Advice needed regarding helper behaviour

Posted by marchjos 6 yrs ago

Our helper has been with us for just over a month and I am having some trouble with her. The agency just says she needs to be given time but I think the issues are deeper and cannot be solved by giving time. I do not want to be harsh and terminate her immediately considering she is probably needy and also has some personal problems but at the same time I do not want the existing issues turn unmanageable and bitter. This post is going to be long but I do need some perspective on this.

Firstly we are a family of three - husband, wife and a 3 year old daughter. We live in a small two bedroom apartment of which we have given one to the helper to sleep at night. We have been in HK for the past 8 months and I am a stay at home mom. I hired a helper so that I could do some freelance work for a couple of hours daily.

We hired the helper through a reputed agency. She was terminated from an earlier contract within 3 months without being given any reasons but she seemed genuine and was ready to adapt to our vegetarian lifestyle and so we hired her. She claimed to have no money at all to pay the agency or for her ticket to and from Macau and asked us for help in paying it. We did pay for the Macau ticket on condition that she would return the money and we were also willing to pay the agency fees when the agency people put their foot down and told her that she should not be asking strangers for paying huge amounts for her and that she should arrange for the money on her own. She did that.

Now, when she came we expected her to be broke and were actually considering giving her some advance money so that her days off wouldn't be difficult for her. But in the first week itself she came with gifts for my daughter. I politely but firmly told her that we did not approve of it. But she turned up with gifts again for Christmas. Now that seemed a little odd. A woman who claims to have no money at all has money for gifts even before she earns her first salary! She also doesn't know the hkd to peso exchange rate but claims to have sent all her money to her old parents back in Philippines. I find that a little odd too. However what she does with her money is not my business but I do smell some dishonesty here. Or am I overreacting?

Now as far as her work is concerned, she is extremely good at cleaning. The house is always spic and span. My kid enjoys being with her. However she is quite childish (she is 36 - older than me) and I have had to scold her a couple of times to behave at the park and at home. Only today I had to scold her because she was not letting my daughter eat! She was teasing her and pulling her legs (literally) while my daughter was trying to eat. I expect her to be a little reponsible so that I can, at times, ask her to take my daughter to the park while I work. But I don't see that happening. How can you train a 36 year old woman to be "responsible"?

Then, cooking. We are Indians and I do not expect her to know our way of cooking. I just expect her to learn and I have told her it will take her at least 6 months and I have that patience. But she knows no cooking at all. I asked her to make a cup of tea and she started with boiling almost a liter of water! Adjusting seasonings with quantity of food is something she does not understand. Scaling - 'one cup of A and two cups of B" means "two cups of A and four cups of B" - is also something beyond her. Now I believe this has got nothing to do with a particular cuisine. She refuses to eat bread, eggs and she expects me to cook for her everyday. Even if we are having bread and eggs for breakfast she wants rotis and vegetables. Once she actually finished all that I had cooked for myself and my daughter and claimed she was hungry. She refuses to make rice for herself too. She claims she can cook rice only in an electric rice cooker which we do not have. I tried teaching her to use a pressure cooker but she manages to create disasters with it too. She is good at chopping vegetables and that is some help for me.

She is good at cleaning as I mentioned earlier but she actually was mopping multiple times a day and I had to tell her to stop wasting so much water and do something more productive. One morning I found her standing outside the window on the flower bed. We live in a high rise and this was extremely risky and foolhardy. I ordered her to come inside immediately and she said, "its ok mam, I am cleaning the windows from outside". I said it's not ok and you will not do it again only to find her doing the same thing five minutes later. I had to raise my voice that day. The fact is that I had never ever asked her to clean windows from outside.

I have observed that she suddenly does things right in the kitchen only when I raise my voice, else she just keeps fooling around. On the occasions I have had to raise my voice she spent the next couple of days sobbing at night as I could make out from her swollen eyes and behaviour during the day. She just so manages to make me feel guilty. I want to keep an employee-employer barrier but she does not.

Frugality also is something she simply doesn't understand. I would like to expect that from someone with a humble background. She just so happily told me that the heater in her room is so good that she doesn't have to use a blanket on some days! I had to tell her that a heater consumes electricity. If it is warm enough, please turn off the heater and use your blanket. Doesn't everyone like to save some money?

