Domestic help in Pakistan, and this region (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Gulf States,) are a point of discussion all round. This is so because they are an integral part of our lives. Like them or not, we can’t live without them. Driver, servant, maid, gardener, cleaning maid, cook, guard – you name it we have it. If not many, almost everyone has at least one who does it all.
Most of my married life, I’ve kept part-time help, as I find them less nerve wracking and easier on the pocket. When there is no help, I declare, ‘we are living abroad!’. All of us put on full blast music wherever we are in the house and enjoy while we work. So, it’s ok. Presently, God has been very kind, more so due to my parents, who have become so old and weak that I need twenty-four hour help taking care of them.
Last Eid, everyone complained about their lack of domestic help. – All this, while I was blessed throughout. Let me share with you why my staff is happy at my place (I hope!) It is a matter of motivation, supervision, justice and dignity.
- Respect at all times, both ways. Greetings of ‘assalam o alaikum’ are essential in my home. Speaking behind anyone’s back isn’t allowed either, whether it is a domestic help or anyone else. If you have a complaint, invite the to another room and explain properly, and privately. As they say, ‘praise in public and admonish in private.’ (Do not talk against one staff member, in front of the other. Talk directly to him, alone.) Always start with some good thing they have done, which you appreciate, then going on to the problem at hand. Remember to keep his dignity in tact at all times.
- A fair pay scale: This must be settled from the beginning. It must be mutually acceptable and fair. Tell them, that they may have to do extra chores too. All terms and conditions must be clarified from the beginning. Annual leaves, monthly leaves, and so on.
- Being truthful : One’s own integrity depends on this, if we expect them to be honest with us, and we are not the same with them. What can we expect? If you cannot share something, tell them it isn’t possible, but do not tell a wrong thing. Trust, only comes from honesty.
- Be just and fair to them: Giving same treatment to entire staff. If you get suits for one person for Eid, it must be for all. Basic rules need to be the same too.
- Appreciate extra work done: and even give a tip sometimes, or you can show verbal appreciation. When there is too much work to do, get some part time help, to assist them. Whenever you feel like giving charity, I believe it really does begin at home (with your domestic help.) Give them some charity, in the form of cash or something of yours.
- Apologize if you are wrong: Supposing you have hurt them, or it has been proved that you were wrong about something. Then it is okay to apologize. It happens, that you believe one of them has done something wrong and you check them for it. Later, the truth comes out, that they had nothing to do with it. So, go up to the person and say you are sorry. No harm. Once, my geyser was almost boiling hot, I was furious. I told my helper that he hasn’t closed it, it later turned out there was a problem with the geyser, which was later solved by the plumber. So, I had to apologize.
- Regular work hours are very important: giving the same ‘off’ times daily, is essential, so they too can have their own plans; For instance, my staff will be off from: 2.00 pm to 5.00 pm daily, during afternoons. They are free after 9.00 pm onwards every night too. Try not to disturb them during their ‘off times’. Of course there are exceptions, and they will oblige. But they should know, you normally don’t disturb them. Even plan parties for your guests , keeping their timings in mind. This is why I usually have brunch or lunches, avoiding dinners, as these get too late. Similarly, I avoid inviting anyone for iftar parties, as these are not fair for the staff.
- Educate them: You can provide stationary and even a tutor if necessary. Many of them are illiterate and haven’t read the Holy Quran either. So, employ a tutor to teach them with understanding. In this way, they will be learning two languages. Get an Urdu translation which is easy to understand. Also include other subjects like English, Geography, Science. These days lots of good books are available in market for general knowledge. Do not go into it ‘class-wise,’ but ability wise. So, the objective is to get them to be able to read road signs, newspaper, be able to write an application, letter, and books. (The tuition session is to be in their free time.) This is something that Mr. Ejaz, suggested. He who was in charge of Islamabad’s MPCHS in E-11 sector, a few years ago, (May Allah bless his soul.) I really liked his suggestion, as I had found it hard to teach my staff regularly. So, he said, ‘get a tutor for them.’ Now I do it too. The study hour is during their free time, however, I pay the tuition, and nothing is cut from their pay for it. I do it from my ‘zakat and charity’ fund. This is how you can do it too.
- Comfortable accommodation: They have tough lives, and deserve comfortable room to live in. While planning a house, the room in the West is usually a servant quarter, which is very cruel. My husband and I made it in basement, as it is cozy in winters and cool in summers. It is also very expensive construction, but it is obligatory on us to provide a comfortable space for them. Have it suitably furnished, also provide a television if possible, (you can make sure the cable man removes indecent channels from it.)
- Leave: try to give them the fare to hometown at least twice a year. Also, a gift for the wife/mother or child. (So, they don’t go home empty handed.) They need to be assured that if there is an emergency you will give them leave, and monetary help if you can afford. They also are to be with you, when you have an emergency. (I’ve had my cook Abdul Rahim and maid Shagufta even refusing to take their pays, when my husband passed away and they knew I had no money! – of course I did pay them, but their offer can never be forgotten by me.)
