One of the reasons why I’m writing this is because some readers thought I came across as unreasonable and demanding about my househelp in my entry, Strike 3! They cautioned me to be careful about the way I talk about helpers because it may perpetuate a perspective that encourages their ill-treatment. To clarify…I shared at the beginning of that article, we do love our helpers. However, this point may have been overshadowed by revelations of my feelings over certain issues that arose in our home. So I appreciate the intentions of readers who want to keep me accountable. Thank you! I value your candor with me.
Here’s something to redeem any negativity that may have settled in the hearts of those who thought I was being reactive. This is a practical post on how to navigate the trickiness of employees who live in your home: (Not everything may be a applicable, but perhaps these tips will give you ideas to choose from.) These are practices we have tried to be consistent with in our own home that have led to a healthy relationship between our helpers and us.
- DON’T PAY THEM THE MINIMUM! PAY THEM MUCH BETTER! I was shocked to find out that P2,500 is the legal amount to pay househelp in Manila! Personally, I don’t think this is fair at all. Most househelp send money to their families in the province which means they are barely left with anything for all their work.
- INVEST FOR THEM. Edric sets money aside for our helpers monthly, on top of their salaries. This is something we started last year, but it allows our helpers to have forced savings for future needs.
- INCREASE EVERY YEAR. Most employees get an increase every year so why not our househelp? I was surprised to find out that several of the ladies who came to work for us did not receive an increase for their many years of serving their previous employers. Our mindset is, for as long as God continues to provide for us, we want to give them an increase. It is our privilege to bless them.
- HAVE REGULAR EVALUATIONS. Every six months, we evaluate their performance so they can get bonuses. We weren’t able to do this last year because things were crazy for our household with house building and packing and a new baby. But in previous years, this was a common practice of ours. (We need to implement this again.) Edric helped me to create an evaluation tool that was similar to company KRAs. It made the expectations clear and professionalized what they do.
- FEED THEM WELL. This sounds ridiculous to say, but it is common to have a separate menu for helpers. But in our home, our helpers eat the same meals we do (except for breakfast because we don’t like to eat a lot of canned goods and they do.) Personally, I feel this is actually simpler. Less gas is used to cook, and I don’t want them to think we have special food and they get something that is sub-standard. Unless we are eating something like steak, which is rare, whatever we eat, they can have, too. It also works the other way. My kids and I like fish. When Edric isn’t home during the day, that’s what we prefer to eat with our helpers. I’ve heard others say that helpers don’t like the food they eat. While our helpers do not have a palate for everything we eat they’ve actually learned to like Mexican food, burgers, salads, etc. Generally, we don’t cook a lot of pork at home so our helpers don’t eat that much of it either.
- BE GENEROUS. We go through our closets periodically so we can give away what we don’t use very often. I just gave our helpers a bunch of bags and a ton of kid’s toys that they can hand out to their relatives. Some of these were unopened but our kids have more than enough toys for themselves. We want our helpers to know that we like to share with them the blessings we have received. When we can, we also sponsor their fun. There are occasions when they want to watch a movie together and we will give them money for a night out of bonding and fellowship. A few months ago, Edric got them into ABS-CBN’s Show Time. (Their next request is to watch ASAP!) When they travel with us, we let them try the same things we get to enjoy. Last year, my siblings and I paid for all of our helpers to go to an amusement park so they could take a break from work. They had a blast!
- AVOID ADVANCING MONEY. It’s common for helpers or drivers to ask for an “advance,” which is really just borrowing money and paying it off with their next paycheck. We tell our girls not to borrow from one another or from us. But if there is a valid need, we will help them. This teaches them how to budget and work with what they have. A lot of helpers buy phones and upgrade them more often than we do! So they end up needing money when real issues arise. To avoid this, we let them present to us what they will use the extra money for.
- DON’T BE DEPENDENT ON THEM TO SERVE YOU. I know I said that I’ve been spoiled by my helpers’ service to me. At the same time, I let them know that I can take care of my kids and the home on my own. It will certainly be difficult if this became the reality. But the point is to show them that I am not asking them to do what I can’t do myself. Some days I take all the kids out with me without asking any of them to come along. My kids may come home looking dirty and soiled but hey, we survive!
- DAYS OFF. Our girls can take a day off once a week. They prefer to accumulate their days and do 3 consecutive days off in a month. I don’t mind this for as long as they tell me ahead of time and they plan it among themselves so they aren’t all gone in a given week. Some of my friends disagree with allowing their househelp to be away overnight because they may have boyfriends. I’ve had my share of househelp who have gotten pregnant. I tell them not to date the wrong kinds of men, but they still make their own decisions. Whether they are out overnight or not, the reality is, if they are bent on being promiscuous it doesn’t really matter what time of day they are allowed to take off. Personally, I prefer that they don’t come home late at night for safety reasons. So I actually tell them to come home during the morning if they are taking a day off once a week.
