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 the 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 skin care 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 endeavors 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!