I want to spend time with my daughter, do some freelance work while she takes up some responsibilities. But that is definitely not happening. Every time I tell her to buy something I have to show her google images. She simply doesn't remember anything.

She is definitely of help in cleaning, but is that all helpers are supposed to do? Can I expect her to learn anything? Can I expect her to become more responsible? Or should I just end it here?

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Yengski 6 yrs ago
I've had different helpers for 14 years but now my boy is quite independent so he doesn't need one anymore. My first helper lasted for 10 years. The second one for 2 years and the rest are nightmares. In 1 year time, I had to hire and fire 5 helpers so imagine the expenses and the headache.

You can easily tell if a helper is really good and is not acting or pretending to be one.I had one that basically dont need instructions and can work on her own. She just ask us what we want to eat and she will search for menus. Even for grocery stocks at home, she will list down what we dont have and will inform us immediately. These are the few things that she can do without any help.

On the other hand, I had similar situation as yours with one helper. If I ask her to buy 3 items from park and shop, she will only bring home 2 and claims that she forgot. So, I told her to start writing notes so she wont forget. She also claims that she can cook but sadly she cant. So most of the time my wife does the cooking which i believe is not right. That is why we hired a helper.

Since your helper is new, give her instructions on what she is supposed to do on a daily basis and tell her to plan. If she still cant follow it, find a replacement immediately and don't consume too much time worrying about her. It's just an additional stress. There are actually agencies that provide you with a replacement in case the first one doesn't work out. I hope your agency offers the same. Next time, dont try to offer them money for their expenses. The payment you made for the agency are all inclusive of the expenses.


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asiaXdreamy 6 yrs ago
Yengski has spelt out most of the experienced advice.

Yes, follow your feeling, you can easily tell if a helper is really good and is not acting or pretending to be one. On the other hand, if you find that it is the settling down issue as some employees just cannot adjust the mindset and adapt the lifestyle and requirement of the new employers, you may give her some instructions or briefing before dashing to perform her job. Sometime, take a few minutes to sit and talk without doing and you may find out whether it is communication problem or her adaptability and willingness to learn is good or not.

About the source of money, it can imply many factors that you may seriously consider the way forward.

If one cannot perform the employer's requirement (like such simple things) and try to play ego or mental game to have fun, or need the employer to use more serious tone for rebounding her substandard performance, no matter in whatever field (being a helper or not), the employee should be considered not competent to perform such job.

An employer may choose to terminate the employment contract without giving notice to the employee nor paying wages in lieu of notice, if the employee is dismissed summarily on the grounds of willful disobedience, serious misconduct, fraud, dishonesty, or habitual negligence.

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marchjos 6 yrs ago
Thanks, Yengski and Asiaxdreamy.

I have decided to terminate her after observing her behaviour. She has got multiple verbal warnings in the 6 weeks that she has been with us and now we have given her a written warning. However, I have realised that if at all she performs it will only be out of fear and keeping her in fear by regular scolding and berating spoils my home environment and being responsible is something she will not learn through my scolding.

As Yengski said, terminating the helper is also additional stress if I keep thinking about it. So I am just doing it now without notice but by giving wages in lieu of notice.

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lagrue 6 yrs ago
marchjos, I think you have made the right decision. A helper is meant to help, if their presence is causing added stress then you need to terminate the helper and find someone who is a better fit for your family and philosophy.

With regard to helpers being from a humble background and your expectation that they would like to save you money...well it depends on the individual, but I would say in my experience, whether it is a domestic helper or staff who work for you, when the individual is not paying for something, and when their KPI are not tied to saving the company money they tend to be very liberal with their employer's money. For me, I recently ended the contract of a helper who would throw away around 30-50% of the veggies she herself bought for herself (as she said she doesn't eat vegetables that had some yellowing of the leaf, any holes ect). This clearly had been going on for some time. I was shocked when I saw how much she threw away at my expense. She also threw away food she perceived to be too old. Anyway, we are a very frugal family (but we eat a lot of organic food), I have always eaten leftovers and hardly throw anything away, try to recycle as much as I can. so seeing that she was not a good fit as well as a number of other reasons, she had to go. Now I wished I had a done it a while ago as the burden lifted off my shoulders has been immense.