- DAY OF REST. Since they don’t always take weekly days off, we make Sundays easier for them. I don’t require them to do cooking or clean up work, except for the kitchen. And if we don’t have any commitments to attend to on Sundays, we take our helpers out to lunch with us after church. It doesn’t have to be an expensive restaurant, just somewhere out of the house so they don’t have to serve us on Sunday.
- A SUSTAINABLE DAILY SCHEDULE. When we don’t have visitors and if we aren’t out in the evening, our entire household goes to bed early. Sometimes as early as 9 PM. Dinner is generally at 6 PM for our family, which means that our helpers can retire early. This is great for me because Edric hands off Catalina to them at 6 AM or even earlier sometimes, and they are ready to take care of her.
- SPONSOR A YEARLY VACATION. With helpers whose families are based in far-flung provinces, we encourage them to take a good amount of time off for a yearly vacation and we pay for this time away. This allows them to reconnect with their families and have an extended period of rest so they can come back re-charged. Only once has this backfired. One of our helpers did not come back at the time she said she would. Usually, they keep their word.
- CELEBRATE THEIR BIRTHDAYS. As consistently as possible, we make our helpers feel special on their birthdays. A few days after I gave birth to Catalina, it was one of their birthdays. Since Catalina was confined, I went shopping for my househelp because I wanted her to know that we hadn’t forget about her. Fortunately, we lived in the Fort at the time and Catalina was confined in St. Luke’s Global, so everything was close by. Plus, I had given birth Lamaze which made my recovery much faster. Our househelp was so appreciative because she knew that it was a difficult time for us as a family. Since our helpers make many sacrifices for us, I think it matters that we also make sacrifices for them.
- THROW THEM A PARTY! Every Christmas, my siblings and I organize a party for them with games, prizes, raffles, and food. We gather all our househelp and drivers together for this fun day, which we really enjoy planning. In fact, I’ve got to head out to Divisoria soon to buy prizes for the games! We started doing this three years ago and it has meant a lot to them. It’s our way of communicating how much we appreciate them.
- TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO RESPECT YOUR HELPERS. We don’t allow our kids to shout, hit, or command our househelp. If they need something they have to ask politely. Better yet, if they can do it for themselves, we want them to. We also tell our kids they need to clean up after themselves because I don’t want them to develop the habit of making a mess that others mop up for them.
- USE PLEASE AND THANK YOU AND APOLOGIZE WHEN WE HURT THEM. We may expect our househelp to serve us because we pay them. But I still believe in saying please and thank you, even for the small things. Modeling what it means to say sorry is also important. There was a season when Edric was irritable and he asked for their forgiveness for his bad example.
- COMMUNICATE YOUR APPRECIATION. Helpers can be some of the most underappreciated people in our lives. We need to complement their hard work. When they cook a good meal, Edric singles them out and tells them, “This is great! We should start a restaurant!” Periodically, I will say, “Have I told you lately how much I appreciate you?” We let them know they are valued, that their faithfulness allows us the flexibility to do things like ministry. My name for them is the “A Team.” When we have events in our home, I can trust that they will set-up, cook, and prepare everything according to how I have trained them. Unless I want to add a new dish or decorate in a particular manner, I don’t need to hover over them. They are a talented, intelligent, and highly capable bunch of women, and I applaud them regularly for their gifts and abilities.
- HAVE A SYSTEM FOR ENTERTAINING VISITORS. My mother-in-law always has an efficient way of entertaining. So I learned from her. She makes a list of the menu so I copied this idea. I also add the tasks that have to get done and then I have a meeting with my girls to explain what has to happen. Each one of them assists and I keep the kids preoccupied so it’s all hands on deck and they can focus.
- LAUGH WITH THEM. Edric and I joke around with our helpers quite often. I enjoy talking with them when we are together in the kitchen or in the car. Even though they work for me, I also share conversations with them in the context of a friendship and familiarity that comes with living in the same house. Many times we laugh about their quirks or the funny things the kids do and say. I like to keep the atmosphere laid back so they feel relaxed, too. Hearing them laugh and have fun is a good barometer of how they are doing emotionally.
- ENCOURAGE THEM TO EXERCISE. Almost every afternoon, they play badminton with our kids outdoors (when it isn’t raining). I want them to get outside. And I’ve told them many times to use the running shoes I gave them to take walks around the village. They aren’t always motivated to do this, but they have our permission to go for a walk.
- UTILIZE THEIR ABILITIES. Some of my helpers are so capable! It’s such a blessing. They can handle bank transactions for me, manage construction workers, and make purchases so that I can save time and energy. When we were finishing our home, I noticed that one of our girls was very good at directing the workers and keeping them on their toes. So when I had to leave the house, I would instruct her to manage the checklist of items that needed to be finished. She was great at it! Even better than me! My helpers are also better at going to the wet market than I am. So I send them and let them get what they want on top of the fruit, vegetables and fish. They have liberty to choose their snacks and toiletries. It’s not like I give them a ton of money to handle when they make a trip to the market anyway. But it’s a simple way of communicating to them that I trust them to make choices that impact our household. I do the same thing when they need uniforms, letting them select and purchase what they would like to wear for their day-to-day outfits. I used to choose them myself but they didn’t always like them. So I focused on buying the more formal looking ones.
