It takes a special person with a brave soul to agree to live and work in someone else’s home – often without a clear idea of what’s expected and what the living and working conditions will be like. At the same time, it also takes a brave soul to welcome someone they don’t know into their home to live and work – without knowing how that person’s personality may change the dynamic of a family’s day-to-day life.
This is where we were just about 3½ years ago. We had just hired a live-in Domestic Helper for the first time and, after working for many years in Singapore for two different Chinese families, our Domestic Helper was coming to Hong Kong for the first time to work for a Western family. We all knew it would take time to build a positive, trusting relationship but we were determined it would happen.
For my family, the story actually began almost a decade ago when my husband (Allan) and I decided to leave our home in Canada to take our son on a one year family adventure to Japan where Al and I had lived many years before.
The one year stretched into 4 (we all loved it there!) and then my husband was recruited to work in Hong Kong – where we’ve now been for over 5 years.
During this adventure, my son and I really missed having a dog in our lives. Our landlords in Japan didn’t allow pets so, when our landlord here in Hong Kong said it was OK to have a dog, we were ecstatic! However, despite the fact we were looking at adopting an elderly dog who had been waiting for a home for 3 months, we discovered that the local Rescue wouldn’t let us adopt one of their dogs if someone wasn’t at home during the day. As my husband and I were working full-time and my son was at school during the day, we weren’t eligible to adopt a dog.
To make a long story short, we hired Elsa Amistad to come work for us and we’re so glad we did. We got our dog, Max, and we were treated to incredible Filipino, Malaysian, Singaporean and Chinese dishes which I very quickly decided I wanted to learn how to make.
Above: Elsa (left) and Natalia (right) at home in the kitchen
My background is in health, food & nutrition. I was a dietitian for a couple of decades and had my own cooking school in Japan. Luckily, Elsa was happy to share the secrets of her favourite recipes. I watched and wrote these down. I then showed her how to make the favourite dishes of my own family and friends – things she wasn’t familiar with making but which she said her own family and previous employers’ families would love to eat!
I collected our favourite recipes in one place to give both Elsa and I easy access to them. One thing led to another and we thought, why not share them with other people? Together, Elsa and I chose over 160 of our favourite recipes to share in our book “Home Cooking East & West” – recipes which are almost equally divided between those from the East (Japan, Thailand, Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia) and those from the West.
We also thought it might be helpful to share some of our thoughts about working together since we had had some unexpected, and often amusing, incidents due to assumptions we had each made based on our own past experiences. And so was born a chapter and workbook to help employers and Domestic Helpers communicate effectively to promote “Kitchen Happiness” and nourishing, relaxed meals.
There’s also a chapter featuring a month of menus (based on recipes in the book) for days when people don’t want to think about what to cook for supper (or breakfast or lunch!) and information for healthy meal planning for days that they do. We’ve also included some interesting kitchen tips and information on food safety.
I have a FB page you’re welcome to like and follow if you’re interested – I’ll be sharing recipes and health tips twice a month or so (I don’t want to overload anyone’s inbox!). You can find it at @NataliaMorrisonHealth.
The book is available at Swindon Books (TST), Kelly & Walsh (Landmark and Pacific Place), and Hong Kong Book Centre (Central). It is also available online by clicking on Swindon Online. You can also order directly from the authors by visiting the Home Cooking East & West website at https://www.homecookingeastandwest.com
I’ve employed domestic workers for more than ten years and encountered many different scenarios while working for four years in an ethical hiring agency for domestic workers.
I want to save you time and share with you the best management practices I have learned over the years and how to create a positive work relationship with your domestic worker. I will also give you information to better understand their backgrounds.
Adopt these 8 best management practices and create a positive work relationship with your domestic worker
1. Give clear guidelines and time to adjust
At the beginning of an employment contract, provide a schedule of tasks (daily, weekly or monthly schedules) and a clear understanding of your “house rules”. Discuss in depth the way you do tasks, how you want her to take care of your children, your flat, your pet(s), how to plan meals, your grocery shopping habits, etc. Communication is key.
