11 August 2016

How to hire household help.

Since arriving in Jeddah I have been searching for a housekeeper.  While everyone here seems to have one it is becoming more and more difficult to find someone to help.  In years gone by most of the household help was comprised of Umrah or Hajj overstayers.  The government has recently started to crack down on this.  In reality this is a good thing, those working here illegally were vulnerable to abuse in many forms and the truth of the matter is, as an expat, I would not want to employ someone illegal as it would put our status in the country in jeopardy.  This has, however, created a pinch point for household help meaning we need to find someone wanting a job share, someone whose work is coming to an end and  whose visa we can take over as sponsors or apply to an agency and bring someone in from abroad.  There are pitfalls to all of those, happily it looks like a solution is on the horizon and I will have help at home again.

I don’t need someone, of course, having household help is a privilege I do not have when in a European posting so I am perfectly capable (if reluctant) of doing my own cleaning.  Nevertheless I don’t like doing it.  I hate mopping floors, I loathe ironing (but can’t bring myself to wear or let anyone in the family wear un-ironed clothes), bathrooms are odious work and hanging the laundry up is disproportionately aggravating, don’t even get me started on changing bedclothes.  All the children have full size doubles and we have something so large it is called an ‘Emperor’ size bed.  All very lovely until you have to wrestle with sheets and duvet covers.  For this reason I jump at having someone to help wherever possible. 

I hate housework - who doesn't...
I do know some expats who dislike the ‘maid culture’ that exists in some postings.  I see some of it here, parents who leave their children solely in the care of the maid, friends who, when we visit, never put anything away.  Children who treat their maid and driver like dirt.  One seemingly lovely lady on our compound came round to say she was moving on and her maid was looking for new work.  The girl in question wanted a live in position during the week, her husband could not pick her up and drop her off  for work and would not allow her in a taxi.  When I pointed out that we wanted a live out (but that I would pay for a private and trusted taxi service) the previous employer told me that I had plenty of space, she could sleep in  the baby’s room or even the cupboard under the stairs.  Visions of Harry Potter flew through my mind  and I just said the position would not work for us.  This attitude is not unusual, our house in Ipoh (Malaysia) had a maid’s quarter, 1/3 the size of the children’s bedrooms it had no air-conditioning.  It did have a bathroom but no hot water.  The schedule for the previous occupant’s maid was still up on the wall.  Her duties started at 5.30 and did not finish until after 9pm.  It broke my heart.

All this aside I don’t feel guilty having help in the house because we don’t treat people like that.  In one posting where my mother was required to host gatherings for up to 60 people sometimes multiple times a week  my parents had 4 people they employed directly to help us out and we had a driver provided by the company.  My mother would not allow us to take advantage of this situation, however.  We still had to keep our rooms tidy, make our beds, put clothing away, keep our bathroom sanitary.  We had to help the cook with his work for big events and woe betide any visiting friend who spoke to people with disrespect.  In another posting with a similarly large number of people helping us out we all sat down for coffee every morning and had a ‘conversation break’.  This way we learned the local language (Spanish) quickly and effectively,  albeit with a strong local accent and patois. 

It is too easy for children to become accustomed to having everything done for them.  Like my mother, Mr EE and I insist that the children are polite and helpful.  They are expected to keep their rooms neat and tidy so they can be cleaned.  If there is any mess on the floor they have to tidy it up, and they must put clothes away neatly.  Anything that has been beautifully ironed then thrown in a crumpled heap in a cupboard earns a pocket money deduction.  They have to help whoever is doing it to change their sheets and clean their bathroom, They also have to help around the house.  Part of this is self-preservation (I am responsible for all this when we are in Europe so I don’t want to make my life harder), part to make sure that they learn valuable life skills for when they have their own households (I am teaching them to cook and when they are older will expect them to be responsible for a family meal a week each), part is a simple measure of respect for the person who is helping them.  This may seem like a normal basic minimum but you would be shocked at how many people this is not normal for.  

All this is by way of saying that expats should not feel bad about hiring help in the home, as long as they treat people the way they would hope their own children would be treated in a similar job (as an Au Pair for example).  Most people who work as household help take pride in their job and the fact that they are supporting their family.  My top tips are as follows:
  • Not every person is a fit, as with all jobs think about a probationary period to make sure you work well together. 
  • Check references, equally give a fair reference when you leave. 
  • Discuss what duties are expected and set out any extras (ie Babysitting) that is paid extra.
  • Don’t be afraid to say if you don’t like the way something is done but do explain how you would prefer it.
  • Make sure that you pay a fair salary, check what the market rate is but if you think it is too low for the work done then pay more. 
  • Consider a bonus for New Year or at key religious festivals, save up an end of term lump sum so that they have funds to tide them over while they find another position.
  • Give time off generously, particularly for bereavement and medical issues.
  • If someone is live out consider providing a transport allowance so that the people working for you are not taking dangerous routes home.    
  • Think about what you are asking people to do, would you be happy to do it? 
  • Help out where appropriate, ie big end of posting spring cleans.
  • Ensure that people have adequate breaks during the day and make food, hot drinks and water fully and freely available.
  • Make sure your children do not become entitled. 
A final note of warning, make sure that while bending over backwards to ensure that you are not an unscrupulous employer, that you are not saddled with an employee that is taking advantage.  Ask for evidence of medical treatment  (or other support) you have agreed to pay for (a kind hearted friend in Kazakhstan was stung for a lot of money this way).

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Ersatz Expat

2 comments:

  1. I hate housework too. All that cleaning...and it's a never ending cycle.

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    Replies
    1. With five of us the laundry is what really gets me. With school uniform added to the mix we create, in one day, what a single person will in a week. It is exhausting.

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