Hello and congratulations! Having a baby is an exciting and busy time. We created this guide to help families who are considering employing a domestic worker primarily to help with baby care. We will walk you through hiring and managing a domestic worker, with expert content by Fair Employment Agency and Uplifters. As a wonderful addition, we have soothing pre-natal yoga resources from Holly Wong.
Fair Employment Agency is a nonprofit agency that helps employers hire great domestic workers. Their mission is to set a new standard for professionalism, ethics, and service for recruitment in the sector.
Holly Wong is an experienced Pregnancy Yoga Teacher, Parent Educator, and Mother. She is passionate about providing education and resources to inspire a positive pregnancy and childbirth.
Uplifters is a non-profit organisation that helps migrant domestic workers break the cycle of poverty, and build lives they want for themselves. This is achieved through online education and community support. Uplifters’ core online courses focus on money management and personal growth. In 2021, they will be launching a Baby Care Online Course with a dual access for parents and their domestic worker.
To download the FREE PDF Guide, please share your email address below. We will only use your email to send you the Guide, subscribe you to the Fair Agency Bulletin (a monthly newsletter on hiring and managing by Fair Agency), and for Uplifters to send you updates on their programmes and courses for domestic helpers.
This is a common question, but many times it is simply a greeting, not a real question. I feel, however, that with the current Covid-19 situation, people now give this question a deeper meaning. There may be a shift in how we all communicate.
So really — how are you doing — I really want to know.
As human beings living through a pandemic, we are going through a lot of emotions. Wouldn’t you agree? We have never lived times like these before. None of us. There are many things we don’t know. What we know though is that this is something we will overcome together, by connecting and supporting each other as human beings should.
These are difficult times for all and your employer is likely stressed and tired as well. We all need to do our best to understand each other and realize there may be more work because of these exceptional circumstances. But it does not mean you should not say anything and endure all. Good communication skills will be key.
This is why I am writing today to provide some tips on how communication can help us connect and support each other.
I am Mônica Z. Hall, a Brazilian living mostly in Asia since 1999, a Corporate Trainer and Coach, a mother, a wife, a friend, a yoga and meditation practitioner, an employer of the same domestic worker for almost 7 years; and above all a human being just like all of us – with fears and dreams.
With FELIZ Consulting I work with a number of individuals and organisations to help them make the most of their communication skills to grow their team or themselves. As an active volunteer with different NGOs in Hong Kong, I am really excited and honoured to be involved with Uplifters this year.
In this article, I am here to share some communication skills tips that I hope will be practical to you.
The Uplifters Dare to Dream program uses DESC technique in its course. So, to begin, let’s look at it and expand from it with some examples.
DESC stands for Describe, Express, Specify and Consequences.
D for DESCRIBE
The first step is to Describe a situation we observe. Try to use facts as much as you can. Focus on just one recent behaviour you have witnessed. If you feel comfortable with saying “I” when you describe what you saw, this could help- e.g. “I saw that…” rather than “You did this…” (which can sound aggressive).
For example, you may choose to say:
“I saw you seemed unhappy with my work earlier” instead of “You are yelling at me when I am trying to do the job”.
“Due to the current situation,I have not had any Sunday off for the past 3 weeks” instead of “You did not allow me to have any Sunday off for the past 3 weeks”
“I did not receive compensation for the two Sundays I worked this month” instead of “You did not pay me extra for the two Sundays I worked this month”
Describe it and pause after you said it. Using pauses and silences helps to get your audience digest what you just said and better respond.
E for EXPRESS
The next step is to Express how this behaviour impacts you, preferably using “I feel” sentences. It will help connect emotions with emotions, feelings with feelings, all the more if you communicate with people from different backgrounds, cultures or social-economical status. We all better connect with emotions and feelings (Emotional Intelligence studies prove it) This will also help you to avoid the more problematic and aggressive “you” statements,” You said this…”, “You did that…”, “It is your fault that…” which are not constructive ways of communicating but instead focus on blame.
Therefore, you might say things like: “Lately I felt tired;” “I am feeling stressed out about the pandemic”; “I am feeling concerned for my family in my home country.” Naming and sharing your feelings and emotions should help your employer connect to their own feelings and emotions. This connection will make it more likely for them to adapt their behaviour; which is what you want to get next.
S for SPECIFY
Specify what you would like them to do differently. This is tricky with an employer in any work environment. It might be even more difficult in an employer-domestic worker relationship as work and family are mixed into one environment. By having expressed your feelings and emotions first (in the Express part), you may have stirred up empathy. Yet, feeling empathy might help your employer change their behaviour.
