This week someone told me that a little baby girl had been hurt by a helper so badly that her arm had a fracture and she is now wearing a cast. Initially the helper denied that she had anything to do with it, but eventually confessed when the police were called. I feel very sad whenever I hear of such cases and wonder how parents can minimise such risks.
People often ask me why I trust my helper so much that I can leave Zoey with her all the time. Some lament that I am so lucky that I found a great helper. I will have to say that trust and luck never comes without respect and hard work.
We had made mistakes when we hired our first helper years ago and I ended up having to make the tough decision of sending her back after finding out that she had lied, stolen money and let another maid into our home. When I first started searching for a helper this time, I knew from past experience that I needed to make smarter decisions.
Here is what worked for us.
1) Do select an experienced helper.
A new helper coming from her home country normally does not know what to expect. This can be a positive or negative thing. Some employers like a new helper as they feel it means they have a clean slate and are easy to train. I used to think the same way, but have now decided that for a family with children, an experienced helper is definitely a better choice. I selected to employ Siti because she is older, had 5 years experience working in Singapore and is divorced with a daughter back home. This means that she is less likely to be fooling around or dating while here in Singapore as her objectives are to work hard and save money for her daughter. In fact, she is now building a house back home and often excitedly shows me the pictures of the work in progress.
2) Do ask for references or speak to previous employers.
Prospective employers can actually check a helper’s employment history on MOM’s website. I recommend not selecting helpers who have constant change of employers. At the same time, do request to get references or speak to a previous employer. With Siti, she had 5 years experience working in Singapore previously. I managed to speak to her previous employer who shared that Siti had taken care of their son and daughter for 3 years. After the daughter went to childcare, she helped take care of their grandfather until he passed on. That was when they decided they no longer needed a helper and had to let Siti go. They praised her cleanliness, love of children and honesty during the entire call so I felt more at ease to hire her.
3) Do communicate your expectations right from the beginning.
During my interview with Siti, I explained very clearly her duties will primarily be looking after Zoey when I am working, cooking and housework. The priority is always Zoey before anything else. Once she arrived I came up with a simple timetable and a list of expectations. I gave her a notebook to write it all down. Over the first month, I showed her how I liked things done, including how to wash Zoey’s bottles and clothes diapers, where to go marketing and how to cook the dishes we liked to eat. Whenever she made a mistake, I made sure to explain to her how I preferred it to be done. We have had to negotiate or rethink certain portions of what she can or cannot do, but overall, I have been very happy with her work because she has met my expectations as listed.
4) Do allow her to have adequate rest and off days.
Helpers are human and no one can work 24/7. From the beginning, the timetable had Siti waking up at 7 am each morning and rest time starting from 9 pm. We also agreed on her having every Sunday and most public holidays off. My rational is very simple. No one can work properly if they are tired, so we don’t want her to wake up too early or sleep too late. Whenever she is still working at 11 pm, I always ask her to go to bed. Over the past year, she has developed her own timetable and I am fine as long as I see she is getting enough rest. I feel helpers definitely need one off day a week. As employees ourselves, we cannot work 7 days a week without rest, so how can we expect our helpers to do so? I am a firm believer that everyone needs a break and I am happy to see Siti come back every Sunday refreshed and ready for a new work week.
5) Do install cameras for surveillance.
While there is a lot of controversy on whether employers should install cameras, I believe this has helped in our employer/employee relationship. When Siti first started working for us, Zoey was only 7 months old. A baby can never tell us what’s wrong or how she is ill-treated. That was the reason why we had dlink cameras installed in our home. They are fairly cheap at Challenger and easy to self install. Having a cloud camera serves 2 purposes – a helper will think twice about inflicting any harm to a child when she knows the child is being watched. At the same time, as parents, Irene and I have peace of mind that we can check on Zoey whenever we wish to. Now Siti can share with us what Zoey did during the day and she often tells me I can check the camera to see the mischief Zoey has been up to.
6) Do respect your helper, including her time and privacy.
As much as possible, I avoid screaming or yelling at Siti. After all, I would not like to work for a boss who yells and screams at me, so why would I do that to my helper? I believe that respecting her and speaking nicely to her will yield better results. I also do not wish for her to take her anger out on Zoey if I take mine out on her. Our cameras are installed in all rooms in our home. However, they are used to monitor Zoey and not Siti. We do not check on Siti when she is home alone as that is not the purpose of our cameras. She should have her privacy and own time to do what she wants to do. I also do not restrict her from using her phone as long as it is not interfering with her work. We all need some kind of social life and interaction, so as long as she has her priorities right and only uses the phone when the housework is done, I do not care when or how. Imagine if your employer does not allow you any social interaction in your entire work day. You cannot check your phone, cannot surf Facebook, cannot WhatsApp with your friends etc. I know I would not be able to work for such an employer. So with that in mind, I am fine if she takes some time to chat with her friends or takes a break during the day as long as her work is done.
7) Do show your appreciation.
Too many people take their helpers for granted. I always remind myself, Irene and Zoey to show Siti appreciation. This begins with small things such as saying please and thank you. Also always ask if she is ok to take on more work if you need her to do something additional to her normal duties. Do not take her off days for granted and remember to pay her if you need her to work extra days. 6 months after Siti started working for us, we sent her to ITE for English classes. She had told me she wanted to upgrade herself so English classes are a start. She has since graduated from 3 grades and is on the 4th level of the English class. When she completes all 6 grades, we will send her for either a computer class or another vocational class of her choosing. She recently told me that her other helper friends could not believe it when she told them that we sent her for classes and even her classmates at ITE were amazed. I told her that my wish for her is that by the time she leaves our employ, she has upgraded herself to a point where she no longer needs to be a helper and can get a better paying job or perhaps start a small business back in Indonesia. I believe the gift of education is the best we can provide for helpers as that will be a stepping stone for them to get out of poverty.
All in all, I am extremely glad that Siti is working for us and from what I know, she is happy to work for us as well. A happy employee is a productive and cheerful person. This helps promote a happy and harmonious home environment for us, so I believe all the hard work and effort is well worth it. Ultimately she is looking after our precious baby so it serves us well to keep her happy. I hope more people can adopt the same attitudes towards helpers so they can have a happy working relationship with their helpers as well.
Siti smiling as she watches Zoey