Although it is has been part of Asian cultures for generations when you are new to it, having people cook, shop and clean for you can be uncomfortable. At times managing your household staff is difficult but having a clear understanding of where challenges typically originate from and how best to handle them can make working with your household staff a pleasurable and enriching experience.
Many of us have not had domestic staff before so knowing what to expect and how to manage them is an unknown. However, most of us have been in situations where we have been a leader or manager. Don that hat and treat your household staff as an employee and perform your role as an employer. We all take pride in our work and want to be treated fairly and with respect. Domestic helpers are no different.
When dishes don’t turn out or tasks are performed poorly it is mainly due to a misunderstanding between you and your staff. Work together to set up clear systems of communication and organization to make everyone’s job much easier. Doing so limits the chance for errors as does regular guidance and support.
A few lessons I have learned along the way:
It is important that right from the start you clearly explain verbally and in their contract what their job responsibilities are and what your expectations are. Any job is easier when you know what is expected of you. For example, provide your staff with a list of the family’s, or individuals, food likes and dislikes to help them learn what dishes they should make or avoid.
Many employers have shared stories with me of mistakes based on assumptions made by them of what their staff was or was not doing. Try to keep your assumptions in check. This may mean that for the first few months you will need to work more closely with your cook. For both of you, it may feel as if you are micromanaging but as systems and preferences become established and things more settled guiding your cook will hopefully be less time consuming and be more about maintaining already set expectations.
Whether they understand your instructions or not many domestic helpers simply say that they do. Typically your staff want to please you and may be afraid to say that they don’t understand thinking that to do so may get them fired. When you have a sense that they do not understand have them explain the instructions back to you to identify any gaps in comprehension. Encourage them by reinforcing that it is ok to tell you that they do not understand and that you will help them to understand.
ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE!!!
WEEKLY MENU PLANNING
I, personally, don’t like to do a weekly menu plan. Deciding several days in advance what I am going to eat is hard for me. I have no idea what I am going to want to eat a few days in the future as I find my visits to the market, the weather and my mood impacts my daily meal cravings. However, I have conceded, as both my wife and our cook prefer to have a weekly meal plan. There are apps, like Spinning Meals, to help you develop a weekly menu and shopping list. Here are some suggestions on how to organize your weekly meals.
- If the cook does the menu planning, have them leave you a menu each Friday for you to look over and make any changes on the weekend.
- If you do the menu planning, on the weekend write down what you would like to have prepared on each day (include snacks, school and work lunches, dinners).
- If you prefer to do the shopping buy some of the ingredients on the weekend.
Setting a weekly meal plan allows you greater control over what you eat. It should also save you money as you can use up ingredients you already have at home and then simply purchase the rest that is needed. It is also simply an organizational tool that can be changed, say mid week if last minute dinner plans or sudden cravings emerge. Just try to find an effective system that works for you and your cook.
COMMUNICATION & LANGUAGE
Most problems happen because of a lack of language skills: yours and theirs. Your staff may have limited English skills or none at all. Likewise, you may have a basic knowledge of their language. But there are ways to get around that.
- Invest in language lessons for both of you. Take a course that teaches you basic language skills of your host country and your cook classes that improve their English skills.
- When speaking try not to use too many words or vocabulary that your cook may not understand.
- Along with providing verbal instructions also write down to do job lists in point form
- Make use of recent language apps, Google translate or language reference books.
- Adjust the way you teach them skills based on how best they learn.
COMMUNICATE EVEN MORE – Notebooks and Whiteboards
Whether or not you see your cook on a daily basis, having a place where you and they can write down notes and instructions is handy. Employers who do not see their cook daily will often use a notebook to communicate with them. They may also call their cook to ensure that the written instructions are understood.
My family started using a whiteboard, in conjunction with a notebook, to share the daily to do list and also for family members or our cook to write down used up pantry items that need to be purchased. The notebook has now become our cook’s personal book where she writes down her own notes or instructions on how to make a dish in her own language to refer to at a later date.
At the same time find a balance in how you share information with them. Overloading them with too much information often causes confusion. Depending on their level of language skills you most likely will need to share and repeat instructions through both written lists and verbal instructions. Just like your spouse or children, your cook cannot also read your mind. So regular clear communication is essential for a success working relationship.
Most of the cooks I have met enjoy learning new skills and dishes to impress their employers. You can often find cooking classes for maids are offered by the community education program at international schools or through a local cooking school or training center. Investing in your cook to take cooking, language or first aid classes indicates to them that you value their work and gives them the opportunity for future advancement. Whether that is a salary increase with you or future employers or the ability to start a new career, say as a caterer.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to provide regular feedback to your household staff. I have run classes for staff over the years and many say they wish their employers would provide more positive and constructive feedback about the dishes they have prepared. If I have particularly enjoyed a meal I will send a text message to our cook telling her so. Whereas if I feel something needs to be changed or can be improved I will speak with them the following day or leave them a helpful encouraging note about how to make improvements. If you rarely see your cook it may be best to also give them a phone call during working hours to make sure they understand the feedback you are sharing. Standards of work may slip because accurate feedback is often not being given.
Depending on the experiences you or your friends have had, there will most likely be a story about someone’s domestic helper taking some money. Sometimes this may be done in cahoots with a vegetable seller, but most often done on their own. Setting up a receipts book is a good tool to keep track of purchases. The date of purchase, item purchased, amount purchased and cost can be recorded to help see where funds are being spent. A conscientious cook may initiate such a system as a safeguard against being suspected of stealing funds.
BALANCING ACT – Being an employer and a friend
Having staff in your home can create a unique challenge of balancing relationship as employer or friend. Household staff can feel like family but it is important to remember that even if you become friends with your staff that there is a professional relationship there that needs to be respected.