- LET THEM KNOW YOU ARE A PARENT WHO IS AWARE. Because of my past experience with sexual abuse, I’ve been overly cautious and protective of my children. So I tell my kids that NO ONE should ever play with their private parts. I also teach them to wash themselves and not rely on our helpers to bathe them. I communicate the same thing to the helpers, letting them know that my kids have been told to report to me any incidence of abuse or semblance of it.
- CORRECT THEM IN LOVE. In the past, I had helpers who had conflicts with one another. It was always stressful to mediate their disputes but I had to learn to be proactive and listen to different perspectives. Usually their conflicts arose from personality clashes. Sometimes it was due to alpha female issues. I would remind them of what our family core values were and encourage them to see their issues from a spiritual perspective. At the same time, I would remind them that we care about them and want to help them grow spiritually.
- COMMUNICATE CORE VALUES & BELIEFS. Every family has core values and beliefs it lives by, which make it able to survive and thrive. In our home it is having a personal relationship with Jesus which leads to being spirit-filled so we can honor God and love one another the way God wants us to. This is a summary of the essence. We communicate these to our helpers by modeling them and explaining their application in day-to-day scenarios.
- LET GO OF THE BAD SEED. There are some helpers who refuse to change and get along with others. They also cause further conflict because they are contentious and gossipers. Or, they cannot be trained to espouse our core values. We have to let women like this go if they do not improve because they infect and hurt others, spoiling the dynamic of good working relationships. Of course they are also a source of unnecessary stress in our lives, and it is difficult to trust them. The better thing to do in these instances is to let them go.
- DON’T EVER SHOUT AT THEM OR DEMEAN THEM. There are occasions when I don’t like what my helpers do or I am disappointed with their choices, but by God’s grace, I haven’t yelled at them. I pray I never do. Because Edric and I are followers of Jesus and our helpers know this, we want them to see consistency between what we say and do, who we are at home. There have been instances when we have had to apologize for our own bad examples. But for the most part, we try our best not to lose our temper with them. Our desire is that they will want to follow Jesus also.
- EVANGELIZE AND DISCIPLE THEM. Sharing the gospel to our househelp and teaching them about biblical principles is something we also do. I believe the reason why they are such good workers is because they love God and want to please him. Edric and I are imperfect people and our kids can also test the patience of our helpers, so there has to be a greater motivation for their faithfulness. While their salaries and our treatment of them all count as motivational factors, I want it to be more than these.
- PRAY FOR THEM AND WITH THEM. I try to be intentional about praying for our househelp. They also have families with real needs and concerns. So I pray that God will bless them and protect them, that they will love our family, our kids, their work, and be trustworthy. When they are dealing with a difficult circumstance, Edric and I also pray with them.
THINGS I WOULD LIKE TO DO…
- GET THEM INTO CRAFTS OR A CONSTRUCTIVE HOBBY. Our helpers were into making loom bands for a bit. But I want to give them more productive outlets. My sister-in-law, Jennifer, taught her helpers to bead. They are able to make beautiful necklaces!
- INVEST IN CLASSES OR WORKSHOPS TO ENHANCE THEIR SKILLS. My mom and dad educate the ladies who work for them. If the Lord increases our financial flexibility and when our kids are older I would like to be able to do this, too. In the meantime, I’d like them to get better training when it comes to hosting and cleaning. My other sister-in-law, Jenny, is such an amazing homemaker. I am not as detailed as she is when it comes to home management but I’d like to learn from her example and get my helpers to be trained by her.
- GIVE THEM OPPORTUNITIES TO BE ENTERPRISING. One of our former helpers was great at adding to her income by selling load, and trading cell phones. When we lived in a condo, helpers of our neighbors were into catalog selling. Hopefully, we can come up with something that our helpers can do to supplement what they make.
- HAVE REGULAR BIBLE STUDIES. When we were living in the Fort, it was easier to get my helpers to attend Bible Studies in Valle Verde. I’m praying to be able to find or start a bible study for them where we live that will work with our weekly schedule.
When I share these practices I don’t want it to sound like I’m glorifying what we do in our home. I’ve learned many things the hard way and I’ve been less than the ideal boss on many occasions (maybe not always outwardly but in my heart I’ve thought ill about our helpers because I have been frustrated.) The manner in which we try to live with our helpers and relate with them is largely based on biblical principles like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “Love one another.” Being a helper is a noble calling, one that entails humble servitude. We need to attach dignity to it, valuing them and seeking their highest good because God loves them and has a special purpose for their lives, too. He has put them in our homes not just to serve us but to be blessed by us.
IF YOU HAVE IDEAS TO SHARE ON HOW YOU RELATE WITH YOUR HELPERS THAT CAN SERVE AS A BENEFICIAL TIP FOR OTHERS, PLEASE SUGGEST THEM!