Most household work involves swings and roundabouts with staff required to be flexible. This works very well when the flexibility is recognised and rewarded. For example, over a period of 17 weeks staff’s average hours should not exceed 48. It is a fact that staff who consistently work longer hours begin to perform poorly and start feeling resentful and disappointed with little job satisfaction. This can mean staff stay a shorter time in a position which benefits neither party.
It can also cause dangers as well as mistakes –sure a tired housekeeper may drop a delicate vase she is dusting but would you really want your chauffeur to take your kids to school at 7.30am when he picked you up at 12 and got home at 3am after a long days work? Has anyone ever seen those dear little exhausted Filipinos chatting on the phone in Tagalog while crossing the Kings Road pushing a baby and dragging along two little toddlers with a dog lead tied to the pram- is she really awake enough to see the potential dangers?
If staff have been required to work longer hours this can be handled in the following way.
Appreciation – a thank you goes a long way. Working out when the down time is and giving staff back the time in lieu. Adding on extra time to days off. If the next day is uneventful suggesting they come in later (especially if they finished cleaning up a dinner party at 2am), or leave a little earlier. Popping a little money into an envelope with a card to give them some overtime incentive.
You may be unaware you are actually asking someone to do the job that needs two people. Keep a track of how many hours that person is working. Be realistic if the hours are more than 45 a week all the time and you do need that much help it might find be more cost effective to bring in someone else part time or ad hoc.
Act in a disciplined manner with staff hours. If they work a long day and their contract gives them a split-shift make sure they go off duty for those hours. Some staff are not sure if they should go or not and wait until they are dismissed for the day. If a cook has a split shift and shift one finishes at two as a rule try to sit down at 1pm and make sure you are gone from the table to give her time to clear before she leaves. Make sure the chauffeur is informed when he will not be required for the rest of the day or needed in the evening.
Staff that are living in nice clean and spacious accommodation tend to stay in jobs. Outgrowing the accommodation or having difficulty with privacy is the single largest reason staff move on. Every year ask for an inspection so you can see if any maintenance needs attending to and discuss this with your staff. If the furnishings are looking shabby try to replace them. If you provide equipment such as washing machine, ovens etc make sure they are working. I had a couple who left a job because the boiler stopped working (was condemned as unsafe), the house was damp, the oven did not work and the solution offered was to cook and eat their meals in the main house. The employer lost 3 couples in a row before attending to this problem with fees of several thousand pounds for each employment??? Hardly cost effective.
Respect the private staff space. However tempting especially if staff are under the same roof, avoid knocking on the door after hours or making ad hoc requests. If the staff are living under the same roof try to keep their area quieter. – If the laundry is nearby for example don’t run the dryer all night.
If you entertain regularly and want to offer the best hospitality make sure this is practical. If you cater for larger numbers make sure the glasses and plates are dish washable. After several backbreaking long nights over a sink with large heavy oversized china staff tend to dread dinner parties.
If you employ a marvellous cook and like fine food make sure there is more than one wooden spoon and a selection of chipped baking pans from your mother’s house in the 70’s. Be aware of your kitchen and the equipment. Make sure it is up to the level you are expecting your staff to perform to.
Staff often prefer that the professional lines are not blurred and that professional barriers are maintained during their employment however long that may be.
Referring to their employer by their title or surname is easier if agreed from the start AND STAFF DO NOT MIND THIS. It also prevents embarrassment if the plumber hears them calling you Fred and Ginger and thinks he can as well even though you are actually Lady Green.
Friendly body language, smiling and taking a general interest can be very rewarding. It is not always wise to encourage too personal conversation but perhaps ask how a weekend was or how a family party went. Never raise your voice or belittle staff. If there is a problem call a meeting.
Be realistic. It takes 12 weeks on average for new staff to settle in, find out how things are done, see what personal preferences there are and be able to perform at an expected level. Welcome them and find things to praise in their duties as they will be nervous and watching for reaction while they learn things. To help speed things along draw up a house hold book with staff that is a permanent guide with things like manuals for washing machines stored with it. Although they will eventually like to use their own creativity they will hate a “faux paux” such as using a blue vase in the bedroom when it should be the pink one or that it should be SPARKLING bottled water by the bed. Staff do become mind readers however at the start while they will not appreciate someone hanging over their shoulder telling them how to do everything a basic guide will be appreciated.