Give straightforward instructions that are easy to understand. Remember that she is not a native English speaker you may not be either. She might be shy to ask for clarification if she does not understand. Give her time (at least a few weeks) to adjust to the way your family works and to deal with homesickness if she is a newcomer.
In the long term, avoid micromanaging her. Once everything is on track, let your domestic worker try to do things on her own. Sit down regularly with her to discuss what is going well and what needs to be adjusted. At the beginning you can do it weekly or on a monthly basis, then as often as needed and at least once a year for an annual performance review.
E.g. “Hey Julia, here is your weekly schedule. I don’t mind when things are done, I let you manage your time – as long as everything is done that’s great. I am here if you have any question or if you find it difficult to finish everything. We will discuss if you feel that it is too much for you, your input and suggestion are important to us, feel free to share them with us.”
2. Care about her
“Strictly professional” does not necessarily work with domestic workers.
She has left her family behind to work for yours. She will appreciate your genuine questions about her loved ones (not intrusively of course, keep an appropriate boundary). Small gifts for them is a nice way to reward your domestic worker and to show your appreciation. Help your domestic worker to build a better future for herself by suggesting courses she could attend to upgrade her skills.
Domestic worker Lisa mentions “my employers did lots of good things for me, they helped me with my children, always gave a present for my birthday, and bought a laptop for my daughter to help her in her studies. I’m very grateful as it’s a big help for me too”
Pay attention to her health. A domestic worker who is sick needs to see a doctor, rest and recover. In Hong Kong, it is mandatory for employers to take health insurance for their domestic workers. In Singapore employers are required to cover all medical costs, so taking health insurance is highly recommended.
3. Be positive: praise and encourage her
Domestic workers are often not very self-confident and extremely sensitive to the comments they receive; both positive and negative! If you remember to praise your domestic worker regularly, she will feel motivated and will be willing to work better for you.
Praising and encouragement are the most positive and effective impact you can have on your domestic worker.
E.g.: Your diner is excellent Marites, thank you so much! Thank you for tidying up the kids’ room, it was a real mess in there! You can even add if you feel like it “Thank God you’re here! Don’t know how I would cope without you!”
Domestic worker Yuliani confides “I really like when my employers show how they appreciate my hard work”
4. Support her especially when she takes initiative, it will boost her confidence.
If the initiative is not of your liking, discuss it with her in a positive way on how to improve or the way you would want her to do it.
“Taking initiatives” is one of the top recruitment criteria (especially Western employers with small children at home). Each family is different, and your domestic worker may have had several employers in the past, therefore has various ways of doing things. She may have been encouraged and praised when taking initiatives or on the contrary she may have been told off. Discuss this openly with her (it’s never too late).
E.g.: I noticed you’ve cleaned the silver today, that’s great I love your initiative. Just to let you know for next time, please do use that special product for silver polishing.
Domestic worker Tana says she appreciates her employers because they “encourage me to try new things and always support me”
5. Reward her hard work (money, extra time off, trip back home)
Salary, bonus, time off, rewards… It’s a never-ending discussion topic between employers! For all employees, rewards or bonuses are very motivating. Increasing the salary or giving a high salary will always be very much appreciated, but don’t expect a long-lasting impact. We recommend complementing with ad-hoc rewards for performance on a more regular basis.
Whether it is an extra bank note at the end of the month, a bonus at the end of the year, a return ticket to go back home or some extra time off, your domestic worker will appreciate it greatly! Small gifts for them is a nice way to reward your domestic worker and to show your appreciation.
