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.
To ask all your questions about your domestic worker, join our “Support for Employers of Foreign Domestic Workers” Facebook Group.
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.