Miss Debrett on... Domestic Help
The days of 'below stairs', household staff,
scullery maids, skivvies and charwomen
are long gone. But large numbers of us
still employ domestic help of some kind,
be it a weekly cleaner, an occasional
gardener, an au pair, or even a live-in
nanny. In most cases we have
recourse to domestic help
because we simply do not
have time to do the tasks
ourselves - we work long
hours, travel daunting
distances, ferry our children about,
as well as packing in sport, exercise, socialising, shopping.
There just aren't enough hours in the day…
But for many of us, domestic help - while absolutely vital to our wellbeing - is seen as an embarrassment, something to apologise for. This attitude can distort our relationship with domestic employees; we tidy up the house before the cleaner arrives,
get drunk with the nanny, spend the afternoon drinking tea
with the gardener.
The whole domestic relationship is eased greatly by setting clear parameters at the outset. So, make a list of what you want your cleaner/nanny/gardener to do, and hand it over to them at the beginning. It's best to have it in writing, as it will give you a document to point to when you feel that your domestic employees are slacking.
It will also give them a very useful comeback if you begin (as many of us do) to subtly move the goalposts, asking them to take on more and more extra tasks. If you do start to pile on the extra duties, offer more money (or take other tasks off the list). Failure to do will cause untold resentment, and will very probably lead to the swift demise of your relationship.
Be friendly and accommodating, and behave in a civilised manner towards your employees. This means offering cups of tea and coffee and, if there's time, joining them for a break and a gossip. But don't let the socialising get out of hand. When you've only got someone's services for a couple of hours, an hour-long 'feet up' session doesn't make much sense.
Pay promptly, tip at Christmas, and try and keep out of the way when work is being done. Keep communicating and don't let resentments or criticisms simmer. Above all, remember that a competent domestic employee is a priceless asset. So don't apologise, just be very grateful for your good luck…
Miss Debrett's Top Tips
- Employing domestic help isn't something you have to apologise for.
- Set out the requirements at the start, preferably in writing, and don't move the goalposts.
- Be friendly and sociable, but don't let the conviviality get out of hand - you'll waste valuable hours of your employee's time.