managed that? They don’t remember! Or like a Christmas tree – the students have got a great imagination and they’ve made Christmas trees with our yellow wet signs or road cones, with a smiley faces and lights and baubles, and they’re quite good you know! …as long as they tidy it up after Christmas.
What has most surprised you about your time working in housekeeping for Unite Students?
Sometimes the condition we find flats in is very surprising…! But the reactions of students is surprising – it’s very positive. We’ve got a variety of students from all around the world, and different countries and different cultures, different things brought into our accommodation, and this is surprising to me – it’s so interesting; you can’t have that in other jobs. We’ve got lots of activities, maybe not so much this year, but we’re still trying to have events that students can join and have fun with – Chinese New Year or Pancake Day.
It’s pretty amazing, you know. In the flats, there are different students working and living together, and it’s cool to watch them – especially when it’s September and you see people who are strangers to each other, but then over the year, you’ll see the friendships growing! It’s very lovely.
My final question, what’s one bit of advice that you would offer to anyone that wanted to work in housekeeping within student accommodation?
Don’t be sensitive to sick! [laughs]
Be open, have fun. Sometimes, when we’ve got new starters on their first day, it’s like, “Oh my God, I’m not gonna make it!” Now, just relax. You see, when I first started, I had never worked as a housekeeper before – but I have a daughter and I needed to work part time, so I thought this role would be good for me because it ticked my boxes. I thought, “I’ll have a go.” But I wasn’t sure I would make it at first – but I kept going, and it’s OK! Just don’t be scared.
Sometimes you’ve got a very busy day, and sometimes you can do all your tasks with time to spare. Just chill out and relax – well, not too much! But don’t stress yourself – if you’re stressed then the students will feel it, and your colleagues will feel it. Worrying doesn’t bring anything good.
Watch and read our previous Day In The Life interview here.