MANY companies complain about difficulty in finding local workers for service-related jobs, but perhaps nowhere is the crisis more evident than at the posh Royal Plaza on Scotts, where even top executives sometimes wield a toilet brush and a vacuum cleaner.

The five-star business hotel in the heart of Orchard Road has asked its back-office staff to clean their own workspaces so the housekeeping department can focus solely on guest rooms and public areas.

The 78 staff in departments such as sales, marketing, human resources and information technology now take turns to vacuum their own offices, empty wastepaper baskets and even clean the office toilets - for no extra pay.

Managers, including general manager Patrick Fiat, are not exempt.

The initiative began two months ago as the labour crunch in housekeeping became dire, he said.

"The guest rooms are supposed to be ready for check-in at noon, but sometimes guests have to wait until 4pm or 5pm. This happens maybe five or six times a week."

The hotel now employs 15 per cent fewer staff than it has budgeted for.

"The worst-affected department is housekeeping, where we have enough staff now for an average occupancy of 70 per cent, but we are running at around 90 per cent occupancy on average," Mr Fiat said.

The labour shortage is a result of two factors - a sharp increase in the number of hotels here and the Government's move to tighten the supply of foreign labour.

Royal Plaza participates in job fairs and holds recruitment drives targeted at locals every two to three months, but it is hard to get Singaporeans to take up housekeeping jobs.

Its latest local hire in housekeeping took seven months to find and recruit.

The crunch is so bad that managers have had to call on staff from the engineering, security and front-office departments to help with housekeeping.

They do simple things that do not require training, such as stripping away bed linen, clearing rubbish and putting fresh towels in the bathrooms.

In his 16 years of working at Royal Plaza, engineering supervisor Chua Boon Kin had never had to do such tasks until last month, when he was asked to help redo more than 10 guest rooms.

"I am happy to help out. I've worked here so long and it takes only about five minutes for each room," said the 51-year-old.

While the housekeeping team was complaining about its workload, the back-office staff were starting to murmur that their offices were not being cleaned regularly.

Mr Fiat said he put two and two together and one morning called a meeting of the office staff and presented them with vacuum cleaners.

The move was not about cutting costs, he insisted.

The hotel could have hired external contractors to do the office cleaning, but this would have been "an easy way out", he said.

"To me, it was more to send a message that we are all together in the same boat and we have to help one another.

"There's no point complaining or moaning, let's work together."

Associate sales director Josephine Lim, 35, said the 14 people in her office have a "buddy" system where they are grouped in pairs and take turns to vacuum the floor and clean the pantry each week.

This means each person does these tasks only once every seven weeks.

"We take turns bringing home the cleaning rags from the pantry to wash and bring them back after the weekend," she said.

The regular cleaning sessions have turned out to be quite a good bonding experience, she added.

"All the sales staff tend to go out for meetings most of the time so we barely see one another, but now I've found out, for example, that my buddy likes fishing, which I never knew."