I’ve worked in facilities management for more than 30 years but I still remember what a consultant said in my early years as a helpdesk manager: the facilities department is a necessary evil.
I was attending an FM meeting with 150 colleagues when the external consultant conducting the meeting said this to us. He was explaining how the company I worked for could no longer supply a ‘Rolls Royce’ service to the 2,500 staff members on site.
Of course, I understood that controlling costs was important to the company’s bottom line. But FM being a necessary evil? Why would he say that and what did he mean?
He said the FM department costs the company money, staff don’t create revenue or help with sales, and they don't boost share prices. Well, if he wanted to de-motivate 150 people in under five minutes then mission accomplished!
I was in my early 20s and didn’t yet have a well-rounded opinion on FM, so I took his comments at face value. Looking back I realise he was naive and misguided. Why look at FM’s cost instead of how it enhances a company?
Consider the HVAC engineer who fixes the air conditioning so the staff can enjoy favourable working conditions; the lift engineer who keeps the lift going so staff on the upper floors don’t have to climb the stairs; the cleaner who keeps the floor areas looking great; the photocopier maintenance personnel who ensure staff’s reports can being printed and sent out.
I could go on but you get the point. I haven’t heard the ‘necessary evil’ comment since that day, but my concern is that FMs are still regarded that way in some sectors – even if this opinion isn’t openly voiced. I’m happy to see our profile being raised at certain times – the recent pandemic is a perfect example of this; however, in my mind, we have a long way to go.
FM’s are employed from a variety of backgrounds such as school leavers, armed forces, receptionists and office managers. This is great but, once employed, they are often left without guidance or training on formal working systems. The expectation is for them to just get on with it. No surprise that morale, motivation and attitude suffer.
FM may not be everyone’s first choice of career, but it is our collective responsibility to help to the best of our ability all who enter our world. We need to guide, nurture and encourage them. Get this right and we will produce an even higher calibre of FMs that will be proud of what they do, and why they do it.
Who knows, facilities management may even be seen as the perfect asset to an employer and not a necessary evil.
Mark Teverson, CIWFM Tech IOSH, PIEMA