3 Big Issues

For your helper, the 3 areas that most influence her happiness and ability to finish her contract are food, rest and feedback.


+ 飲食 Food

The biggest complaint helpers have about their employers is that they are stingy with food. In almost every case the complaint is against the person who manages the food budget. I have heard scores of stories about Hong Kong employers who measure out the exact amount of rice to be used at each meal, who get angry if the rice is used up too fast, and who even go so far as to blame the helper for being "greedy".

Under the terms of your contract you are obligated to provide food and lodging for your helper. Almost everywhere I travel in Asia I find that people are extremely generous with food. Farmers in China earning 500 yuan a month will spend half of their monthly income to feed a foreign guest who is visiting. How has the culture that gave us "Sik Faan Mei?" ended up producing food misers, grain counters?

If you want to keep a good helper, then be generous when it comes to food. When you are tempted to complain about how much money you spend on groceries, bite your tongue and feed your helper well. Remember that your helper does hard physical labor all day long. Her caloric needs are probably greater than yours.

Ask your helper what kind of food she likes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Show consideration in this area and your helper will find a hundred ways to repay your kindness, and will do her best to save you money when shopping. Have an abundance mentality, be generous, bless your workers, and trust God to bless you in return.

+ 休息 Rest

Do you wish that your helper would focus better and not be so forgetful? Do you want her to work with a higher energy level and accomplish more in a shorter period of time? Do you hope to see a gradual improvement in her overall performance, rather than a slow and steady decline? For many helpers, there is a simple way to achieve these productivity goals: MAKE SURE THEY HAVE ADEQUATE REST.

According to the Human Performance Institute in Florida, improving the quantity and quality of rest is one of the most effective ways to work more efficiently. Basically, when we are rested we think better, can work longer, can concentrate more, are more creative and achieve more.

  1. Avoid frequently interrupting your helper as she works, or constantly redirecting her work. Research says that working in 90 minute bursts boosts productivity. Constant interruptions, whether in the office or home, hurt productivity. If you are a stay at home mom, try not to always interrupt your helper with new tasks. Just because you think of something, doesn't mean you have to say it right away. Write it down, and after she has been able to concentrate on the tasks at hand for 60-90 minutes, then add the new task to her list of things to do, according to its priority.

  2. Plan at least 3-4 ten minute breaks during your helper's work day. Regular breaks reduce stress and give the mind time to process and store information. I, personally, find that some of my most productive time is when I take time away from the office. Over a cup of coffee my mind reminds me of important things to do ( I write them down); and I regain a focus on what is most important at that time. Robbing your helper of regular rest times will make her less effective in managing your household affairs. “Tony Schwartz from The Energy Project has shown that when we take rest seriously we will almost certainly get much more done, our work will be of a higher standard, our thinking will be more accurate, and as a result our incomes are likely to rise.”

  3. Treat your helper's sleep as very important. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night to function at 100% capacity. If your helper works from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., how much sleep is she getting? Seven hours? NO WAY. She has to shower, wind down from the day, send messages to her loved ones, etc. After all of that she may only sleep 5 hours a day. Over 1 week, her sleep deficit is already 12-14 hours. Now imagine that she is in charge of your 2 year old child. Do you want someone who is chronically short on sleep watching your 2 year old? Would you want this person driving a school bus full of children? If your answer is "no", then you need to change your routine or your demands so that the helper gets adequate rest. A midday nap may be one alternative, but however you achieve it - it needs to be done. You can't cheat nature - we need 7-8 hours of sleep per day to function well. Having a set bed-time (its not just for kids) is helpful, as is sleeping in a dark room. Encourage your helper (wouldn't hurt you either) to turn off her phone and gadgets, and anything that glows or beeps. This will increase REM sleep, and she will awake feeling more rested.

