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Team Member winner’s FM journey and life lessons lead to promotion

26 January 2022

Following his dramatic personal journey to the UK and winning the PFM Awards 2021 Team Member trophy, Silence Tjivella is now celebrating promotion with his employer ISS.

Silence Tjivella’s on-stage comments following his PFM Awards 2021 Team Member trophy presentation saw him receive a standing ovation, further supporting the feedback from the awards’ independent judges who reported “He made us laugh – and he made us cry” during his interview.

His personal journey provides many examples of his determination to triumph from the trauma of being a refugee from Libya and arriving in the UK in 2003.

Mr Tjivella has not only completed a degree course in business law since then, but is also studying for a global finance law PhD.

These achievements alone provide considerable support to his comments that more attention be devoted to all members of staff, including those within the cleaning team, to understand their characters and motivations.

Following his PFM Awards success last November, he has been promoted to the role of assistant operations manager, with his duties including the management of cleaning colleagues.

His first experience of the FM sector came through an employment agency and his work as a part-time kitchen porter to fund his studies.

Having joined ISS in August 2020, he initially worked as a cleaner in three bank branches in Liverpool, with the efforts of the team recognised as assisting in keeping branch staff safe while completing their duties.

Mr Tjivella’s PFM Awards 2021 standing ovation resulted from his comments on the value provided by the cleaning team and he is a strong advocate for recognising the fact that many cleaning teams and individuals are frequently left to work on their own initiative.

”To understand anyone, you need to understand where they are coming from with dignity and see their value,” he says.

He shares more details of his personal journey to illustrate this: “I’m a refugee. I came to England from Libya through Lampedusa in the middle of the Mediterranean ocean to get to Europe. I was stuck in a migrant camp.

"Trying to get to the UK was an experience that many have not had. I have seen things that many people here have not seen.

“At the moment when I put my foot on the boat and looked out into the ocean, I said ‘I’m already dead I might as well try’. That level of acceptance and understanding of yourself brings a different way of thinking; I appreciate every little moment of every single day,” he states.

“If someone gave me a stone and said: ‘I’m trusting you to look after this’, I would spend the same passion that I would to look after a child.

"I have a drive to work hard when given an opportunity. If I was a president, I would use the same energy as now when I’m a cleaner. I feel it inside, but it is hard to explain,” Mr Tjivella continues.

“We can push people from the ground up, there are many more people like me waiting to be discovered. Refugees coming over here need to feel they are valued.

“If you train and empower them, and incentivise them, they will feel valued and they will work even harder. They will stay in jobs longer and work with pride.”

He further states that much more could be done to make cleaners feel more valued and supported, including increased levels of interaction with clients. This could assist in reducing staff turnover and the feelings of loneliness experienced by cleaners.

“I know the clients are busy but a connection between us and the client is so important. Out of this comes a better understanding and sometimes improvements to the work and outcomes,” says Mr Tjivella.

“Cleaners are the people who get things done. They are the bedrock and foundation and need to feel part of the family.”

His experiences in travelling to work in Liverpool during the pandemic lockdown provide further proof of his dedication and strong character, particularly when he was stopped by police officers prior to receiving his key worker status letter.

“I said to the police officer that I worked for a big client and if I don’t go and look after these people then they may get sick and die. I told him that I have to keep these people safe and that I am protecting their families also.

“The policeman said: ‘You’re just one guy.’ I said: ‘Yes, but I am one dedicated guy and passionate about what I do’ and he let me go.”

Mr Tjivella believes the cleaning team is the fabric and backbone of an FM company and needs “to be valued more and recognised for the hard work and the value they bring”.

Silence Tjivella (centre) with fellow PFM Awards winners Steve Gladwin (left) and Jack Prady (right)

He recommends a number of changes, including that of improving payment models which are “out of touch” and cause hardship for many cleaning operatives.

More effort needs to be devoted to reduce the feeling of isolation, such as a weekly call, combined with initiatives to ensure dignity and respect, he says.

“The FM sector need to make more effort to understand the people who work for them and not just see them as cleaners. One has to understand the dynamics and background of the those who are a key part of the work force,” he says.

Mr Tjivella says the London Underground staff provide an example of how a workforce not only reflects the diversity of the local community but also become a key part in the organisation’s identity: “The people trusted and empowered to serve commuters, to be their point of contact.”

His reaction to winning the PFM Partnership Awards Team Member 2021 trophy is strongly emotive: “I still have the train ticket in my wallet. My life changed,” he says.

Noticing the senior level of attendees at the event, Mr Tjivella says he felt “almost intimidated” and credits ISS head of branch network Luke McDonagh as reassuring him by saying: “Relax, let’s do this.”

“We should invite more cleaners to these events, they inspire people and show that there are opportunities for progress. People like me are just not discussed enough,” he says. “I was moved when everyone took notice and listened to my speech. It humbles me and inspires me to exceed even further.”

Since his promotion, Mr Tjivella has suspended his PhD studies to focus on his new role and the value he feels he can provide: “I think from cleaner to manager I can make an impact and I’m not going to be shy about processes and procedures that I think can be made better, like how we order products to clean and how wages are processed. In fact, I understand more where they are coming from,” he says.

He further explains he wants “to be the glue” in making his colleagues feel more valued, unlock talent and bring more pride to the workplace, which will give the client the best possible service and exceed their expectations.

“I will be in better positions to advocate better relationships and communication between top and middle management and the cleaners. It is important to speak with people on the ground and connect in their natural environment.

“The key is to make cleaners part of the overall family and not make them feel distanced. Train them and equip them to unlock talent and reward hard work consistently.”

Mr Tjivella says he would definitely encourage others to join the FM sector: “There is great talent out there. There are individuals with passion and dedication. They are just waiting to be discovered.”


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