Settling Your Domestic helper

Baby’s on the way or an older individual is moving into or living in your home

These are just 2 of the common events that trigger the search for a domestic helper. Employing a domestic helper is not a small expense. It frequently involves more than the cost of the maid agency’s fees and upfront payment of the maid’s loan (refunded to you through 6 months’ salary deduction as she works for you), government’s levy and insurance, her salary, food and lodging. Here are some things to bear in mind when hiring a new domestic helper. Opinion is garnered from my own experience hiring domestic help in Singapore.

  • Prioritise your requirements of her skills. As her employer, if you have not done so before selecting her and applying for her work permit, please discuss amongst yourselves and make a list of the family’s priorities. Which of these skills rank top? Is it childcare, elder-care, cooking and marketing, housekeeping skills, pet care, gardening or others? Are your expectations realistic given her exposure and past training and experience, bearing in mind that a workday consists of only that many hours? As the family unit grows in age and perhaps size, this list has to be tweaked. Besides the lady of the house and the helper, who else can help to fulfil these skills? Perhaps some part time help can be employed to help ease stress during difficult times or some part or aspect of house work be out-sourced?
  • The need to train. My experience confirms that despite the maid agencies’ usual assurances that your helper has been trained to use basic electrical appliances and knows the elementary rudiments of housekeeping, childcare and cooking; from the employer’s point of view their knowledge is very far from adequate and is at best most elementary. Hence, I cannot overemphasize the importance of investing of time, love and patience in ensuring that both your helper and you have a good understanding of your expectations and her ability. This is the first and foundational step in building an effective partnership which brings harmony to your home. Both hers and your effort will be handsomely rewarded. We all desire a true “helper” who effectively acts as our proxy in many situations – that extra pair of eyes, ears and hands. How then do we reach this goal? I have covered some skills that are usual to expect from a domestic helper on this website (go to DOMESTIC HELP –> SKILLS).

Over the years I have updated what I have been practising through research on the Internet and books.  Comparing various websites (e.g., Better Homes & Gardens, Martha Stewart, Real Simple), other blogs and watching YouTube video clips have helped me to zero in on salient teaching points. I have also made comparisons to pick up and test new suggestions.

Video clips are great teaching tools. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, where possible, I have included suggested links to those websites and you-tube video clips which I think contains enough teaching instructions to create a better grasp of that skill. Nonetheless, these are just teaching tools. Resist the temptation to just let her watch the video clips by herself. Raise questions after. You should always instruct clearly and simply. At all times, teach in a gentle, happy manner and be patient.

  • Importance of employing her as early as possible. If you can, try to start your helper’s employment at least a fortnight to a month prior to this major event in your lives even though you will be incurring higher costs. If she has never worked outside of her home country, this initial training period should be no less than a month to reach a basic understanding and to enable her to overcome her homesickness.
  • Enable helper and you to understand each other. This extra introductory period enables your helper, who comes from an enormously different background, to adjust to and to understand your lifestyle. Similarly it allows you to understand how she thinks and learns. We live in a bustling and fast- paced cosmopolitan city. In comparison, your helper may come from a small village where life moves along at a different and slower pace or she may come from the capital city of her homeland where she has acquired city-life skills. Her different cultural and religious background frequently leads to behaviour that is not totally familiar to you.

What is the level of her education, high school, vocational or tertiary? What was her job prior to this one? What is her true biological age? What values had been emphasized in her family environment? Her mother tongue is also different than yours. Her view of life and how to achieve her goals may be simpler or just different from yours. Many come without much knowledge of what is expected from them as a domestic helper and some come out of pure curiosity and a foolhardy idea of having fun in a big city. Many from her home-town would have worked or are working in your country and they have or would have formed their opinions of the different types of employers and shared opinions of how to deal with overly demanding employers and conflicts. Frequently, she comes with a huge financial burden on her shoulders, having incurred high costs in agency fees and in all cases, she is expected to support her family members and desires to save for her own future needs through this new job. 