C for CONSEQUENCES
Finally, share the Consequences their behaviour change will have on you. It’s natural that they’ll want to understand why you’re asking for a change to their behaviour or why you are mentioning something is wrong in the way they do things. It’s important you can explain how it will impact both you and them for the better.
Examples may be:
“When I can’t rest on Sundays, I know I won’t be able to work well on the long term”
“When I don’t get my day off, I feel very tired and may not do what you expect me to do well — I feel I lose patience with the kids”.
It is even better if you can say it positively:
“If I can get my day off, I will feel more energised to come back”
“If I can have some rest time I will be better rested to play more with the kids”.
Focusing on the positive language is to influence a change in behaviour.
DESC is a great technique to acknowledge where you are as a person and also to provoke positive behaviour change.
I hope you are using it and that the additional examples above can be of help.
There is a lot more we could talk about, discuss, practice in terms of how to best communicate not only in a domestic work environment but in any job. For now, let’s save the new sharing for another article or a video!
Mainly I hope you got some new useful and practical tips here!
Please stay well, healthy and positive! I hope to see you all soon on a short video, on Facebook or in person. Stay in touch and please connect on Facebook, following FELIZ Consulting page on Facebook, or drop me a line!
We all have seen a sea of domestic workers gathering in popular spots on Sundays at Victoria Park in Hong Kong or the Botanic Garden in Singapore. Normally we see them playing cards on cardboard boxes on footbridges or on the beach enjoying a BBQ as a community.
Occasionally we see them trekking the walking paths, exercising with friends, singing as a group, preparing for shows, or inventing and creating new styles of dancing. They have fun, they laugh, they look happy.
While I was working in a domestic workers’ recruitment agency in Hong Kong, I met many domestic workers who wished to change employers just because they did not have their day-off on a Sunday. They were missing meeting with their friends or families (for those lucky ones who have their relatives working in the same city) and consequently they would rather change employer to be able to see their loved ones on their day off.
My involvement as an employer
For years, I didn’t ask my domestic worker what she was doing on her day-off. I thought it was not really any of my business. After all, it is her life, her privacy. But as I became more and more aware of the well being of domestic workers and their life in general, I felt I had to ask her. I didn’t want to be intrusive but on the other hand, I didn’t want her to think that I didn’t care either.
When I watched the movie “The Helper Documentary” it struck me to see the impact that employers can have on the well-being of their domestic worker. The example of Liza Avelino is the most obvious one to me. She discovered a passion for hiking and eventually climbed Mount Everest, just because her employers suggested that she should do something more fulfilling during the weekend than sitting on a cardboard box and they encouraged her to join a hiking group.
Some amazing examples
There are many other examples of domestic workers who fulfil their passions thanks to the encouragement of their employers. Milkatus Sholikah, one of our Dare to Dream students, completed the 100 km Oxfam Trail-walker in November 2018 in Hong Kong. She is very thankful that her employers motivated her to participate and allowed her enough time to train. She had never participated in any race before! Read more about her achievement in the South China Morning Post.
Some are also interested in photography and several helpers have become famous like Xyza Cruz Bacani, who has been in exhibits worldwide. In Singapore, Ana Rohana, an Indonesian Domestic Worker and an amateur photographer was just featured in Channel News Asia.
As employers, we do have a responsibility for the well-being of our domestic workers. But how do we encourage them? They are all different and not all of them are like Liza, Milkatus, Xyza or Ana.
Jaybie , a domestic worker in Hong Kong whom I have interviewed recently, is passionate about sports and is sharing her experience with us:
“It is very hard and stressful for any domestic worker to be away from their families and kids… My suggestion is to get away from the stress, therefore I spend my day off attending sports events such as yoga, hiking, running and volunteering in race organisations to get a free race pass in return… I don’t want to waste my free time doing nothing.
We don’t need to be rich to be able to keep ourselves healthy while working. All we have to do is to find a way to balance our job as a domestic worker and our chosen activities.
MeetUp (worldwide) and Decathlon are promoting many different courses such as yoga, boot camp, Cross Fit, badminton, tennis, etc. It is free and you will find daily sports events in your location that you can join throughout the week. If I have spare time after work, I can join boot camp or Cross Fit classes. I am very lucky to have an understanding employer who likes the fact that I am interested in sports and supports me in this way. I sometimes wake up very early for a sunrise run or after I finish cooking, I escape for an evening jog.”