  4. Make sure she gets at least one whole day off each week. Don't require your helper to do a lot of chores before she goes on her day off. Most ladies will wash up dishes, and tidy up a bit before leaving for their day off. If you are requiring much more than that, you are only cheating yourself out of an energetic smart helper. One day of rest per week is the minimum required by law. Your helper needs that time to renew her strength and focus.

Is your helper's performance getting better over time OR worse? If it is worsening, one possible factor may be the lack of adequate rest. Why not do an experiment? Make sure your helper gets adequate rest for 30 days, and see if her performance improves.

The above tips were based on an article on the importance of rest at Forbes.com.

+ 做檢討 Feedback

"I'm still crying Pastor because I never expect and surprised me that they say that I'm very good (word supplied). I'm very thankful and God is good po."

After 1.5 years Mary asked me to ask her employer if she was an OK helper or not. I checked with the employer who said she was good, so I told her. Her response? She cried. Feedback comes in 2 forms:

  • Encouraging Feedback

Filipino helpers are often starved for a word of encouragement, some praise, a kind word once in a while. They would like to hear you say "that's delicious" or "I'm really grateful for you," or "good job". If you want to keep a helper long term, learn to give some affirming feedback. They will strive with all their heart to please you if you give them some encouragement.

  • Corrective Feedback

Helpers also want and need to have corrective feedback so they can improve in their job performance. Some employers think "I told them clearly once, and I wrote them a long job description. Isn't that enough?" NO, it's not enough. You don't get things the first time you hear them and neither does your helper. She needs to know how to improve in her work.

How to give corrective feedback

  • Understand the purpose of feedback: It's about future NOT past behavior. The purpose of feedback is NOT to berate or criticize your employee for past mistakes. The entire purpose is to help them perform better in the FUTURE.
  • The timing of feedback: Feedback should be given within one week of the event. If you wait too long, the employee won't remember the event. If you forget, don't worry, the employee is likely to do the same thing again.
  • Ask permission to give feedback: I can hear some of our customers now thinking "No way! I'm the boss. I'll give feedback when I want to give feedback." Well, this advice may fall on deaf ears, but feedback will be better received if you ask permission first. What does it cost you to be polite and say, "Polly, I want to give you some feedback on dinner last night. Have you got a few minutes?"
    • "Polly, I want to talk to you about this morning. Have you got a minute? Yesterday you woke up at 6:30 instead of 6:00. Because you were late, I had to help get the kids out the door, and I myself was late to work. Your late rising caused me to experience a lot of pressure and stress, and to be late to work myself. In the future, I expect you to be up by 6 a.m. OK? Thank you."
    • "Polly, can I talk to you about dinner last night? I thought the soup was really delicious. I hope that next time you'll make it just that way again. In the stir fry, the celery was chopped too thick. The result was that it was not cooked properly and was hard to chew and swallow. Next time please cut the celery 1/2 again as small. Do you understand what I mean? Would you like me to show you the technique for chopping the vegetables again? Thanks."
    • "Polly, I want to talk to you about the laundry. When you ironed the clothes, you burned my blouse. I bought that blouse when I was in Canada last summer, and it is one of my favorites. Now I won't be able to enjoy wearing it, and I won't be able to find another like it here in Hong Kong. I'm also going to have to spend time and money to buy a replacement. Next time, I need you to read the label (show her the label) on each garment before you iron it. If it says "don't iron", please don't iron it. If it says "iron on low heat" use the low heat setting (show her on the iron). Do you understand what I need from you? Thanks."
  • Don't take too long. Feedback doesn't need to take a long time. If you're talking more than 1 or 2 minutes, you are probably talking too much.
  • Don't vent your emotions on your employees. Focus on behaviors, outcomes and expected change. You should be able to smile when you give feedback. If you feel emotional, then wait for a time when you are calm to give feedback.

We all need feedback so that we can grow personally and professionally. Giving and receiving feedback should not be a traumatic experience, but rather a normal part of our work life.

I'm grateful to the Podcast "Manager Tools" which gave me the main ideas for this article.