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sunshine929 6 yrs ago
I think you need to manage your expectations. A lot of the helpers finished high school but it is not the same level as that of a western country. She seems to be hard working but devoid of any sense of risk i.e. cleaning windows from outside in a high rise building. I think you need to give your helper specific instructions by writing it down.

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globaltraveler 6 yrs ago
I must admit I think she seems ok to me, I would keep her. As long as the personality is ok why go through agency again. You can end up in a horrible nightmare with the next one.You don't want one focusing on her phone all day long neglecting your child, scamming you to get 1 month in advance, by intension under overcooking your food , stealing, you will not get a European/western standard helper anymore these times are over in HK. I have cut down my standards 90% been here several years and I learned the personality matters all is learning by doing. As you said you new here, I prefer helper like that which I can teach things even it takes few months and I can keep her long term. You have to give her an exact working schedule really into detail and house rules. Which is common sense to you is not to them. You need to micro manage your maid in the beginning until she can work without supervision and don't forget the cultural differences are there too.(like being childish)

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asiaXdreamy 6 yrs ago
Pathetic, we are...

With some new generation/"species" employees emerging in the labour market, what shall we do?

Just lower the expectation to let the bad cycle rolling or do something , even a bit, to let the positive cycle rolling again.

If you find such trick-making helper at your home finding the excuse for you to fire her, just do some steps to warn or even no need to warn for serious mistake or habitual deeds with no compensation needed. File it to labour and Immigration as record. This would be a piece of good reference for the next processing. The major cause for such cycle is employer did not put extra effort to teach, guide, rectify, and report to appropriate channels to stop such nightmares. Honestly speaking, those nasty helpers did harm the general good and harmonious relationship between the normal employers and employees as they created pseudo-typical cases for gossip.

In another angle, bad employers also created such pseudo-typical cases for gossip.

So, we should just do the righteous things according to common sense and respond appropriately.

Sorry, I disagree by saying that, just lowering the expectation and endure such "intelligent" guys is not the proper cure in micro and macro senses.

Give more if you find a good one worth appreciating, reflect and react appropriately for those nasty ones.

Help the helper, help yourself.

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marchjos 6 yrs ago
@ Sunshine 929 and Globaltraveller

Yes, she was hardworking, no doubt about that. But I fired her because she had very little common sense. For instance, once I asked her to do job A while I went out. When I was out the doorbell rang. She did not answer it. The person outside was a deliveryman with a lot of grocery with him who called me to enquire. I had to run back home. When I returned and asked her why she did not answer the doorbell, her response was, "I was following instructions, you told me to do job A, I was busy doing it."

On another occasion, she went to the market and bought a rotten eggplant from some shop I had not asked her to go to (the reason I suspect was that the shop had a salesgirl of her own nationality). When I asked her why she got something that was so evidently bad she simply told me, "'you asked me to buy an eggplant'. I asked her would you by it for your own home? The answer was "NO!". Yes, it was my fault that I didn't tell her to buy a fresh, non-rotten eggplant! She was not a 6 year old girl. She was a 36 year old married woman who claimed to have 2 years of work experience in the Middle East.

Now I completely understand different culture, lack of education, lack of English speaking skills. I also understand that many things need to be taught. But we are not dealing with robots, are we?

You can force a person to work the way you want them to. Scolding, berating, threatening termination does work. But where's the dignity in all this?

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marchjos 6 yrs ago
Terminating a helper in less than two months is a financial setback. Being a first time employer the prospect of hiring another helper now really scares me!

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marchjos 6 yrs ago
In any case, thank you all for reading my post and responding with your own experiences and advice. I really like the way this forum works. Some posts on this forum also gave me valuable insights into the termination process dos and don'ts.

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asiaXdreamy 6 yrs ago

Listening to your experience without empathy would feel it was funny, a joke, a ridiculous happening in the modern pathetic....

With empathy, we feel that there is something both sides should do the mend the relationship. Helpers, be the ones who really help. Employers, be the ones who really care.

Please don't be so pessimistic towards every next employment. With your heart, some day you will find a trustworthy one, although you may need longer time or extra rounds. Different persons have different characters and abilities, you will not be unlucky forever. Although on the other side some gossip groups would teach them to play games for hidden purposes, some are still hardworking with genuine need to support their families with dignity.

If ones did it to push themselves to be scolded or treated in a stringent way, shame on them but not on you. An adult should know,no matter of what nationality, how to act righteously and sensibly.

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