Her message for other domestic workers: “Don’t make excuses, sports provide a healthy balance in life and is a good way to release stress. Anything is possible if you maintain proficient communication and a good relationship with your employers, that’s the only key!”
How to encourage them?
The best thing is to engage a conversation with her:
Just out of curiosity, what did you do yesterday? I hope you had a good time!
Do you have a specific hobby that you enjoy doing on your day off? Or do you want/need to rest? Let me know if I can support you in your passion!
Is there something in particular you would like to learn?
We would be very happy to help you make the most of your day off.
All in all, it will be a great dialogue. She may not say much at first but it will start a positive habit in sharing about her day off.
You can suggest some activities like:
Free or cheap courses organized by NGOs
Activities you can find in Hong Kong and Singapore
YMCA offers many different courses to domestic workers: baby care, elderly care, paediatric first aid/CPR, baking courses, bookkeeping, dressmaking, English courses, and so on.
TCK is a learning Center and a registered charity that offers low-cost classes, workshops and other activities for migrant workers.
Helperchoice is a hiring platform free of charge for domestic workers. It has created its own academy and provides a variety of courses from cooking and baking to financial management, English and Cantonese classes, sewing and more.
YWCA, Center of Learning and Life Enhancement. This centre offers First Aid/Child CPR, Self-Enhancement, Money Management, Kitchen Management and Cooking courses.
Splash Foundation offers domestic workers twelve weeks of beginner swimming courses in Hong Kong. Even though the course is free of charge, there are certain requirements to keep.
Enrich is a Hong Kong charity organisation promoting the economic empowerment of migrant domestic workers through financial and empowerment education. Their money management programs are taking place on Sundays.
EmpowerUis part of Hong Kong University. They started a program for domestic workers to study and learn new things from HKU professors and volunteers. They provide free lectures, training and workshops in Hong Kong on Sundays. It teaches domestic workers lessons on practical Health and Nutrition, Basic Rights and Women Empowerment, Nature Appreciation, Physical Fitness, Performance Arts, thus upgrading their knowledge and skills for their respective work environments, and in preparation for their homecoming.
Home (Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics). HOME’s Academy offers a wide range of workshops, such as English, computer literacy, cooking and baking, care-giving, dressmaking, cosmetology, and financial management.
FAST (Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training). They organise many courses: cooking, baking, pastry making, infant care, elderly care, foot reflexology, nursing care, computer skills, English, stress management, financial management and entrepreneurial skills.
Expat Kitchennot only teaches about cooking. It also teaches how to operate some kitchen appliances, manage and store food hygienically, quantify the ingredients properly, differentiate and select side dishes, salads and dressings to complement the main course, and so on. A cherry on the top of the course is, of course, hands-on workshop in preparing dishes from various cuisines.
Aquaducksup skills water safety knowledge and emergency procedures in theory and practice. It teaches basic but essential swimming skills and techniques.
Aidhais a Singapore based charity organisation. Aidha’s mission is to help foreign domestic workers and low-income Singaporean women to achieve economic independence through financial education, wealth creation, and entrepreneurship. Your domestic worker can be enrolled into monthly classes, such as money and tech management; planning a financial future; classes to start up their business, and certain classes to improve their English.
Uplifters (online education) is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to help migrant domestic workers through online education. Their free money management and personal growth program helps domestic workers become financially literate (budgeting, loan risks, savings, interest rate, investments etc.) and acquire personal growth tools (self-confidence, communication skills etc.). Through Uplifters your domestic worker has an opportunity to reach out to a Domestic Workers’ Group, which offers support whenever she might need it.
Ling Long Chinese is an online Mandarin course and are easy to follow with videos and exercises. The first level is free. The others are fee-based. Ling Long offered 50 of Uplifters team leaders a free scholarship and 10% discount to any potential student mentioning Uplifters!
I personally really like the fact that my domestic worker is active and enjoys her day-off by doing something fulfilling. Examples of domestic workers running, hiking, and learning new skills are inspiring and we can contribute by helping them achieve something wonderful. I feel it is a part of our role as an employer to guide them and support them.
And since domestic workers may have a bit more time off available in Hong Kong for 2019 (see article from the Asia Times), this topic could not come at a better time!
If you want to share an inspiring experience or show the impact a course had on your relationship with your helper, do not hesitate to write about it on our Facebook group for employers.
