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I came into the office today and the first thing my manager asked me was is if I saw the 'floor people' while I was walking through the building. The reason he asked me this was because he had put in a request last week for our janitors to mop up and then re-wax the tile floor in our area this morning.

I told him that I thought it was rude to refer to them as 'floor people' but he disagreed and said there was nothing wrong with using this alias.

Is it rude to refer to janitors/custodians as 'floor people'?

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This may be subtle and comes down to inflection and intention. I suspect that your manager was not being rude but trying to refer succinctly to a particular trade.

If you were talking about a construction site you might talk about the "concrete people" or the "drywall people" to refer to the particular trades that were expert in those parts of the project. Those trades may have more precise professional nomenclature to them, but to an outsider it may be a useful shorthand that identifies the work without knowing the terminology. If your manager was talking about waxing the floor-- which is a skilled task that may also imply something beyond a regular custodial service-- then presumably he was using "floor people" as a shorthand for that skill.

You could, of course, also intend this phrase to be a form of deliberate (and surprisingly poetic!) put-down pun by using the physically "low" location of a floor as a metaphor for class or status. I don't know you or your manager but most people aren't jerks by default.

  • I see what you're saying. I'm someone who strongly believes that you always refer to people by their official job title, yet perhaps I'm being too over-sensitive to what my manager chooses to view them as. – HRIATEXP Jul 15 at 15:45
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    I would say that usually "floor people" would not refer to janitors in general, but specifically to people who work with floors, typically flooring installers/salesmen. But since the boss had specifically requested a floor maintenance ticket, he's more or less referring to whoever is supposed to come and work on the floor. – pboss3010 Jul 15 at 16:30
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    @HRIATEXP: The issue is more that you are inferring that it reveals how your manager views them. It only reveals how your manager refers to them, and that's meaningfully distinct. As a software developer, I make similar references to group of people such as "support people", "database people", ... and it wouldn't make sense for me to use their explicit title because who says that the group of people I'm referring to all have the exact same title? Whether you're a senior database architect or a junior database admin, you're both "database people" to non-database people. – Flater Jul 16 at 11:27
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    Thank you for this answer, internet guy. – JiK Jul 16 at 15:14
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    This matches my experience. "Floor people" should be taken to mean "the people who do floors" or "the people who were here to see to our floor", and nothing more. If you've put in a request to do something to the floor, then the people who do that can reasonably be referred to as the "floor people" without any derogatory connotations. Of course, it can be said in a way that is intended to be insulting or belittling, but that's about tone and context; the term itself isn't inherently rude - or at least, not to my mind. Some may resent being labelled this way, but in general it's quite common. – anaximander Jul 16 at 16:00
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It depends on the implication. If you assume "floor" to be a metaphor for "the lowest strata" or "beneath my feet" then certainly, it's derogatory.

However, I don't think this was your manager's intention. Instead, in his question, "floor people" is an ellipsis of

the people whose job it is to clean the floor

This use is much the same as saying "the printer guy" or "the cleaning lady", and so it's not meant as derogatory. Nevertheless it is somewhat insensitive, in that it can be easily misinterpreted.

Note that it can be rude also to talk about people by their function rather than their job title, but again this is highly context-dependent. For example it would be familiar, but not derogatory, to say something like

You should go see Dr. Wallace, he's the top heart man in the country.

  • I agree with this. I just hope that when they show up and are working in our area, that my manager doesn't say something like 'you floor people did a great job of re-waxing the floor'. – HRIATEXP Jul 15 at 15:48
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    @HRIATEXP Yes, that would be rude. I might jokingly respond, "Sorry sir, but I'm not a "floor person". I'm a "floor professional". – Andrew Jul 15 at 15:50
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    @Andrew: As a genuine response, "and floor professionals aren't people?" – Flater Jul 16 at 11:28
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    A better retort might be "happy to help you desk-people (smile)" – RedGrittyBrick Jul 16 at 15:52
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    @RedGrittyBrick Sure, but that goes back to nuance. My statement is me elevating my own job, not demeaning someone else's, particularly someone with authority. It's fun to be smart, but in some cases better to tread lightly. Of course, this depends on the situation. Many companies can be very protective of their custodial staff, because they've worked at the company a long time and have friends, or because reliable and trustworthy employees are hard to find. It's more a question for The Workplace. – Andrew Jul 16 at 15:55
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I agree with the other answers that your manager meant "the floor people" as a neutral way to refer to the people whose specific task was to clean the floor as requested. I want to add something to that:

he had put in a request last week for our janitors to mop up and then re-wax the tile floor in our area this morning.

