For many of us, having paid help at home is a very new experience and one we, as Brits, don’t necessarily take to very well (with our colonial hangover, and all that). Looking at it from the outside, it could be said we fall into one of a few categories; the Best Friend employer, the Smith-to-Smythe employer, the Pushover employer, and so on. We’ve all heard the saying about giving an inch and taking a mile, but is it really true or is it sometimes employers who aren’t playing fair? Here are a few experiences from fellow British mums to give you an idea of what you can expect, and some tips from an expert to set you off on the right foot.
Long-time expat Cate, 37, hired a housemaid when her second child was four months old. “I was absolutely hopeless as an employer,” she says. “I felt desperately sorry for the lady and did everything I could to make up for what I perceived to be this hugely unfair gap between her life and mine. Friends who’d had plenty of experience with ladies helping them said I’d be making myself a rather uncomfortable bed and would end up having to lie in it, but I just didn’t see this could be the case for us, as we’d started off so well. Needless to say, it was a costly mistake when things came to a head just a couple of months after we renewed her visa for the third time, and we realised our situation was just too stressful and fragile with the way it was heading.”
With her next employee, Cate says, she was careful to start out on a different foot with clear boundaries and maintain an appropriate relationship. “I’m disappointed because it’s made me more distant, and that’s not me, but I’d rather that than live with an uneasy feeling when it becomes ever so slightly awkward to ask for help when you need it,” she says.
And what about from the other side of the fence? Annie, 49, has worked for three families in the UAE over the past nine years and says she’d much rather her employer laid out expectations clearly from the start. “One employer I worked for obviously didn’t like telling me what she wanted me to do, and if I asked her she would just tell me a few vague instructions,” she says. “So I had to guess and if I didn’t get it right she’d just take to going over the things I’d already done, redoing things how she wanted them!”
Kasturi, 52, agrees, but she says some ladies prefer this as they don’t like being told what to do. “Some of my friends will only take jobs with employers they think won’t give them a hard time and be bossy, even if this means they don’t really know what they’re expected to do,” she explains. “Sure, nobody likes being bossed around if your boss is awful, but give me someone who at least knows what they want, any day!”
And Lovelyn, 32, says it can get a little on the awkward side when boundaries are crossed and the employer/employee line is blurred, in case there are unrealistic or unreasonable expectations on either side and a chance behaviour might change accordingly. “My friends and I prefer to know exactly where we stand, with everything explained when we start with a new family,” she explains. “That way nobody will be disappointed, whether it’s with working hours, job responsibilities, benefits or extras. Nobody likes to feel taken advantage of and nobody likes to feel cheated, so knowing what to expect is much better for everyone.”
Denise McGinty, founder of home help agency The Housekeeping Co, says it’s vital to lay out expectations on both sides from the get-go, and remember working relationships should be just that. “Start with a 30-day plan, and use the first couple of days as an orientation so you can support your helper with establishing a routine,” she says. “Follow up, check things, give feedback, and don’t let things slip if something hasn’t been done properly or your remit hasn’t been followed. Remember it’ll take around three months for someone to settle in.”
And crucially, Denise says, run your home as a workplace. “You’re the CEO of your home, so act like one,” she explains. “Communication is vital; never assume someone understands your instructions or will just know how you want things done. Always ask for confirmation, explain clearly your expectations, train well and follow through.”
Clearly, investing time and effort into creating the culture you want to see in your home can have a huge pay-off, not just for you but for everyone involved. And that should make for a happier home all round!
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