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Elizabeth Ajetunmobi: How to Get the Best Out of Your Domestic Staff

Hiring and firing of household staff has become the norm in Nigeria. Most of us have had terrible experiences with them, or at least, heard a crazy story or two.

It makes one ask: Is it possible to have situations where these people carry out their duties in a professional manner, and the employer treats them with the utmost respect, just like they would to colleagues. Is it possible for there to be peace between both parties? I think it is.

Let face it, these days, both parents are working 9-5 or running businesses 24/7 and need to depend more and more on nannies, cooks, cleaners, e.t.c. They have become a part of our households and we pay extra attention to them as they take care of our precious kids and our houses.

A major challenge, however, is their background. There’s a popular saying that goes, “You cannot give what you don’t have.” A lot of domestic helps, in all sincerity, do not intend to be bad. It’s just that there are so many expectations placed on them, and considering their level of exposure, they might not be able to handle these responsibilities until they have been trained. Even after training, they need to be given time to grow into their new roles and responsibilities.

Like all around the world, the gap between the middle class and others in Nigeria is huge. The level of poverty is unimaginable. There’s a huge disconnect between the employer’s frame of reference and that of the employee in a typical Nigerian household. A lot of employers do not consider the background of their domestic staff; they assume that he or she is as exposed as they are.

When they resume work at a residence, the employer, who is a busy man or woman, hurriedly briefs the staff and gives too many instructions at once, expecting them to cope or know what to do. The truth is, a lot of times, these helps try to cope. However, that comes with frustrations on both sides, which result in mistakes, such as improper use and possible damage of appliances and household items, and, of course, outbursts of anger on the part of the employer.

The employee is frustrated. She wants to leave. The employer is frustrated. They need a replacement. They both move on in search of a better job and better help respectively, and each party concludes the other party is the evil one. Employees see employers as mean, and employers see employees as mean, the cycle repeating itself.

This has to stop. The truth is that we need one another. There have been cases where a household has been thrown off balance because a domestic staff decided to stop working without giving prior notice. Countless people have experienced their fair share of inconvenience when their household staff left without the required notice. In the end, many of us professionals need domestic staff to get through the pressures of work. They also need employers so they can earn a living and improve their lives.

We need to meet at a point and work things out amicably so that each party can be fully satisfied. How do we get to that point of mutual respect for each party?

  1. Communication: we must communicate our expectations from day one and give room for the employee to ask questions. Draw up the terms of employment.
  2. Professionalism: This has to be from both parties.
  3. Employ someone who can read and write: This makes things a whole lot easier. When you need to communicate urgently, an SMS would be great if the person is able to read.
  4. Do not rush the employment process. Go through the several stages of the interview systematically.
  5. Use a staffing agency.
  6. Document the terms of employment for both parties:
     Responsibilities of both parties.
     Policies and procedures for doing everything in your home.
     Consequences for breaking the rules and policies.
     Rules and regulations of the home.
     Daily task schedule.
     Job contract.
  7. Have a clearly defined resumption time and closing time. As much as possible, respect the employee’s time off work so that he or she can be refreshed and able to deliver again the next day.

When all of these are in place, the rate of conflicts and staff turnover will reduce drastically and there can be peace in the middle east.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

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