It's important to your manager that this floor gets cleaned and re-waxed soon. By saying "the floor people" instead of "the janitors" he's indicating that he wants to know specifically whether you saw anyone working on the floor.

Also, re-waxing a floor is a specialized job that your usual janitors might not have the equipment and training for; so he might have been wondering whether you saw different people than usual.

  • both he and I know all the janitors/custodians in our building and we both know that they are the only ones who clean and wax the floors throughout the building. – HRIATEXP Jul 16 at 17:09
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    I agree with this--I'd assume he meant "The people that he had asked to cleane the floor". Any other day I bet he would have said "The Janitors". If I (a programmer) was supposed to go pick up a friend's car, he might ask his roommate if he spoke with the "Car Guy", I wouldn't be surprised at all--he was identifying me by my expected function in the person's context, that's all. – Bill K Jul 16 at 23:13
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I want to refer to some additional information you wrote in comment below an answer from zwol:

both he and I know all the janitors/custodians in our building and we both know that they are the only ones who clean and wax the floors throughout the building

Sounds like there are few janitors and also sounds like you both know their names. Personal interaction is not what it was 50 years ago, you can notice this if you travel to a small town. Also on big cities social classes are bonded strongly into every person, and we tend to minimize and accept some degree of rudeness related to social classes ('work harder to raise your social class' thinking). We maximize the effort we had done to get where we are, and minimize the luck/destiny/birthright priviledges we started with.

On the other side, social media is great to make big noise onto any little detail and tricking specific context relative truth onto world wide truth.

Summarizing, my opinion is that it was rude, if you know their personal name, anything else below that is despective, but let others be and behave according to their own life experience. I clap your courage to tell him your opinion but don't dig into ways to force him change his. Just keep your own conscience good and clear by being yourself enough polite with everyone. Share your opinions, give first advices to anyone you feel you can help fix mistakes and then 'Let it be'.

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    On the other hand, even if the boss knows that Alice, Bob, and Clara are all working today and are all capable of working on the floor, he may not know which - specifically - will perform the work. And asking whether OP saw "Alice, Bob, or Clara" does not answer what the boss really wants to know: "Has anyone begun working on the floor yet?" – GalacticCowboy Jul 17 at 21:05
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I think it should be made clear that in English usage floor person is never used in any sense other than 'person with some function connected with a floor'. There is no connotation of lowly status, (and no connotation of high class in ceiling person). It's just a factual description.

  • What you say is true; however, the word floor has at least three specialized meanings besides the tiled and carpeted areas we walk on. Legislators, stock traders, and factory workers are all said to work on "the floor" (as per meanings 4, 6, and 15 in Collins). It's that last one that might cause one to perceive some derogatory slight in the term "floor people" – although in this case I neither see any rudeness conveyed nor believe any was intended. I think the boss merely meant what you said here. – J.R. Jul 18 at 20:52
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It's not disrespectful, we use floor staff / floor people as alias to front facing people on store and shops like sales person, marketing guy or receptionist.

  • so when a customer enters your store/shop and asks to speak to a sales person, do you tell that customer 'okay, I'll ask one of our floor staff to come help you' or do you say instead 'okay, I'll ask one of our sales people to come help you' ? – HRIATEXP Jul 18 at 22:33
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    @HRIATEXP Data on "floor walker" v. "floor people" v. "floor staff". Of course they pale in comparison to "sales representative" since ~1920. I think pboss3010's explanation gives the best excuse. – Michael E2 Jul 18 at 23:01

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