Article by Marion Dechy with the help of Elena Wolf
Chinese New Year is approaching and you are probably thinking of giving a red pocket to your domestic worker. Do you know what she will do with it? Will she save it or is she going to spend it right away?
13 years ago, I arrived in Hong Kong from London, never had a domestic worker before and the concept of ‘maids’ was only a vague memory from my grandparents during the war! I was one of these young mothers thinking ‘I can do it all by myself, don’t need a domestic worker!’. Quicker than you can guess I came to realize that I could not avoid hiring a domestic worker to help me out with just about everything! We hired a domestic worker who stayed with us for 12 years. I learnt so much with her.
She was a great domestic worker but still, it took time to adjust, to “teach” her, to show how we were living which was different from previous families she’d worked for. She learnt how to cook and she became a great cook, an independent meal planner, and the best help when we had guests at home. She was a meticulous cleaner and home organizer, she was incredibly loving and patient with my kids. Oh well, I could go on and on.
But even with the best domestic worker, you can’t avoid turmoil, that’s for sure.
When a loan shark calls you every day
We have had a couple of phone calls from money lenders after a couple of years. Then our domestic worker asked us for help when one of her ‘friend’ made her sign a guarantee letter for her loan and suddenly disappeared, leaving her to repay some crazy amounts. Then it was the friend she was sharing a SIM card with who disappeared leaving her to pay a 1,000 HK$ bill. We’ve always backed her up (not always happily though) since as her employers we were legally responsible for these misfortunes. A few years later we had even decided to change our phone number as a loan shark kept calling every day but our domestic worker was telling us it was a mistake. We’ve had a conversation at this time with her about this issue and we were quite firm on the fact that even though we loved her, we could not keep her if another situation like this was to be repeated. She confessed it was really difficult for her to say ‘no’ to her friends asking her help in making a loan. Sometime later when we spoke again about miscellaneous things, I asked her how she was doing with her friends, she told me she was no longer seeing any friends because she was too scared to be involved in another money issue. And believe me, I was under the impression that she was respected by other domestic workers, she was above 45 years old and had a lot of experience. I could not have imagined for one minute how tough peer pressure can be in the domestic workers’ community but it is a reality.
What my job taught me about domestic workers
Working in a recruitment domestic workers’ agency helped me understand a lot about domestic workers. I saw how incredibly grateful domestic workers were when I was giving them very simple tips for their interviews or trying to boost their confidence or just simply by listening to them.
How tough it is for them to have to deal with a different world far away from their families and outside of their comfort zone and how helpful you can be by just simply sharing tips with them.
In fact, I realized how we underestimate the needs of domestic workers on so many levels.
I have joined the non-profit organisation Uplifters last September. It’s a new non-profit in Hong Kong founded by Marie Kretz Di Meglio. They provide a free online money management course to domestic workers.
They learn how to prepare for the future, how to save money, how to avoid being ripped off by some malevolent people taking advantage and even how to say ‘no’ to unnecessary financial requests from their own family back home. In other words, all they need to know to break the cycle of poverty and build sustainable futures for themselves and their families.
We do learn about those tools in the ‘modern world’ and we decide to use them (or not). Domestic workers don’t have access to those tools and arrive unprepared in our cities to work for us. How can they possibly manage? Something’s not quite right!
Why employers should care?
As Uplifters is self-funded we started a crowdfunding campaign in January and this has probably been the most interesting journey of my years working in Hong Kong.
Recently and because of our communication about our crowdfunding campaign, I have been asked very interestingly and rightly so “why as an employer should I get involved about my domestic workers’ financial education, why should I sponsor it, why should I care at all? She is working for me and she is very busy, I don’t want to distract her, it’s already difficult enough sometimes to be on the same page so I’d rather not disturb our routine”.
So many employers naturally feel that way I thought I needed to write about this.
First of all as an employer, wouldn’t you want her to be concentrated on her job and doing it well rather than being stressed out and worried about money issues? Whatever your relationship with her, you would see on her face or her attitude when something is wrong with her, right? As an employer, you trust your domestic worker with your household and loved ones. So yes you do want your domestic worker to be responsible, reliable and be good at what she does! You do want her to succeed and reach her dreams. You do want her to be happy, pleasant and do a good job for you. As a mother, I think you do worry about your domestic worker taking care of your children when she is not feeling well, whether she is physically sick or mentally not there or depressed.
