How to Improve Communication with Your Domestic Helper
Establishing a positive and good relationship with your domestic helper through communication is important. Not only because it makes your life as an employer easier and because it can help prevent issues such as loans, but also because tensions in the household can have an adverse effect on your children and other family members.
Stepping in their shoes
Foreign domestic workers come to Hong Kong for employment in order to provide for their own families and children whom they have left behind. Some helpers do not even know their own children well because they only see them for a few days every two years. This can have a psychological toll on the foreign domestic helper. Understanding their situation and showing that you care will improve your relationship with her.
Most domestic helpers are also very worried about their contract and employment situation. They think that if they speak up, the employer will terminate their contract and send them back to their home country. This is because the Hong Kong government does not allow foreign helpers to stay in the city if they do not have a formal contract and employment visa. There are many stories about employers who have fired their helpers for complaining about their job. Of course, for an employer it is not nice to hear a helper complain, but instead of firing the helper, try and understand what she does not like about the job, and what could be done differently for better work performances. It is understanding and adapting that makes you a good employer and in turn it will improve the relationship with your helper.
Finally, living with one’s employer is not easy. Just imagine that you had to live with your own boss and other unfamiliar people 24/7. Would you be happy or very stressed? Helpers face similar issues and it is important to create privacy for everyone in the family and to set a fixed schedule of working hours so that the employer-employee relationship remains healthy.
Listen to your helper
As an employer it is important to listen to your helper on a regular basis so that you can avoid problems. If your helper feels appreciated, she may tell you that she is tired every day and needs some time to nap during the day, or that a number of tasks can be done differently so that she can work more efficiently. People like things to be done their own way, but be open to other ways if they make sense.
Instead of arguing with your helper or screaming that things have to be done your way, listen and try to find common ground. Sometimes it can help to see your domestic helper as the household manager and yourself as the household CEO. A manager will have certain input that can be valuable while at the same time you, as the employer, will explain your reasoning and make the final decision. In a relationship with mutual respect that should not be a problem.
Finally, it is important to listen to your helper about her problems. This comes more naturally to some employers than to others, but working abroad away from family and friends means that many domestic workers will turn to their employers for help and advice. Listening to their worries is often all they need.
Set up regular meetings (for example once every two months) with your helper to discuss how things are going. Ask her for information about her family back home, how she is handling her money and how she thinks the job is going. These questions can seem very personal and if the helper is unwilling to talk about these, do not force her to do so. Domestic helpers often feel they need to be submissive to their employers. Let your helper know that you are there for her if she has financial problems or if her family at home has issues so that she slowly becomes accustomed to your way of doing things. It does not mean that you promise to pay off her debts or pay for her flight ticket in between her vacation leave, but this way she will know that she can come to you if there are problems.
During these regular meetings, it is important to also ask your domestic helper if she has any questions or problems. This can be about her duties, the Hong Kong law or where she can buy products from her home country. Let her talk freely and do not attack her, but discuss the issues calmly even if you disagree. The fact that your helper comes to you to discuss her issues means she trusts you and this is a basis you can build upon as her employer.
Every employer and every domestic helper are different. Individual personalities will affect the employment, but stay positive and treat your helper in a straightforward, honest and respectful way. In return she will treat you and your family in the same manner and a positive relationship means she will stay with you for many years and you will avoid employment problems. So on a final note, it is important to train your foreign domestic helper well so that she can do her job well and your family runs smoothly.