E.g.: – You were up late last night while helping me with my guests. Please have half the day off tomorrow to rest!Here is a little extra since you’ve worked really hard this month
Domestic worker Sarah feels special and is motivated when “my employers reward me with giving me a present for my birthday and give me a bonus every end of the year”
6. Respect her time off and privacy
Respecting your domestic workers’ time off and privacy is essential for her well-being. We all need a break! It means a lot to them to know that they have this time for themselves and they won’t be disturbed. They will feel respected by their employer. The example below speaks for itself:
Domestic worker Adriana explains “when I finish my work and I am in my room, my employer won’t disturb me even if she needs something. Instead she will write a note and put on the kitchen table and I will read it after I come out from my room”.
7. Always talk to her like you would want your own boss to talk to you.
It’s always better to put things in perspective and switch roles for a moment in order to weigh the pros and cons. How would I react if my boss was speaking to me with that tone? How would I feel if my boss was criticising my work that way? How would I want my boss to address this issue?
The tone of our voice, our facial expression, the words we use are very important. To make sure our point is not taken the wrong way, keep it positive. You may give a quick explanation, so she can understand why you are asking her to do something or addressing an issue.
E.g.: Jocelyn, I wanted to ask you something. When you put the clean laundry back in the closet, would you mind putting the clean towels under the other ones that are already in the closet please? That way we don’t always use the same towels.
Domestic worker Imelda describes “The things I like most about my employers is their positive attitude, their time management skills and how they acknowledge my work, encourage and trust me. For me, it is necessary to communicate openly to avoid misunderstandings.”
Domestic worker Ariyanty “my boss is a good leader. If there is an issue, they always solve the problem in a nice way”
8. Choose the right place and right way to address issues and mistakes
Remember that odd moment when your boss blamed you in a middle of a meeting in front of several people? It is unpleasant for most people and humiliating, as losing face is a strong concern in Asia. Choose an appropriate time to speak with your domestic worker, preferably a one-to-one conversation. Mention to her that you want to sit down and have a chat with her. Have her sit in front of you and try to connect with her in a positive and kind way. Invite her to share her opinions too. Take into account that because of cultural differences, your domestic worker may feel more comfortable with a female employer. She is more likely to share her views if her female employer speaks to her alone first. Start the discussion without labelling the situation as a mistake, give clear indications on what you expect. When there are issues at home, think about it like your own private company that you need to manage. You need everything to go smoothly. Teamwork is the best way to find solutions to problems.
Domestic worker Ayu loves the family she works for because “we work together and solve issues about the kids together”.
So whether it is a problem inside your ‘company’ or concerning one of your ‘staff’, it is time for a ‘meeting’! Choose an appropriate moment, be in a positive mindset and you will be more likely to succeed.
E.g.: Hi Marites, I’d like to talk with you about a couple of things, let’s have a talk tonight once the children sleep/ tomorrow morning when the children are at school?
Start positive: First of all, I want you to keep in mind that we really appreciate your work and everything you are doing for us.
Introduce the problem: There are a couple of things I’d like to discuss with you regarding cleaning the entrance/lobby. I was wondering if you had the right product to clean it up as I still find it quite dirty.
Discuss solutions with her: You can use the hoover and the mop in the kitchen, it’s ok. Don’t hesitate to let me know if there is another product you would need me to get for this.
Involve her and ask her for her input: Any suggestion you may have is always welcome.
Do you want to keep a copy of these best management practices? Download our free “Happy work relationship” guide here. You will get additional information about your domestic worker’s background and useful resources in Hong Kong and Singapore.
By Marion Déchy – Before joining Uplifters, Marion worked for an ethical domestic worker agency in Hong Kong for 4 years. She is very familiar with issues faced by both migrant domestic workers and their employers.
Happiness is something you can build. Little by little, each time someone says something mean to us or ignore us, it creates a “hole in our hearts” and make us less confident and less happy in the long-term. But a simple way exists to change your brain into a positive mood.
Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson says as simple as it may sound, brain science backs the well-known popular wisdom, “positive brings positive.”