Many employers are attracted to taking on a transfer maid or someone who has had a stint here or elsewhere as a domestic helper since she has had time to adjust to leaving home, cultural and language differences. These are good advantages but you will nonetheless have to take steps to ensure that your desired roles for her are clearly explained and followed so that you hone her acquired skills but at the same time iron out habits that you do not appreciate. Each household is run in a different manner with a different list of priorities. Have a chat with her previous employer to find out what were the issues that caused the transfer. Financial difficulties in the previous employer’s household? Was it an incompatibility of personalities, lack of understanding and clear instruction? Was it an act of defiance or dishonesty? Was it caused by extenuating circumstances? Not all are willing to give an absolutely honest answer.

  • Create a happy environment. Whatever may be her background and past work experience, she is facing the daunting task of meeting your requirements in a short time. She is required to understand your instructions, learn, remember and execute her duties well to gain your trust and confidence. No small task. So much patience from both of you, clear instructions from you and your fair judgement are always required. Ensure that she has had enough rest. Expressions of gratitude, smiles, encouraging statements and affirmation of the effort put in by both parties always smooths out kinks in any situation. Recognise new acquired skills with perhaps small presents, salary increments. Consider year end bonuses.
  • If there are other children and older members in your family, instruct and encourage them to respect her and treat her with love and patience too. Read about the helper’s country; her religion, culture and food. They have also to realise that you are the one who gives the main instructions and is the sole arbiter of all conflicts. Your authority should be upheld under all circumstances and their behaviour and words should never contradict nor undermine your authority. Allow your new helper to spend time talking with these family members before rushing her off to do the housework.
  • Preparation of her room and welcome. Have you set aside her cupboard, bed, pillow and blanket with sheets? Even those who have had prior working experience here or elsewhere do arrive at the agency with just a small hand-carry luggage filled with only 2 or 3 sets of clothes and a pair of foot wear which is likely only a pair of slippers.

In my experience the first show of my concern for her welfare and a good gesture of my respect for her has been to give her a welcome package consisting of:

  • a set of toiletries (a mug, toothbrush, toothpaste, body and facial soap and hair shampoo)
  • hairbrush, comb, nail clipper, bath and face towels
  • slippers and one pair of footwear for going out (you can estimate her size from her height stated in her bio-data or take her out after she arrives to purchase these items)
  • her own drinking mug and a tin of biscuits
  • a large pack of sanitary pads
  • 3 sets of helper’s uniforms or short sleeved T shirts and mid length pants (It is your decision which you prefer here. Culottes are very suitable)
  • an umbrella
  • a torchlight in case you have a power failure
  • an alarm clock
  • ball pens and an exercise book so that she can write down your special instructions
  • a diary or a calender

and to allow her to make a short phone call home so that her family members know that she is well and with her new employers. This gesture has always been well received.

It takes time, patience and effort by both the helper and the employer and his family members to create strong bonds. A good sense of humour does the trick.

A transfer may be inevitable. I have to admit that these are all tips which have worked for me 90% of the time. If after a trial period of 3 to 6 months (check your contract with your agency to see what their is their time limit for transfers) and despite all effort, your helper is not performing her duties, is unable to perform, or has breached your house rules consistently then you have to make a change of helpers.

Recent personal experience

My daughter’s baby is due in less than a month! Family and friends had recommended their maid agencies. After visiting 2 agencies, she and her spouse made their decision. Her helper arrived 5 days ago. Both she and her husband welcomed her helper following what I had advised in the above paragraphs (yes, it is rewarding for me to know that). They both have busy schedules so both my current helper (who has been with us for almost 6 years) and I have been tasked to help her settle down. A great responsibility but my own helper is so kind, excited and proud to be asked. We have had several discussions on how to do this.

One of the most important consideration is to ensure that my own helper doesn’t feel threatened and is respected by someone new. We have to bear in mind that all of us are members of a bigger team.

I ran through all my own advice and tweaked it with my own current environment. I do one suggestion to make regarding this matter of helping her to settle down. Marking out what is stored in cupboards would be helpful for a new helper especially if you should have many cupboards and wardrobes. If masking tape will not damage your cupboards and wardrobes or purchase a type that is gentle on wood or painted surfaces.

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4 responses to “Settling Your Domestic helper

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