For any Hong Kong expat family, it is not uncommon to find that your domestic helper seems unhappy about the state of things and the working conditions at home. Have you encountered a similar situation? Is your domestic helper showing signs that suggest she is not happy with the work and her working conditions? Are you feeling uneasy about how to deal with the situation? If this sort of scenario is creating an unhappy atmosphere in your home, you may need some help on how to do something about it.
To deal with an unhappy domestic helper and to ensure an agreeable and pleasant atmosphere, I would like to suggest some basic yet necessary principles and tips when you employ a Hong Kong domestic helper in your home.
Make the job responsibilities clear at the outset
People often forget to provide the specific details of the job responsibilities when employing a domestic helper. Families will often tend to tell her about the overall nature of the work she is expected to do but miss some of the finer details. This, in the long run, can cause problems as the helper may think she is being expected to do things she should not be required to do.
When providing details of her job responsibilities at the very beginning, always make clear the working hours and the kind of labour involved. Going over the details may be time-consuming at the beginning, but in the long run, you are actually gaining greater peace of mind.
Always pay her on time
This is one of the common issues that silently eats away at confidence and mutual trust in your relationship with a domestic helper. Remember, domestic helpers in cosmopolitan and modern cities like Hong Kong often struggle to make ends meet, as living costs in this part of the world are very high. Moreover, paying your helper in a timely manner makes them feel more responsible and committed to their work, while any delay in payment can make them more feel less conscientious. Over time, this can contribute to dissatisfaction and an uncaring attitude. So if you want to be at peace with your helper, always pay her within the time frame you have specified.
Avoid lending excessive amounts of money
Many of us have experienced this — despite paying your maid regularly and on time, you may find her requesting an advance to meet some emergency cost. In this situation, you will no doubt want to help. However, it is good practice not to do this as a salary advance. This is because she may find it difficult to get back on even terms, while deducting repayments from her salary may also cause hardship. Therefore, instead of lending salary in advance, provide a sum of money to meet the emergency cost and make separate repayment arrangements, without deducting it from her salary.
This is one vital aspect that, unfortunately, some many families are lacking in. They don’t consider their domestic helpers as professional workers, and this attitude then shows in their day-to-day behavior. A domestic helper who has been treated with disrespect is more likely to become stubborn, unwilling and untrustworthy. Over time, this can destroy the warmth and mutual trust in your relationship with your helper. You need to make sure that all family members, including children, understand that helpers are professionals and that they accordingly deserve respect.
Avoid quarrels and damaged egos
Many quarrels in a domestic setting can take an emotional turn, and people can end up hurting each other’s feelings. These sorts of heated quarrels can cause permanent damage and become the root of unhappiness and distrust. It is no different with a domestic helper. If you see that a conversation in which you have a difference of opinion is slowly heating up, postpone the conversation to another time instead of continuing with it. By using angry words with your helper, you can lose her trust forever.
Never bring your helper into family disputes
It is not uncommon for a domestic helper to suddenly and unwittingly find herself in the middle of a dispute among members of the family. If she is witness to or gets dragged into hostile conversations or disputes, it can ruin her confidence and make her uncertain about her job prospects. If such a situation arises, allow your domestic helper to retire to her room or to get on with her work elsewhere. Maintain a respectful distance with your helper, while always making her feel at home.
Give her some personal space
Your domestic helper will likely be at home for more time than any other member of the family. They take care of a lot of things that ensure you and your family have free time. Do you, in turn, facilitate some personal space and time for her? Do you allow her to have some free time for phone calls, meeting friends, watching TV or even playing games with the kids? If not, your helper is very likely to be unhappy at home and may be desperate for some room to breathe. For resident domestic helpers, it is always advisable to ensure that she has an entirely separate place in which to sleep and keep her private belongings in order, and just to have time apart from the family.
A final note
All of the above is essentially about having a respectful attitude towards your domestic helper. When you treat her as a professional and stick to the guidelines above, your helper is far less likely to have an unhelpful or careless attitude.
Edouard Muller is a French entrepreneur working in the Hive Sai Kung. He is the founder of HelperPlace – a leading platform to find the right domestic helper in Hong Kong.