For many expats, while having a helper is a life-saver, it is also a new experience. Navigating this special relationship can be tricky. We’ve got some pro-tips to help you and your helper live happily ever after.
Your maid is the ever-reliable extra pair of hands in your household. She is a nanny to your kids, cooks delicious meals, takes initiative, is responsible and does a great job at keeping the house clean. Because your helper is doing such a good job, it’s easy to simply leave her be. After all, everything’s moving along nicely, so there’s nothing much to communicate with her about. In the time she’s worked for you, you’ve probably hardly spoken to her much about personal matters: her favourite food, the names of her husband and children back home, or even what she’d like for her birthday.
You’ve become so used to her presence in your home that you don’t think about her outside her role as your domestic helper. What many employers don’t realise is that forging a closer relationship with their maids can actually reap many benefits. “I have employed numerous foreign domestic workers in the past, when living in India and Singapore. From my experience, treating your employees well not only benefits the household, but also creates a positive living environment for everyone in the family. Some of my former maids have now become my friends, and
are a valuable part of my social network, says Anja Wessels, research consultant for the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (Home). Here’s what you can do to start building a better relationship with your helper.
Bond over kids – yours and hers
Your helper spends time with your children when you’re busy at work, and probably knows things about them that you aren’t aware of. “My maid was especially close to my son, and they would frequently have lunch together after she picked him up from school,” recalls freelance designer Kristy Quah. “I trusted them, so I gave them a joint allowance of $500 a month, so they could enjoy better meals and even take a taxi home on certain days.” Use your little ones as common ground to strike up casual conversations with her. Besides the usual questions about their general welfare, you can get her to share fun facts she has observed about your kids, such as what their favourite games at the park are. Your maid undoubtedly misses her own kids back home too, so ask about them as well.
Celebrate special occasions
Make it a point to celebrate her birthday. Give her a gift or take her out for a nice meal with your family. Alternatively, you can give her a generous hongbao. Says stay-at-home mum Victoria Deng-Kheng: “We did that for our helper’s bir thday last year. It’s a practical yet thoughtful gift, as we figured she’ll need money the most. Plus, she can spend it on what she wants, instead of being saddled with a gift she won’t use.” Don’t forget to allow her time off for important religious holidays, such as Hari Raya Puasa or Christmas. “You should also include her in any festivities your family celebrates,” says Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, president of non-governmental organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2).
Connect with her on social media
You’d be surprised at how social media savvy your helper is – from using Facebook to Twitter, Instagram and more. Connect with her on these platforms to learn more about her interests and her family. She’ll appreciate that you’re genuinely interested in her life. However, Anja notes that this might sometimes result in a lack of perceived privacy for your maid, so be sure to seek your helper’s opinion first.
“As maids are responsible for the safety of your children, the elderly and other family members, they naturally become part of the family network,” says Anja. So treat your maid like a family member, and let her know that you’re always ready to offer her a listening ear or hand. “You should ask after her physical and mental well-being regularly, and hear her out whenever she is troubled,” advises Noorashikin. Be the one she can turn to in times of need. “Also, be encouraging by giving her praise where it is due. If she makes mistakes, talk to her about them tactfully. And never disrespect her by insulting her family,” Noorashikin adds. “However, keep in mind that any inquiries about her personal life should be done with professionalism, so avoid interrogating your helper about strictly personal affairs, such as her love life,” recommends Anja.
Be generous with privileges
Besides giving your maid weekly days off, you can also consider giving her additional perks and benefits. “My family gave our previous maid – who has since returned home – a radio of her own, which she could listen to at night to unwind. We also took her along on family holidays, to places like Bangkok and Hong Kong. “On these trips, we gave her a travel allowance of $100, so that she could buy her own souvenirs,” shares Kristy. “It’s a two-way process. I believe that if we treat them well, they’ll feel more appreciated, and will, in turn, treat our children well. A happier maid is also easier to communicate with.”
By Delle Chan, Simply Her, September 2015