Positive brings positive
During a talk, “Taking in the Good” for Chicago Ideas Week in 2013, he explained how to create positive connections in our brains.
He said that as a child he was repetitively bullied by other children. He did not face any major life trauma but still, years later, he realized during his studies that those negative moments had changed him and made him feel empty inside. Hanson said he felt like he had “…a hole in my heart.”
One of our basic needs is to feel valued, included, recognized and appreciated. Hanson said he began to notice a reaction that seemed amazing at first.
“If someone was nice to me, or wanted me on their team, or hired me, or if a good thing happened, and if I stayed with the experience by focusing on the good, I started gradually feeling better,” he said.
The longer you stay with a happy feeling or memory, the stronger the connection will become in your brain and gradually, you will reprogram your brain to be happier.
3 steps to happiness
To “reprogram” your brain to happiness is very simple. Follow these 3 good practices:
Appreciate little pleasures of life even when it is hard: a nice flower, a good moment with a friend, the taste of coffee. Finding the good in small things, day by day, is not naïve but a way to change your brain.
Don’t rush. When you live a happy experience, take the time to really feel it in your body for at least 10 seconds. This way, a good small fact will become a great memory.
Make a conscious effort to remember happy experiences. (We suggest to write them down in a notebook). If you practice those methods day by day, you will be able to close your eyes and think of a good memory or loving experience very easily!
To finish, if you choose to concentrate on the good each day, you will fill yourself with calm, joy and confidence. It is good for you but also good for the people you know and love.
More about Rick Hanson: he is the author of Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain and Just One Thin – books that have been translated into more than a dozen languages. He is also senior fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom in San Rafael, California.
Each day, we build our own life, and sometimes without realizing it. The story of the old carpenter is a good example…
An old carpenter wanted to retire. He told his employer about his plans.
The employer was sorry to see his good carpenter leave and he asked him if he could build just one more house. The carpenter said yes, but it was easy to see that his heart was not into it. He was clearly not doing his best.
When the carpenter finished his work, his employer came. He handed the front-door key to the carpenter and said, “This is your house… my gift to thank you.”
The carpenter was shocked!
What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all much better.
Same happens with our lives. We build our lives, day after day, without doing our best. Then, with a shock, we realize we must live in the house we have built. If we could do it over, we would do it much differently.
But, you cannot go back. You are the carpenter, and every day you hammer a nail, place a window, or erect a wall. Someone once said, “Life is a do-it-yourself project.” Your attitude, and the choices you make today, help build the “house” you will live in tomorrow. Therefore, build wisely!
What does this story inspire you to do differently?
Get better at job interviews and find the best employer for you!
8 things to know before
Ask for advice on good ethical agencies, try free platforms like Helper Choice or direct hire so you don’t have to pay fees. Always check if the agency is licensed and how much they will charge you (it is maximum 10% of your monthly salary in Hong Kong and 2 months salary in Singapore)
Start interviewing two months before the end of your contract or as soon as possible so you have enough time for job interviews and don’t feel pressured.
Look at the job offer. Only accept job interviews if you really consider the offer and if your profile meets the employer’s requirements. Don’t waste your time and employer’s time if you already know that you or they will say no.
Go to all job interviews with employers that you are happy to consider. Don’t wait for an answer before accepting another interview. Employers do the same with domestic workers, so you don’t have to feel uncomfortable. Don’t hesitate to register in an agency (with no fee for domestic workers) even if you may find trough direct hire. You don’t have to feel bad for the agent.
Let friends know where you go for job interviews (give address and interview time) so they can react in case of emergency. Send them a message afterwards, so they know you are safe. Don’t go to an interview in a private place if you feel the employer is strange. If you want to come with a friend, don’t let the employers know about it. She should wait for you outside.
Be on time, search on Google maps before for directions and allow 15 minutes extra buffer time in case you get lost. If you need to cancel, try to do it at least 24 hours in advance.
