Household help

I have been writing this blog every week for the past 66 weeks! And for the first time, I recently received a request from a reader… could you write something about hiring and working with household help?

While this was always a hot topic of conversation when we lived in India, since the girls have been in full time school I haven’t had any domestic help at home, so it’s a topic I had quite literally forgotten about! 

But when the request came through, it didn’t take long for all those memories (some brilliant, and some just damn awful) to resurface. In fact, in Delhi I was part of a group who ran workshops for potential domestic staff and expat employers – trying to bridge the gap between expectations and actual delivery. At the time, I also developed some templates for interviewing and hiring domestic staff.

In our years abroad, I have had some brilliant help around the home and with the girls. I have also kissed a lot of frogs… the worst experiences being when Madam S was born and Miss J was 22 months. Geeta is a beautiful soul, and such a caring lady, but she doesn’t speak any English. I had to go into Delhi to pay some money, Miss J was terribly ill and I couldn’t take the girls with me. Geeta had been with us a few weeks, she knew where things were and I trusted her with the girls. So I showed her the clock, and poured the medicine… give this at this time. Except she didn’t understand me, by the time I got back Miss J was in a horrendous state. We discovered the next day she had Typhoid. Poor Geeta was so upset, but we both realised the situation would not work long term.

The next lady, Sashi, begged for a ‘loan’ to pay for school uniforms for her kids. But disappeared the next day, and wasn’t seen again for many months, when I quite literally bumped into her at another ladies home where we were for a playdate. No effort to apologise or return the money!

So, Margaret joined us. Except it turned out she didn’t actually want the job and was doing things to sabotage it. When I asked her to give Madam S her bottle of milk while I helped Miss J, I watched Madam S wretching herself away from the bottle. “What’s wrong with the milk?” I asked… “Maybe too hot mam”… “Why too hot?”… Then I realised she’d made the bottle with the kettle which I had just boiled for a cup of tea! 

And then we found Mimi. I had to ask my husband to meet her and give me a second opinion, because she seemed an angel! She was a lovely girl to have helping our family, and in return I taught her to cook, bake, I paid for her to do first aid training and have art classes, and the most priceless thing we did for Mimi – we got her a passport. She has since joined a family who literally travel the world… she’s been more places that I have!

So, hiring domestic help is not a process to be taken lightly. You need good references, and you need to double check the references… especially if they are assisting with child care. 

But, hiring and working with domestic help is more than that, it’s a privilege and an important role in the economics of women that should be taken very seriously. For many of these women (or men in some countries) they have left their families in the villages, or abroad, to come and work for a better life. While I have highlighted a few of our dramas above, it is critical that you as an employer, work hard to ensure the relationship is successful.

Here’s my top tips for hiring domestic help:

  • Be very clear about your expectations, what, in exact words, do you want help with
  • If you have set hours of work, ensure this is communicated in a number of ways, verbally and in writing, to ensure there is no confusion 
  • Understand that culturally, what you may think is normal is not acceptable for many. For example, don’t expect your help to sit at the table and eat in front of you. For many, they wont even use the same bathroom that you use
  • If you want help with cleaning, show them exactly how you want it done. Don’t assume that pointing at the cleaning spray and the shower means they know what to do or how to use it
  • When it comes to cooking for your family, be very clear about what your family likes and dislikes and how you want things done
  • Where childcare is concerned, check and double check. Ensure you have the same understanding of the words you are using. Do not assume anything!

What are your top tips for hiring domestic help? Please do share in the comments. 

In addition, I have some templates for interviewing and hiring domestic staff that you may be interested in downloading

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