Thursday, February 17

Something about the Foreign Domestic Helper (Maid)

The bewildered look on the faces of people, whenever they learnt that we leave our baby alone at home with our foreign domestic helper when we go to work, can be quite amusing. They would express deep concerns; telling us how we shouldn't trust the maid and all the horrors they had heard about abusive maids. I listened but do not necessarily agree.

What would they think, if they hear about how my helper is allowed to visit the library, the mall near our home and the neighbour's homes and sometimes we even bring her along for overseas holidays, I always thought.

My helper is open with me about having a boyfriend, but that doesn't bother me too much because her boyfriend is working in Malaysia and she knew him when they were back in Indonesia. She also has a lot of female friends, some are the other helpers working within our condo compound.

I permit some closer ones to come over to our place (not without my knowledge), and they are actually quite nice people who bake us cakes and make us pineapple tarts during CNY. Sometimes when I forgot to buy something after returning from my grocery trip, I would enlist their help to buy it for me if they are on the way to the supermarket. When my kids are at the playground, they keep a eye on them for me.

My helper knows just how to relax herself; she is definitely into work life balance. She has not one but two mobile phones and she received more calls and SMSes than myself and Mr Hubby combined. And oh, she even Facebook, but she is not on my friend list. I give her one day off every month, but occasionally if she needed some time off, like a couple of hours to meet a relative/friend or to run her personal errand, I might also grant her request.

I respect her religion; she allowed to fast during the Muslim fasting month and she is also allowed to pray in our home as long as work gets done. If we eat pork, we will get her something else to eat, separately from us. During Christmas, she received gifts from Mr Hubby and me. She gets 'ang pao' for Chinese New Year; presents and cakes for her birthdays too.

You might think that my helper is one of the most fortunate FDH in Singapore, but I am merely doing my part as a fair employer because I am an employee myself too.

My helper has been a great help to my family these two years. She is diligent, has good initiative, is positive and possesses willingness to perform. She whipped up tasty meals for us when we return from our offices. She does all the housework and washes our 2 cars to our satisfaction. She also has genuine love for my kids and she is able to look after them wholeheartedly, despite the ridiculous amount of phone calls and SMSes she gets everyday. But that's just her. She loves to talk and network, apart from that, I must say she is doing a fairly good job.

Of course, she didn't start out quite like now. Despite giving her a written guideline and aligning our expectations right from the beginning, she stole Mr Hubby's mobile phone on her second month with us. But I told her everyone deserve to be given a chance and she was truly sorry about her misdeed. It was after the incident that she became committed to working for us. She knew I was dead serious when I told her, "For me, nobody deserve more than ONE chance."

As she gets better with her work, she was able to access to more privileges and freedom, which also becomes a motivation for her. She also began to understand my style of employment. If you are good, you will be treated better. If you are no good, you will be trained for the better. If you are un-trainable, then YOU BETTER LEAVE. I am nice but firm, strict but fair, compassionate but rational.

There are many employers in Singapore who complain about their helpers, most commonly referred as their maids. I have my encounter of FDH from hell too, but I really do believe that not all FDH are outwardly bad. By denying them of day off, forcing them to work round the clock, cutting their contacts with the world beyond our own homes, disrespecting their religion, and treating them in a dehumanized way, aren't their lives worst than prisoners? Btw, most prisoners are allowed to have visitation from their families and recreation time.

I do not know about you but I believe a happy employee makes a happy employer and my happy helper definitely contribute to raising my sunny kids.

(Pictures above are courtesy of our helper.)

A peep into the perspective of a FDH in Singapore. Read the story of a maid, maybe you, as an employer, would become more empathic knowing that we are interdependent on these FDH, just as much as they needed us.

Instead of blame on bad luck, changing one helper after another, why not be pro-active in setting the expectation straight and incorporating a workable plan to improve the performance of your current helper. I am sharing my personal tools to help employers in Singapore foster a better working relationship with their FDH (see below).

For a sample of FDH work progress report checklist that I used to evaluate and improve the performance of my helper, click here.

For a sample of guideline, expectation and entitlement that I used, click here.

Good luck, even though you would need more than just luck to find the perfect helper.

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