If you are running late, don’t cancel, send a message or call “I am really sorry I am running late. I will be there in … minutes. If that’s not possible for you, can we please reschedule? Many thanks and all my apologies again.”
Prepare your answers to questions employers generally ask to domestic workers (see below) and come with copies of your referral letters and certificates if you have some.
Know how to answer these questions
Experience – Describe a day with your current employer. What is your schedule? What do you like/dislike? Do you think your work is too easy or too hard? How many employers have you had and how long have you worked for them? Can I contact them? Do you have referral letters? Why are you looking to change employer or not renewing your current contract? If it is your employer’s decision, explain why.
Cooking – What kind of food do you know how to cook? (Western, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, vegetarian …?) Did your employers ask you to follow recipes before and how (in a cookbook, on YouTube?). What are your favorite recipes? Can you explain 1 recipe now?
Children / Elderly people. What experience do you have (how many years taking care of children / elderly people). What qualifications and certificates do you have? Did you attend any specific training/classes here or in your country of origin? Do you know first aid?
Children. How old were the children you took care of? Did you already take care of a baby? If my child falls on his head and then seems sleepy, what would you do? If my child is talks to you in a rude way and don’t accept your orders, what would you do?
Elderly people. How old where the elderly people you took care of before? What did you have to do to help them? What would you do I my old mother falls and does not reply to you?
What are you better at? Household chores, children, elderly people, cooking? What do you like best?
Salary – What is your current salary? What do you want? If it is above minimum salary, what makes you think you are worth more?
Are there other things you could do for us (sewing/baking bread …)?
What are your interests and hobbies? What do you during your days off?
Why do you work as a domestic worker? How long do you plan to work abroad?
3 rules during job interviews
Tell the truth. For example, don’t say you can cook if you can’t. Your employer will quickly find out and be disappointed. If you think you cannot do what they ask, just let them know. There will be many other employers who may be looking for you.
Ask questions about the family and the job. The job interview is not only for the employer to know if they want to hire you but also for you to decide if you want to work for them. Ask questions about what they expect of their domestic worker, how old are the children… Don’t ask immediately questions about the salary and days off, employers will think you are only after the money and an easy job. It’s better to let them tell you first about the salary or only ask about it after they made you an offer. However it’s fine to ask where you would sleep, food arrangements, if you are allowed to practice your religion if you want to pray during the day and/or fast.
Don’t give in to pressure. Take time to decide, don’t say yes during the job interview. Once employers have made you an offer, it’s time to ask all your remaining questions. You need to have a clear idea of the job duties and the working conditions if they haven’t told you about it already (salary, approximate schedule, days off and national holidays…) Don’t hesitate to negotiate the salary if you have experience and don’t accept a lower salary than your actual one unless specific circumstances (very high actual salary, no more time…).
Making your decision
Don’t say yes and sign a contract to say no afterwards because you find an employer you like better. Wait for answers from all the employers you liked, then say yes to the best one for you.
Write down all you remember from the job interview, so you can easily compare job offers in the future. If you go to many job interviews, you may forget who said what otherwise.
Consider the duties and the salary but even more importantly the working conditions and the employer’s attitude: are they respectful? Do they seem kind people?
If you are waiting for another employer’s decision, reply politely: “Many thanks for your kind offer. I am happy that you liked my profile. I want to take a little bit of time before deciding, but I will quickly let you know my answer. I know you can’t wait long.”
Once you’ve made your decision, say politely no to other employers who offered you a job: “I want to thank you once again for your offer. I really took the time to think about it. I made my decision and I am sorry to say no. I wish you the best finding the perfect helper for you.” If they ask you why just say “Your offer was good and I am really grateful but I liked their offer better”. If they insist, say that you already signed the contract.
Show your happiness to the employer who is hiring you: “I am really happy to accept your offer. I am looking forward to working for your family”.
Good luck with job hunting and share your experience and advice here as well!
