The Low-down on Hiring Household Help

Foreign Service Life
July 16, 2009
Photo by Greenery (Flickr Creative Commons)

Photo by Greenery (Flickr Creative Commons)

I am proud to say that I successfully hired my first household helper.  In the US we would commonly refer to this as a maid, but she’s going to do so much more than just clean that it isn’t a sufficient name (nor do they have an equivalent for maid in Tagalog).  And so we use the term Katulong, which means helper in Tagalog.  The idea of having a helper seems very glamorous indeed, but there’s also a lot of management involved with having household staff.  I was a bit overwhelmed as I dove into learning about it these last few weeks, but now I feel like I have a handle on it.  Here’s a bit of what I’ve learned for those of  you out there that are also new to this.

First decision: Live in or Live out Help.  Most condos/apartments/houses here have a built-in maid’s quarters, but you still need to factor in your comfort level with having someone in your home all the time (except Saturday evening and Sunday).  Nick and I wanted to ease into this, so we’re doing a live out.  She’ll arrive at 9 AM and leave after the dinner dishes are cleaned up.  Helpers typically work 6 days a week, with Sunday off.  With live-in, you provide toiletries and a food allowance.  With live-out, you provide transportation fees and a food allowance.  In addition, the law mandates that you must pay the employer portion of Social Security and provide either insurance or agree to pay for doctor’s visits.  It sounds expensive, but it’s actually a very small amount here.  There’s also a 13 month bonus which most people provide.  That being said your total cost for employing the helper is usually between $150-250 (with all the above-mentioned items).

I struggled with this at first because of the concept we have around household help in the US, as well as the dramatic differential between a full-time wage for a Filipino vs. Nick or I.  After sharing my concerns with other mission members, I realized that it’s a way for us to help the local economy by providing a job.  It’s also one of the most coveted jobs out there.  And so I’m setting aside my judgments about having help and embracing the Filipino culture in which most middle and upper class homes have a helper.

Prior to their first day of work, it’s important to do a few things.  The helper needs to have a physical and chest scan to check for tuberculosis (which is quite common).  You also need to write up a contract of employment for them to sign, stating payment terms, expected responsibilities, time off, provisions for overtime and termination procedures (on good terms or bad).  Most people do a probationary period of 60-90 days in which either party can terminate the relationship.  We’re going to do a 60 day trial.

Some of the challenges of having help include:

  • Planning enough in advance to have things for them to do
  • Respecting cultural differences by avoiding shaming, blaming or yelling, which can dramatically hurt your employer/employee relationship
  • Training your employee to tell you the truth rather than what they think you want to hear (From what I’ve been told, Filipinos prefer to please generally and will avoid giving bad news at any cost)
  • Making sure that your instructions were understood (Another cultural difference – in a desire to avoid the shame of saying they don’t understand, they nod yes and go off to try it, perhaps with disastrous results.  As the employer, it’s recommended that you have them repeat back the instructions to make sure they picked it all up.  The language barrier can also complicate that, as English understanding can vary)
  • Determining your stance on giving loans.  It is quite common that an employee may ask for a loan, as the financial challenges are so great here.  As employers, you need to decide what your policy is, as it can complicate the relationship.

That’s enough today.  Tomorrow I’ll tell you more about our helper and how we’re going to utilize her in our household!

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  1. GeorgiaGal says:

    It sounds like you are going to be a perfect overlord. Just don’t be too hard on her when she wants to see her family.

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