- Food: Let them have food at your home, where they can help themselves. (Provided they are treating your home as their own, and are caring.) Keep a table with chairs in kitchen for them to eat while sitting comfortably. Do not call them when they are having food.
- Job description and chore’s lists: Put up time tables in kitchen, including jobs with timings of work to be done, along with day of week. If they can’t read English, write in Urdu, if they are illiterate, make drawings or pictures of the chore to be done. So, you do not have to tell them the same thing every day. Have the name of the person beside it, so there is no confusion. Remember to keep a copy in your computer or household book, so you both are in sync with what is going on.
- Never overlap jobs of two persons: Specify clearly, who is to do what, so that there is no ambiguity and total responsibility of each employee. If a chore isn’t done well, you know who is responsible.
- A weekly menu: Put a Menu up in the kitchen for the cook . Preferably, he should be doing grocery shopping himself. (Kindly refer to my book on Kitchen Management, available online at Saeed book shop, or any Ferozsons’ shop in Pakistan.)
- Make your expectations clear: Tell/show them the quality of work you expect. When you have a party, plan everything properly. Make the menu with them, and clarify jobs for each person. Remember, they have worked in many homes, and may know some better short cuts than you! When the party is going on, every domestic help should knows a day earlier, what he has to do and when. It is all clearly written in your own household book as well as on the kitchen board. This would include the jobs you will be doing and your children or whoever else is helping. For instance, one’s daughter usually lays the table, so she needs to know, if it is a ‘sit-at’ or a buffet; a tea party or a lunch/tea/dinner. Always try to include your family members in it, they too must know exactly what you expect from them. Sometimes, if friends pitch in, they too, need to be clear.
- Be kind: After a busy spell, try to relax your home chores for a couple of days. For instance, during Ramzan, it was really tough. So, for the week after Eid, I’m closing my eyes to all lapses. Help them during tougher times, specially the dirty chores, so they know, you can do it too, and there is nothing ‘dirty’ about any work.
- Never raise your voice to them: Speak respectfully at all times, even when you are angry. We all make mistakes. If a piece of crockery gets broken, remember it is just a thing, and this person is human. (Also remember how many things you have broken in your life!), so forgive, and do not cut his salary ever. (You can threaten it, but let it be, when the time comes.) After all, how many times we make mistakes in our lives, and our Allah forgives us again and again. Let us be forgiving too.
- Plan with kindness to your staff: Do not make it so difficult and exhausting for them. Plan with ‘work simplification’ for them also, just as you do for yourself. You know, you reduce chores when they are away, do so when they are there too. No harm in using paper plates sometimes, during parties, or paper cups to reduce the washing up. You know what I mean. Encourage self-help systems during the events.
- Always give surprise checks and supervise yourself: Make random checks on work done. Also visit each of your rooms and see the domestic help at work to check that the work is being done properly without wasting water and electricity. Give them motivation and a lot of supervision on conservation of facilities like water, electricity and gas. Educate them, as you communicate other things to them. Share videos on Whats App with them, like the one in which Amitab Bachan tells about saving water and electricity.
- Share their joys and sorrows: Be aware of what is going on in their lives, and help them as only you can. If you can’t, that too must be made clear. You want them to be honest with you, be honest with them too.
- Sometimes give them a surprise: Happiness is an important element at work. Sometimes, you can surprise them by doing the dishes for them when they are out. Also, ignore when you find them singing in the kitchen. It just means they are happy, what’s wrong with that? There is a fine line of division use it.
- Be appropriately dressed and keep privacy: Always keep this in mind with full time domestic help in home. Rules of knocking on door and proper behavior at all times must be observed.
- Security element: No matter how good they are, lock them out at night while you sleep. Do not take chances with security matters. Never leave your children with them alone, nor leave yourself in a vulnerable state. Keep a security system in your home, where the code is only known to your immediate family. They must know, you have guards, you can call.
- Some things are unacceptable: Back chat, abuse, stealing, and lack of loyalty. So, if such things are found. Immediately fire the person, with one months’ pay. (A friend of mine believes, this firing must be done in front of others, as a lesson to them too!)
- Peace of mind: Remember, if your staff member isn’t giving you peace of mind, and spoiling the functioning of your work, then he isn’t worth it.
- They should be able to work independently: If you have to work along with them, and constantly prompt them, then it isn’t worth it. A staff member should be reliable enough for you to be able to trust him in your absence.
When I went to the US, I realized, I could never take care of my parents there, the way I do here, and it is all due to my domestic help. As I write, one lady has come to take my mother to the wash room and give her a bath, while the other man is giving my father his breakfast and will give him a bath and change him afterwards. Of course, I’ll pop in to check if all is well, and things are being done properly.
- These persons who come to us, deserve all the respect and regard they can get from us. It is due to them that we and our families have so many comforts in our lives. May Allah bless them, and help us make their lives better for them.
Please do stay safe, and be blessed with good domestic help, – otherwise, there is always yourself! 😉
Note: Photographs by author. Video from YouTube with great gratitude! We need to share such forwards with our staff. Lets make a difference in their lives too!