Confidence can be in ourselves when we born, but if not, it is possible to develop it. You doesn’t need long training, only make some exercises and you will feel much more boldness !
Dare to challenge yourself
Be kind with yourself but don’t accept fatality. Being shy or reserved is totally ok but if you want to become more confident, this is something you can learn as well! In order to be successful, you need to learn to stand up for yourself and dare more.
For that, psychologists found that the best technique is to give yourself regularly some new challenges to accomplish, things that you are a bit afraid of but are not totally impossible and out of your reach.
It will be different for each person but what is important is to do these challenges alone.
Some ideas to help you to develop your confidence
eating alone at the restaurant.
going alone to a place where you’ve never been.
going into a luxury shop (like CHANEL or DIOR), ask to try some products or clothes and of course not buying them.
9 out of 10 people don’t breathe correctly. They only use their lungs and no their belly to breathe. Take a deep breathe. If your shoulders go up, it means that you don’t breathe correctly. Breathing affects your sleep, back, memory, digestion and anxiety level. Breathing is directly related to how long you will live and your health. You must learn to breathe horizontally and not only vertically – it means you must learn to expand your belly when you breathe in and squeeze when you breathe out. Doing a breathing exercise several times a day will positively impact your mood, stress, health and make even help you make better decisions. It will help you feel stronger.
3 times a day, breathe in with your belly (not only chest) for 4 seconds, then hold your breathe for 4 seconds, breathe out for 6 seconds and then hold empty for 2 seconds before breathing in again. Do 5 repetitions. When you breathe in, your belly inflates and when you breathe out, it deflates. You can just count in your head, use your phone timer or download the free app Breathe +. You can also adjust the length of each part and slowly increase them. The more repetitions, the better.
Here is a powerful story about the importance of a positive mindset to make our dreams come true.
A group of frogs were walking in the forest. Two of them fell into a pit. When the other frogs saw how deep it was, they told the two frogs that the situation was hopeless.
However, the two frogs decided to ignore what the others were saying, and they to tried to jump out of the pit.
The group of frogs at the top of the pit were still saying that they would never make it out.
Eventually, one of the frogs listened to what the others were saying, and he gave up. The other frog continued to jump as hard as he could. Again, the crowd of frogs yelled at him to just give up and accept his certain death instead of suffering so much.
He jumped even harder and finally made it out. When he got out, the other frogs said, “Did you not hear us?”
The frog explained to them that he was deaf. He thought they were encouraging him the entire time.
What you believe has a big impact on what you can achieve.
And you, do you sometimes doubt of yourself?
You will find here links to articles and videos featuring migrant domestic workers who prove by their passions and realizations that being a domestic worker is just a job and does not define who you are! You too, start dreaming and building yourself a better future!
Domestic workers and … athletes
Liza Avelino, Filipina, domestic worker in Hong Kong but also mountain climber and motivational speaker
Do you know the most common 5 regrets of people dying? Read about them and decide what your next steps should be to create a life free of regret.
Bronnie Ware was a nurse working in palliative care and she soon noticed that people who were going to die had all the same 5 common regrets.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This is the most common regret of all. It’s important to try to fulfil at least some of our dreams and especially when we still have a good health. Many people take health for granted.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. People regret to have spent so much time working and not being with their loved ones. It’s especially true in the situation of migrant workers apart from their families. You need to discuss your situation with your family and come up with a plan so, you can go home quickly.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people don’t express their feelings because they are afraid to hurt others or to be rejected. But it makes them sick and accept things they should not accept. If people love you, they will appreciate your honesty. If they don’t, they will be out of your life and this is better to get away from these unhealthy relationships.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Many people are so busy that they don’t devote time to their friends or to make new friends. They find themselves lonely at the end.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. Many people don’t realize until the end that happiness is also a choice. Smile, laugh and appreciate the little joys of life.
“Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.” Bronnie Ware