It is proven that the helpers that are going through financial literacy programs get a better understanding of what is ahead of them and better plan for their future. That gives them confidence, a more positive mindset and give them a better way to cope with uncertainty and difficulties. It helps them defines their goals in life. Not only they dare speaking about their dreams but they also realize they can actually reach those dreams. As a result, they become more positive, motivated and happier and they find a better balance in their life in general.
How would you feel if one of these loan sharks come knocking at your door asking to repay the loan your domestic worker made a few months back, leaving you distressed, leaving her depressed and your relationship damaged?
Aren’t we a lot of employers experiencing the bad surprise to have to repay the loan of their domestic worker? My domestic worker made a loan of 1,000 HKD and ‘forgot’ about it. A few years later, we had to repay 6,000 HKD. This is a common story that unfortunately puts a lot of strain on the relationship.
If the domestic worker learns the pros and cons of loans, how interest rate works, how to budget and control her transfer of money to her family, they would have fewer risks to get into these delirious situations.
Secondly, it’s an opportunity to improve your relationship with her.
We asked students from the Uplifters course how did the course impact their relationship with their employer”. Here are a few replies:
Janelyn : “Now that I am more driven to my passion to learn and earn, I am more dedicated to my work, I am giving all of my efforts to learn new things and impress my employers. Now we have better communications.”
Rubi : “With my employer, it’s changed a lot of things as I am more confident when I speak English and I am more humble”
Cristina: “There was a great impact on how I managed my communication skills to understand each other’s.”
Maylin: “After my employer discovered that I took the Uplifters’ course, they did not worry that I would spend my money in unimportant ways and we started to build trust.”
Joan (I love her testimony!): “I believe that when your employers know that you are learning something to improve yourself you gain respect from them. It’s good that you let them know as well that you are productive in terms of learning new things as they won’t look down on you”
Finally, as a responsible employer, wouldn’t you want to provide your employee with these crucial life skills? I would say on a personal note that I would find it normal to care for people that work for you and are taking care of your home, your kids and is a part of your family life. Isn’t it the basics of management: care and consideration for your employees? Should it be different for domestic workers? As an employer, I would also want to know that the salary I give my domestic worker will contribute to retirement or part of an investment that will help her build a business when she decides to go back home for good.
Knowing her daughters will come to Hong Kong to work as domestic workers strangely does not have the same rewarding feeling, don’t you think? Don’t we all strive for the same achievement in life? Why would domestic workers not have the same dreams nor the same chances in life? They work all these years for us away from their family and their own children, don’t they deserve a little bit of our help to achieve their goals?
Not only employers should care but I do feel it is their duty to help their domestic workers get access to basic financial knowledge that will prevent them to fall into destructive traps.
· In Hong Kong Enrich is the leading charity for domestic workers’ economic empowerment. They offer face to face sessions on Sundays as well as one to one financial counselling services for emergency cases.
· Uplifters offers a 3-weeks free online course. It is flexible, they can participate when they have time and it won’t disturb their day of work. Students are enrolled in group chats so they get important peer support.
Overall those courses offer them a chance to learn important life skills, improve their chances in life and also build up healthy friendships. This is basically a win-win for them and for employers, that’s the beauty of it!
Marion, our expert in creating a happy “domestic worker-employer” work relationship shares with us her top 5 gifts to give your domestic worker.For more tips and advice, subscribe to our newsletter and join our Facebook Support Group for employers!
After 12 years with the same domestic worker, I think I have been through it all, in terms of gift-giving. I have given her all sorts of presents I thought she would enjoy, beginning with things for her room (e.g. decorations, a rug, cushions). I soon realised that, even though she politely thanked me, she was just not interested in this type of gift. Let’s be realistic – most domestic workers simply don’t have space for many decorations and this type of gift may not be the most relevant to them.
My first ideas
After interior design items, I tried giving her jewellery and skincare products including earrings, manicure sets, hand cream for her work-worn skin, a gift box from l’Occitane but, once again, she didn’t seem to truly enjoy these types of gifts either.
Next, I thought “let’s do vouchers” – that way she can find herself what she wants or needs. The issue with some vouchers, however, is that she may have to add a bit of money to get exactly what she wants and that is not really the point of the gift. So I thought, OK, cinemas offer vouchers and she can invite friends to go with her and do something fun. We gave her the movie vouchers but I’m not sure if they were ever used.
Friends gave me tips and I read stuff here and there on the internet but nothing seemed to be relevant for my domestic worker… You may be wondering “Is she really so difficult to buy for?” Nope, I don’t think so. I simply had not found THE perfect gift for her.
