Household Help: Look before you hire

Household helps were once considered a symbol of affluence – a luxury that only a few could afford. But now, hiring one or even a few to help with the daily chores has become a necessity. From nannies to cleaners to cooks, drivers and gardeners, the services on offer are diverse and all of them have takers. 

But while there is a healthy demand-supply ratio, things are not all that easy and rosy. While India has a reputation for getting manual labour at much cheaper rates than other countries, the quality and reliability of these staff has raised a huge question mark. At the extreme end is the number of crimes committed by such household helps on the very employers who hired them. So should one give in to the need for a household help even with the associated risks or try to manage life one our own even if it means compromising on certain things? It’s a conundrum that only those who’ve experienced can relate to.

In this article we present our views on the process of selecting and hiring household helps based on the experiences of people from around the country. It should offer you some insights on how you could go about finding and keeping a household help that will make a positive difference to your lifestyle.

Know your needs

Before you decide to get a household help, ascertain your need for it. Get into the specifics of how this help will add value to your life. It could be a nanny for your child, a driver, a cook, etc. It’s not just a matter of money. You need to understand that you’ll be handing over some part of your life to these people. Not to mention a bit of your privacy and personal time. You may also have to get involved with some of their personal problems too. So decide how much value this additional resource will add to your life. Once you are sure that everything considered, your help will make a substantial difference, start looking out for him/her.

Define your requirement

Once you’ve decided to go for a household help, define the tasks that this person will carry out for you. Assume that you’re going to recruit this person by placing an ad in the newspaper. In which case, you’ll have to list down the job description and the qualifications for that post. Jot down these points before you go help scouting. Of course, you’ll not place an ad – but it will come in very handy when you’re screening potential candidates and short listing the ones you like. Age, familiarity with the locality, gender, salary expectations, experience, language etc. could all be the criteria that you mention in this requirement definition.

Announce your need

Now that you are armed with what you want, you should make your need known to the market. You have quite a few options here – not all of them very structured, though. You could approach a few of the agencies in your area that supply helps. The advantage of agencies is that they will send people after knowing your requirements and once you’ve engaged them, they usually tend to offer services over a period of the contract. In case the household help has to be replaced, the agency also steps in to provide an alternative within a specified time limit. But you’ll have to mention these clearly to the agency when you discuss your needs. The other option is to go the social networking route. Talk to other household helps in your complex, mention it to the security guards and even other residents who employ household helps. Once the word spreads, you’ll have your candidates dropping in to your home.

Interview and salary negotiation

If you talk to some of the fellow members who employ helps, you’ll realise that the most common grouse against helps is that they go on leave without giving adequate notice or that they extend their leaves without prior notice. This is the most critical part as it throws your life completely out of gear as you try to fill in the gap that your household help was filling in. If she was responsible for looking after your baby then you either have to take a leave or work from home. If she was responsible for cooking then you have to either leave late or arrange for meals from outside or drop in early. If it was the driver then you have to learn how to negotiate the traffic jams all over again. And so on.

During the interview stage, make sure that you clear all these points. The best way to go about through the interview process is to let the other person talk as much as possible. Ask them to describe their daily routine in their current job, their family background, their experience, etc. In case you make your demands first, they are bound to structure their story around your expectations. So just mention the requirement first and then ask them to tell you how they fit into the role. Once they’ve finished, you’ll have a fair idea of whether this is the person who could fit into your needs. You could question them to get more details on a particular aspect, if you wish.

The salary part is not as tricky as some people might think. There is a standard rate for most roles and you could ask around to know that is the going rate. If you offer certain benefits you could mention them while discussing the salary. It could be festival offs along with weekly holidays or bonuses or any other benefits. If someone makes an unreasonable quote, find out if there’s a genuine reason for it and if it something that you’d like to pay for. For example, a nanny who’s been trained in first aid and knows how to talk and write in English may charge a premium over someone who doesn’t know these. Similarly for a driver or a cook who is tuned to a lifestyle similar to yours. And so on.

If you’re recruiting through an agency then the fees would be mentioned upfront and you’ll have little room for negotiations. But you should be absolutely be clear about the service that the agency will offer after the person has joined your employment.

Getting along with your household help

Once you’ve got the person you wanted, you’ll need to spend some time with that person to make him/her understand your way of doing things. Make sure that you are very clear about things that you will not compromise on. Cleanliness or punctuality or a day’s notice before taking a leave – anything that you are very particular about should be communicated to the help so that there is no misunderstanding on that front.

With the spate of crimes abounding, it would be wise to record information about your household help. This can be in the form of an ID that you can photocopy and keep with you or if you are able to, recording the personal details with your local police station or the managing committee. In case you have to dismiss a help for a conduct that you feel has criminal overtones, make it a point to register it with your local police station.

Be on the alert till you are completely sure that the household is reliable. If there is a family member at home then that person can supervise the work. But if you don’t have that luxury, then make it a point to drop in for a surprise visit once in a while so that you don’t get an unpleasant surprise at some later date.

Finding and retaining a household help that fits in well with your needs can make your life much more peaceful and efficient. So put in that extra bit of effort to get the right person. All the best!

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