Become disciplined about meetings with staff to communicate things. Perhaps start with a weekly meeting where one or two nice things to thank them for can be raised and then gently guide them towards preferences if something wildly amiss. Aim for a ½ hour meeting once a fortnight to go through diaries so staff can plan their work -loads to put on the best show for guests or special events. Involve staff even ask for their ideas and input. Ask if everything is OK for them and listen if they have any worries. There does not always have to be an answer right away, things can be thought through and discussed again at a later time.
In most households who have established this way of communication most ‘meetings’ take about 10-15 minutes over a friendly cuppa and everyone leaves feeling informed.
Give staff little tips on who is coming to stay or dine and what they do plus anything relevant already know about guests – that they like Earl grey tea or enjoy meringues or are allergic to shellfish. Staff have an ability to build up knowledge of your guests and the hospitality will soon become enviable. If a guest mentions they enjoy something encourage them to tell the staff- staff really love good feedback and will go the extra mile for someone who praises them. Also tell staff how you prefer interaction with your guests. Some households prefer warm chatty staff others a more formal background approach.
Keep a calendar in the house diary with birthdays or religious holidays that may affect staff. A small card is always appreciated and if they are highly valued perhaps an appropriate gift. Examples I have heard of are the family giving the house keeper a spa gift certificate for after the hugely busy Christmas week and a day off to enjoy it; gym membership for a slightly overweight chauffeur; asking the chef to bake a cake and all the family and staff singing happy birthday. It does not have to be lavish just thoughtful.
If there have been more than 2 Christmases at home and it is possible go away the third one and give the whole staff Christmas off or hire in outside staff.
If there is an event or something with tickets which cannot be attended ask if the staff can use them. If there is involvement in things such as Wimbledon or a royal event and there are spare guest passes do a staff lottery. This will be highly appreciated.
When a job in a house hold is the same day after day staff can move on for reasons of boredom. A cheaper option is to offer to pay for a course – something that will benefit both parties such as cooking, service, flower arranging. Refreshing interest in their jobs gives staff a great deal of satisfaction.
One lady who was losing staff because she treated them so badly was told the agencies could no longer help her. BUT ALL MY FRIENDS IN NOTTING HILL HAVE DONE IT she wailed. What she did not know was her ‘friends’ were constantly losing staff costing them money time and hassle and chances were their current staff were registered looking for new positions but were stuck in a rut as they could not drive or were unable to produce a valid work visa. It is not worth trying to abuse people who are poor and desperate. Clients have confessed to me about foreign couples who left in the night with all the fixtures and fittings and the sheets! One lady had her house keeper TEXT her to say she was not picking up the son from school and in fact had left. Country houses that employed staff from Eastern European countries in the last few years thinking they had achieved staff cheaply were left distraught when paintings were cleaned with Jiff and the silver with a pan scrubber. If staff are not trained and experienced they will not be able to do the same job and it will cost money or possibly damage to precious possessions to put things right.
A huge percentage of people who came as economic migrants left and returned to their own country because the money was better there and the people kinder!! Not a good legacy.
There are not many people who did not squirm with embarrassment at headline newspapers exposing the Rock stars who were charged with poor treatment of a long-term member of staff or the famous actress who paid her maid in rubels when she bought her to England. And the well known pop star whose staff leave every three months when they find she does not pay tax and national insurance. These are headlines in newspapers and it is extraordinary that well known people put their reputation at stake for such small sums in the grand scheme of their spending.
However many people are not aware that their employment of staff is breaking criminal laws and they can be prosecuted for these abuses.
Article one (link opens in new window)
Article two (link opens in new window)
There is also abuse and behaviour that is absolutely illegal and should not be tolerated. This includes violence shouting threats bulling taking a passport away or any physical abuse.
So avoid all the trouble – offer decent work conditions and kindly ways to your staff and they will be with you for the long term through thick and thin. One House manager worked for her boss for a year without pay when he lost everything in the stock market crash until he got on his feet again. Many staff stay with their employers and look after them in old age when friends have all but gone.
I am always happy to give impartial advice. Staff are leaving the industry and are gold dust – let’s keep the good ones happily employed and clients will reap the rewards of the privileges’ of their lifestyles.