Saturday, July 28, 2012

The domain of domestic help

One of the things that causes my friends in the US envy is the abundance and availability of domestic help which seems like such an extravagant luxury.  Having been here all of 3 weeks, I am seeing both the abundance and availability.  However we underestimate the management aspect of these domestic workers.

Let me introduce you to my two housemaids.  They are an interesting duo. 

Meet Rekha, the Negotiator -  She talks nineteen to the dozen, drives a hard bargain and always has an opinion about how things should be done, specifically about cleaning.  If I ask her to do something, I can count on her to suggest another method or follow another routine.  Initially, I indulged her until she told me that I should use acid to clean some stains on the floor.  After that, I kept a close eye on her and insisted that she follow what I tell her. 

Parvathy the Worker bee - My second maid is the sister in law of Rekha, a quiet, composed lady about 4 foot 10 inches, as tall as my Rahul.  She does not talk much, but is happy to follow directions and do what she is asked to do.  Also seems to have a better knack for cleaning than her sister-in-law.  Despite that, the first couple of weeks, I found more stains on the walls after they started work ; as they would support themselves by putting dirty hands on the walls and I found myself repeating "Quit touching the walls" constantly.  Hopefully after our furniture arrives, the walls will be spared. 

On a happy note, Rekha is now employed elsewhere, courtesy of her husband, who died a premature alcoholic induced death.  Now, the office where he worked has offered her a consolation job.  Parvathy continues to be my main maid and I am looking forward to training her.

After observing several of our family and friends and their entourage of servants, and also a brief interlude with my own househelp,  I have come to the conclusion that there are three things that one must keep in mind when using domestic help.

1.  Clear Directions:  This brings to mind for me as an HR person the critical nature of a 'Job Description'.  While nothing as formal as that exists here, the trick is to spell out clearly before closing the deal, exactly what is entailed in the job. 

2.  Constant Supervision:  Your domestic help may have been with you for years, yet the job demands that you keep a close eye on details. 

3.  Prior Planning:  As a household manager, you constantly have to plan the task list for the help.  If you don't, you have lost out because none of them are going to have the initiative to take charge and do what needs to be done.
My experience with my domestic help is still in its early stages.  There is a lot that I need to learn.  I am finding that I am more exhausted with getting work done with this help than I was doing it myself. I am going to work on all the three competencies that I have detailed for you, dear readers.  Wish me luck!!!

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