We are always seeing questions from first-time employers about how to onboard a new helper; it’s no small thing bringing a stranger into your home, and is actually a unique opportunity to examine just how differently we live our lives from one family to the next. Please welcome seasoned employer Naomi Hattaway with some great common sense tips that will hopefully help get you organised, and get your employer-employee relationship off on the right foot.
After living in both New Delhi, India and Singapore, I’ve had my fair share of hiring and managing staff. While the set-ups differ greatly – multiple staff in India vs. just one helper in Singapore – and usually the same in Dubai – what I do know is that it takes a bit of grace, some pre-planning and a LOT of communication in order for the relationship to function and be a positive experience for everyone!
Depending on your location and the nationality of the helper you hire, you may or may not have government/state regulations to follow when hiring your helper, so perform due diligence and ensure you are following all rules, including any salary requirements, etc. It is imperative that you spend time examining your home life and family habits to determine what exactly you are looking for in a helper/staff. Too often, very little attention is given to the small details of what exactly is needed from your staff member. Look deeper than just references and ask questions like “What did you most enjoy about working for your last family?” or “What is your favorite recipe to cook?” These may seem trivial, but in fact will open up the communication, especially if she is nervous.
Let me share with you my Top 10 Tips when Hiring and Managing a Helper.
1. Let her settle in. Make your own arrangements for dinner that first day! Are you providing linens or is she bringing them from her last job? Let her know that you’ll help her hang photos and put things away. She may have a laptop, so be prepared to share your Wi-Fi password. Find out whether you need to offer a direct transfer for her salary or pay in cash. Show her how to get to the nearest SMRT station or bus stop.
2. Take her to the grocery store to show her (1) how to get there and (2) some of your normal/favourite things. YOU didn’t know how to get around when you first arrived – don’t assume she will just figure it out.
3. Provide her with access. Consider providing her with a monthly cell phone allowance. I need at ALL times for her phone to be on and charged up with credits, and the best way to make sure that happens is to give her the monthly top-up card that equals peace of mind for me. Give her a house key and explain your rules (doors always locked, only at night, whenever she’s alone in the house – whatever the case may be for your specific situation).
4. Write it down. Get a small notebook to keep track of expenditures. Create a ledger and ask your helper to also keep receipts. Once every two weeks, I suggest perusing the receipts – not because of trust issues – but to keep tabs on what we’re spending as a family.
Having this notebook also helps with MY quick-to-annoyance attitude when it feels like she’s asking for more money all of the time – since I’m only doing about half of the shopping, I don’t have the pulse on daily expenses. Allowing her the opportunity to document her spend provides a better trusting relationship between the two of us.
5. Share the duties. We have a car, so once every two weeks or so, I get staples and household items AND meats at one of the big hypermarkets. I go early morning before it gets crazy/crowded! Then daily, one of us will walk to one of the stores down the street to get fresh items, kitchen supplies, etc.
I sat down with cookbooks on Sunday and outlined the week of menus. Using sticky notes, mark the recipes that sound interesting to you. On top of the sticky, just note whether it’s veg, soup, salad, etc. THEN with a calendar or sheet of paper, write out your days and randomly slot in your recipes, jotting down the cookbook title and page number on the appropriate date.
6. Create a MUST HAVE list. We have found it helpful for everyone involved to have a “Must Have List” that is displayed prominently (ours is on our fridge). This list lines out the specific things I require to be in our house at ALL times (e.g. lemons, apples, milk, etc.). This is the “absolutes” list. It sets an expectation which assists your helper in staying on top of the shopping items to always have and reduces the number of times that a reminder conversation needs to take place.
7. Be VERY clear and identify your non-negotiables. If you don’t want someone in your kitchen before you’ve had a chance to make your OWN coffee and shuffle around in your bathrobe, tell your helper to start work at 10am. If you want that morning assistance first thing to have help with packing snacks/lunches for children, by all means, let her know. If you want quiet time in the evening then let her know.
Sometimes the non-negotiables are buttoning hubby’s shirts after ironing so that when he packs the two sides don’t fly all over, or that certain dishes are special/keepsakes. Do you have a specific kind of toilet paper? Do you want your pillows arranged in a specific way?
I’d also suggest laying out a tentative daily schedule for your helper to start out – when you’ve started a new job, wasn’t it good to have some guidelines? – but be prepared to make adjustments once everyone settles in.
8. English is not her first language. Be prepared for some things to need to be discussed repeatedly. Don’t make it personal, and don’t get frustrated. Often those who do not speak English as their native language can read/write more confidently than they can speak. Take advantage of that notebook! Another communication tip is to utilize the SMS function on your phones. The written word is easier to understand!
9. Sometimes laughter is nervousness, not humour. Once I arrived home and a dish had been broken. No biggie at all … we all could have broken that dish ourselves. But as she was telling me, she was laughing … I knew it had to be nervousness. If you don’t know this going into the working relationship, it can come off as being disrespectful.
10. If you’re irritated or bothered by something, TELL her. She is your employee. It may feel so odd to function as the boss, but try role-playing in your head and pretend that you are IN AN OFFICE and your employee needs a chat, a reference point, a directive. It ends up much more professional that way!