Develop a full understanding of cultural differences

Gaps between cultures lead to misunderstanding…
For example, take a sick person in the Philippines or Indonesia: she gets a massage as the first treatment. But what would you say if a domestic helper gave a massage to your sweet son or daughter who has a 39°C fever in lieu of calling you or giving some Panadol?

Western specificity can be a useful tool…
Use your Western background as an explanation or reason for doing this or that. For instance, “In our American / British / German culture, we use to do things this way…” This is a wonderful way to frame a request as reasonable instead of fussy and questionable.

Cultural roots and background never fade away…
This is true for employers as well as for employees. Even if a helper has been living in Singapore for a long time, you may be surprised by an attitude, a decision, a word in which her culture suddenly erupts provoking a seriously destabilizing effect on your relationship.

Cultural differences are a source of enrichment…
With a live-in domestic helper, you can’t get closer to Asian culture. Through her, you will discover a way of life, history, traditions, customs, and etiquette, all valuable when you travel across Asia. For a helper, working with a Western family is a great opportunity to upgrade her skills and enhance her chances to find future employment.

Be extremely patient!

Take enough time to estimate your needs and write a schedule of tasks
List all tasks you wish your helper to carry out.

Whenever possible, estimate the amount of time required for each task by doing it yourself at least once (you may notice that the local heat slows down the speed of work, even for people acclimated to tropical weather); managing all household tasks on your own for some time may be complicated, but it is the only way to objectively appreciate the load of work you can fairly require a domestic helper to take on.

Then write a list of tasks you will hand over to her. This schedule is the job description commonly used in any company and is very useful for avoiding misunderstanding later and also for regularly assessing quality of work.

Remember that you are the boss of the ‘Family Company Pte Ltd’, and to meet your expectations, your helper must become a highly qualified professional!

Take your time before hiring
Your household is at stake if you fail in the hiring process. You are looking for someone who is going to live 24/7 under your roof, sharing every single minute of your daily life! Your domestic helper holds a key position in your family; therefore, you must manage your recruitment and hiring process the same way a CEO would: take sufficient time to write the job description and conduct interviews. Whenever you feel hesitation or doubt about an applicant, wait and talk with other candidates.

It can take two months or more from the moment you start your recruitment process to the moment you find the most appropriate helper. This is even more true since domestic helpers have very little availability for interviews: only once a week on Sundays or, for many others, only once a month, on their only Sunday off. If you want to see the same candidate twice, the two appointments may be a month apart. It would be a regrettable mistake to miss an excellent candidate because she can’t make the interview sooner.

Devote a lot of time to the training of a newly hired helper
It is definitely very time consuming, but you won’t regret it! Even a helper with 10 years’ experience needs training. Allow at least three months before a domestic helper becomes fully operational. Consider the training period not a burden but a necessity for filling the gap between Western methods and values and those of a helper.

A detailed schedule of tasks is a helpful tool. You may also consider writing all cleaning methods in a notebook (task, name and amount of product, tools used, frequency, etc.); this is an efficient support for memorization, and it also avoids many misunderstandings.

Most of all show her how to do. No training is valuable without these four fundamental steps: explain, demonstrate, observe, correct. Always think about how much a time a company dedicates to the training of its newly hired staff. It should be the same with your helper. The more you train, the more likely you and she will succeed.

Dispel any prejudice!

The great helper of your friends may not be as great with your family…
Your family and your friend’s family are different and so are your expectations and methods. When you interview the domestic helper of people you know, remain objective and apply the same selection criteria as with any other candidate.

Don’t take letters of recommendation for granted…
In Singapore, when an employer wants to terminate the contract of a helper, he/ she has no other choice than transferring her to another employer or repatriatig her, but he/ she must pay the cost of transportation; therefore, an employer reluctant to spend money might write a recommendation full of praise.

Lack of a letter of recommendation doesn’t mean a less valuable employee…
Many local employers rely on maid agencies to transfer helpers and therefore don’t write recommendations even when they are happy with them. In addition, some employers do not want to be contacted because of their privacy, so they won’t be inclined to write a letter of recommendation.

Experience with an expatriate family may not be an asset for a helper…
Some helpers are said to be spoiled after working for an expatriate family. They can become too confident, excessively articulate, or harder to manage. They should get a long-term training period as well.

Zero experience with an expatriate family is not a handicap…
On the contrary! Employees who have worked only for local families are usually more flexible and more attentive to instructions and have a highly developed sense of ‘Asian service’. You might miss an excellent candidate if you focus only on the ones experienced with expatriates.