My Domestic Helper Doesn’t Take Initiative, What Should I Do?

Managing a helper is challenging, especially when she doesn’t take any initiative, so here are some tips to make your helper more autonomous.

The honeymoon period with your helper has ended and even though she is a great person, she doesn’t take enough initiative. Welcome to the world of employers, fraught with challenges and obstacles. Supervising, motivating and guiding a domestic helper is a challenging task. If you are frustrated by her lack of autonomy, take action earlier rather than later. The longer you wait the more complicated it will become to change established behaviour.

domestic helper initiative
A domestic helper’s initiative can be boosted through positive feedback

A quick glance at employer ads and keyword searches, immediately illuminates that most employers are looking for a domestic helper who takes initiative and who can work autonomously. But most domestic helpers have been taught their entire life to follow directions and instructions. Even if they have worked for other families who rave about her ability to take initiative, it doesn’t mean that your expectations of her autonomy are the same.

It would be best to have discussed her ability to take initiative during the interview, as well as with her previous employers.

Firstly, in order to successfully manage her, you need to assess her current autonomy. Does she take initiative when cooking, but not when it comes to cleaning? Or does she do things her own way when you are not present? Each situation will require a different action plan, but we have created a list that will help you manage how she takes initiative.

  • Give her time to get used to your style of managing and your household dynamics. She should use the first weeks, perhaps even months, to get to know you and your family’s preferences and expectations. She will need to find the right balance between taking her own initiative based on her training and your expectations. For example, she is great at preparing delightful vegetarian dishes, but your family prefers juicy steaks. It will take her time to find out your taste and she will need to be given access to recipes or cookbooks in case she has no experience with your cuisine.
  • Whatever you do, give her space. Micromanaging may be necessary in the beginning, but if you overdo it, your helper could feel uncomfortable to the point where she may leave. Even if she doesn’t, she may start to expect that you check her closely and tell her when she should do things differently.
  • Talk to your helper to ensure your instructions are clear. Even if you want your helper to work autonomously, she will still have to follow certain instructions. You will need to tell her clearly and explicitly that your family prefers a salt-free meal, rather than expect her to figure that out. What may seem normal to you, is probably not to her. If you want her to use a different towel for the toilet and floor, you might have to tell her this. Be clear when you want her to follow your instructions to a T and when she can decide on her own.
  • Give her a schedule of weekly and daily tasks with priorities clearly listed. You may prefer your towels to be washed every three days and your bedding weekly, but she will not know this unless you tell her. Prioritise the duties for her in case she cannot finish them all due to unforeseen circumstances.
  • Help her to also create her own schedules so that she can make adjustments the longer she works for you. She may find a different schedule more efficient, especially as duties will change as your kids grow and she will be able to handle them autonomously.
  • Accept that she won’t be perfect at everything. Let’s face it, nobody is. If things work well for a while and suddenly deteriorate, do talk to her so that your expectations are reiterated.

With this list, you should be able to train your helper and enable her to take more initiative. However, if you continue to be dissatisfied with her progress and initiative-taking, you may eventually have to consider terminating her contract. If you do decide to terminate her contract, do this in mutual agreement so that you both have time to look for the right match.