It doesn’t matter if you believe in ghosts if it’s creating a problem for your staff or your clients.
The conversations about ghosts or that “feeling of being watched” go back almost three years in the ARCSI LinkedIn group; a quick search for “ghost” will bring up one of the earliest threads by veteran cleaning service owner Aileen Johnston of Cinderella Housekeeping Services in Columbus, OH.
Now while that funny and sometimes hair-raising experience makes quite a good tale – and we’re sharing a few here – the way a cleaning service owner navigates such a situation is often much more commonplace and grounded in sound logic and thorough policy.
Owner: Kris Koenig
Company: Natura Clean
Story: In Madison we have some older neighborhoods with beautiful houses with a lot of character and some unique characters that still unexpectedly pay a visit. Our first encounter was several years ago when I used to clean regularly. My employee and I had been cleaning this home for several years, and there were always noises going on in the house, but the homeowner had a German Shorthair Pointer and several cats, so we never thought that the noises were from anything other than the pets.
Then one day I was upstairs dusting the trim of a closet door. My employee was downstairs in the kitchen. The dog, who rarely went upstairs, came and stood beside me and pointed into the closet and started growling and then barking at something in the back of the closet. It was an old home, so I thought maybe he heard a squirrel or mouse in the wall beyond the clothes. My employee is a very quiet person and never says very much. He was silent the entire time we were loading the car.
When we got several blocks away he told me that at the time that the dog was barking a gray shape of a man formed right next to him and then went away! He was so white and scared when he told me this, so I knew he wasn’t joking. We never had another encounter in that house and I never told the owners. What if we were the only ones who saw this and they thought we were crazy?
Then several weeks ago, a team member told me that his coworker saw a person at the top of the stairs go from one room to another. They were finishing up vacuuming and mopping downstairs. He was really shaken and my fear was that he or the other employee might quit or refuse to clean that house again, so what do I do? I and a long-time employee already survived our experience and had a great story to tell, so the next morning I decided to welcome these two employees to the club!
Policy: I have an unwritten policy that employees don’t get to decide if they want to or don’t want to clean a home. And clients don’t get to decide if they do or don’t want a specific cleaner. I don’t want a scheduling nightmare with employees dictating the schedule. Also, when clients want a different cleaner, it’s usually a training issue. The cleaner may not be cleaning things that they should, and so I tell the clients that I can’t switch teams, but I will happily do additional training with their team so that they are happy. So when someone encounters a ghost, we want them to feel like it’s a great story to tell and not a big scary deal, and they don’t even think about telling me that they won’t go back to a house.
In our daily staff meeting we talked about our experience from several years ago and they talked about theirs: a white misty shape of a woman walking across the hall into the nursery. Instead of treating it as something scary, we treated it as a rite of passage and a cool club to get into. No special paranormal policies are needed; I just want them to treat it like another day at the office.
Owner: Trina McCarthy
Company: McCarthy’s Home Services
Story: One of my long-time technicians, Shannon Malone, recounted her experiences in one of our regular homes: There is a house in Cincinnati, Ohio that I believe is haunted. I first noticed something was odd when I heard what sounded like knocking and voices. My co-worker was with me and heard it, too. We were the only people in the house. We went to check the front door, but no one was there. Then we started hearing random knocking, but it was coming from the walls, not the door!
On another occasion, I realized that it wasn’t just in my head. A co-worker and I were changing the linens in the master bedroom. All of a sudden the lamp started shaking. At first I thought the headboard was hitting the wall or table, but it wasn’t! It went on for a few minutes, and then just stopped. Then, we started to hear knocking coming from the wall where the headboard was. I was curious and knocked back. There was more knocking by whatever or whoever it was.
It was quiet the next few times we were in the house, but every now and then something strange would happen. Besides the knocking and things shaking on occasion, doors that I knew were open would shut by themselves. There would be no explanation such as a window being open for a breeze to blow it closed. The doors in the house are very heavy and old. They usually do not close properly and are the old kind of doors that take skeleton keys. Of course, there were never any keys in the keyholes. On this particular occasion, a door that would never close properly, closed completely by itself and it had a key in the keyhole! On the next visit, I tried to close the door, but was unable to shut it completely. I tried and tried, pushed and pushed, but it would not shut!
I don’t know why these things happen at this house. There is no logical explanation. The one thing I do know, when I clean this home, I am not alone!
Policy: For managing situations with paranormal elements, I really don’t have any formal policies; who’d think that you should need one?
Our workplace safety protocols address any situation where a worker feels “unsafe,” which could certainly include feeling watched by ghosts. My staff are instructed to leave an unsafe situation immediately and to call me directly to explain.
As for Shannon and the ghost house, she is okay with going there as long as she’s with another technician. Though we are a solo model cleaning company, I have been able to accommodate this request.
Owner: Aileen Johnston
Company: Cinderella Housekeeping Services
Story: Over the 25 years we’ve been in the residential cleaning business, there have been several instances where we’ve encountered ghosts, but one that stands out in my mind is the following incident:
I had a favorite client for whom I cleaned as well as house and pet sat for years. It is a lovely 8,600 sq. ft. home situated in a remote area, quiet and surrounded by trees. The house itself it only about 20 years old, so I personally think that the ghost is more on the land than in the house, but I could be wrong because I definitely insulted the ghost and it let me know that in no uncertain terms.
One evening about 8:00 or so, I was housesitting for this client and leaning on the island, looking out the kitchen windows, talking on the phone to a friend of mine. I don’t know what brought it up, but we were discussing the house. I admit I was being a bit “snarky” and made the statement that the house didn’t have any personality; that it was bland and colorless. I said that it was too bad because, as nice a house as it was, so much could be done with it to make it stunning and warmer.
As soon as those words left my mouth, a window divider from above the kitchen sink came flying across the room from about 8 feet away, knocking over a delicate hand-blown glass chicken that was on the windowsill and smashing it to pieces; then the divider hit the island with a crash not far from where I was standing. It definitely did not just fall; it was propelled with force. Later, when I thought about it, I found it interesting that it was the divider from the only window where there was an expensive nick-knack sitting on the sill; the other sills were empty. Was the ghost trying to make a more dramatic point?
To say I was shocked speechless is an understatement! Did I really just see what I know I saw?
My friend heard the crash, my surprised yell and then silence, and anxiously asked me what happened. I said, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you; I don’t believe it myself!” But, of course, I did tell her once I was able to process what I’d just experienced.
Policy: I’ll tell you this: I never again said anything unkind about that house when I was there. It was obvious that whatever that presence was, IT liked the house just fine and was not happy with my comments.
My policy for handling special requests from my cleaners is to consider them on a case by case basis. I don’t have a specific list because I’ve never been asked about anything truly unusual.
The hardest part was trying to explain to my clients how that expensive handblown glass chicken got smashed into a million pieces without revealing exactly what had happened, and that their home was occupied by a defensive ghost!