The fact is, as, with anyone, it’s sometimes hard to really know if our domestic workers are happy with the gifts we choose. However, if we understand where they’re coming from, what’s important to them, and who they are as individuals, it can help give us some direction.
Until one day, we had finally found a present she liked
One day, I was with my family at the airport. We were looking around the duty-free shop when my 7-year-old son turned to me holding a perfume bottle and said: “Mummy, let’s buy this for Yaya!”. My response was ‘Hmmm. I’m not sure she would like that’ to which he replied ‘No, she will like it, Mummy. I promise! She told me’. When we offered her the bottle of perfume, she exclaimed ‘Oh, I love perfume!’. So that was it, we had finally found a present we knew she liked.
A good tip: give your children the mission to secretly find out what your domestic worker would like for Christmas!
The problem was that we were not going to buy her perfume for each Christmas and birthday so we still had to have other ideas to work with. Here are a few of the other gifts my domestic worker has enjoyed over the years (and one she’ll be getting this year – shhh!).
My top 5 gifts for my domestic worker
1. I think the number one present for domestic workers is cash. In some cultures, cash doesn’t represent any kind of effort and may be considered a ‘lazy’ gift. At the same time, we want our presents to have a long-lasting effect. However, cash is a meaningful and powerful gift to give a domestic worker. One they can use in the way most relevant to their needs. I also give a bit of cash for my domestic worker’s own children. Whether she saves it for them, gives it to them, or buys a gift for them with it is entirely up to her. I remember one of the first Christmases I did this. She came back from the Philippines and showed me photos of the kids with the new toys she had bought for them with this cash. I could feel how happy and thankful she was to be able to treat her children.
2. Another great present is paid leave and an extra ticket back home. Check with her first and contact airline companies as they may have special offers for domestic workers that you wouldn’t see on their websites. Some domestic workers may not be willing to go home even if you pay for the ticket because they have no savings. It’s very common for domestic workers to actually borrow money before going back home. It’s hard for them to say no to their relatives’ money requests and come home with no gift to give. This is a good occasion for you to discuss her financial situation and encourage her to join a financial literacy course. Check our free online course Dare to Dream.
3. When I started to work with domestic workers, I noticed they were very grateful to get a body check. So this became something we ‘offered’ her and it was always very happily welcomed! I use Igoodlink (Hong Kong) for this – we like them because they have always been very reliable and professional and it is easy to arrange online. QHMS is another centre but I haven’t tried personally.
4. You can also choose to give the gift of health and kitchen happiness. In November, we met with Natalia Morrison who is a health consultant here in Hong Kong. She recently published a comprehensive cooking book which she wrote with her domestic worker. We highly recommend getting a copy for yourself and to consider offering one to your domestic worker as well. Check out our blog or Natalia’s website Home Cooking East & West where you will find details on how to get your copy.
5. Finally, the gift of a training course is a gift of growth and opening doors – it can build a domestic worker’s skills and strengthen her resume for future endeavours including when she decides to go back to her home country. The support a domestic worker gets for learning is empowering. It is a priceless gift and everyone benefits.
The best gift of all: the gift of education
In general, domestic workers are always grateful for their employer’s consideration, respect and generosity. When we asked them to share what was the best thing their employer ever did for them, a great number of them replied that it was the fact that their employers encouraged them to do some training – to learn something different or new to widen their experience or improve their skills.
“I am a very lucky helper, I have a very good employer. They treat me like I am their own family, sponsor me to go study, help me to start my own business back home.” Susilowati M.
“They appreciate my hard work in looking after their kids, they care for my health and they support me to get more skill and improve my knowledge and they pay for my school fees.” Yuliani P.
In my opinion, one of the best gifts of all is offering the gift of education – it is priceless and, as Confucius says:
And remember that with as little as USD 10, you can sponsor one domestic worker’s free life skill course at Uplifters. With only USD 30, you sponsor her full free empowerment program.
Finally, don’t forget the power of a simple Christmas card pointing out your appreciation for all of her hard work and offering her your best wishes – having the whole family sign it is sure to make her feel appreciated. Shall I mention as well the odd bag of “give away” stuff that she is always excited and thankful to get? I wouldn’t really call this a “present” even though it feels like it when I give it to her.
Wishing you and your domestic worker a Merry Christmas!
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 monthly, 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 intensively, 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, employers must 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 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 banknote 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 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 boss to talk to you.
It’s always better to put things in perspective and switch roles for a moment 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 the 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 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.