Some employers live with them for days while others for years. Is the problem the woman or the house helps? Wangeci Kanyeki explores the touchy debate
Treat her well and she will last, treat her like trash and she will unleash her wrath on your child. That is the general rule of thumb for some women who employ house girls.
However, there is also the possibility that if you treat her well, she may take advantage of your generosity and you will be forced to fire her.
So just what makes a house girl last for long? Of course there are some who leave for greener pastures or personality differences with the boss.
While others, especially from the bureaus, collude with bureau owners to work for a short while and leave, only for the bureau to give them a placement elsewhere — a money minting project.
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Here are some of the major reasons that contribute to how long a girl will last at her place of employment.
Ruth Njaungiri of Njaungiri Enterprises, a house help bureau near Kenyatta Market that has been in operation for the last 13 years, says how you treat a girl determines how long she lasts.
“If you are a harsh employer, she will not last for long. A good employer treats her girl like family. But some women are unkind and inhumane towards the girls. They mistreat them, make them work for long hours and under unfair conditions,” she notes.
There is a trend where career mothers are over-delegating and outsourcing their responsibilities to the house girls, says Njaungiri.
In some homes, the house girl is expected to feed and change the infants even at night despite spending the entire day with the baby. The baby cot is moved into the nanny’s room while the mother gets her full sleep.
“This is unfair as the house girl needs to rest to replenish her energies for the next day,” says Njaungiri.
In such a case, the child becomes overly attached to the domestic worker and perceives them to be their sole care giver.
According to Josephine Mwaniki, a human resource director at The Nielsen Company, the role of your house help is to help you look after your house and children while you are at work. However, there are certain jobs that are yours whether you have a helper or not.
Chores such as doing homework with the children and bathing the baby should be the parents’ responsibilities.
“Parents should bathe their children so that in case they have any injuries, they can notice it,” she says.
Charity Muthoni, a veteran mother, says as women over-delegate to the house helps, the girls end up overworked.
“Women need to know that these girls also get tired. So rather than come home and cross your legs watching TV after work, try and get involved with the house work. Change the baby or surprise your family by cooking for them a meal. You can even request the girl to chop the vegetables then cook it.”
There are also some chores, which are personal and should not be done by the house help such as washing under wears for adults and teenagers. Parents must train their older children to be self-sufficient as they prepare them for college years.
As an employer, it is good to set your expectations of the domestic worker. As you are orienting them, give them guidelines on what to watch on television and when to watch so that children are not exposed to adult content.
Liz Gastonia, a mother of two, allows her house help to watch television late afternoon when the children are in school. To control the content being watched while parents are out at work, their cable television provider has a feature that blocks off all adult content.
Njaungiri warns employers to also set rules on mobile phones. House helps with loud earphones can barely hear the baby crying or hear you instructing them to do a particular chore.
Set dress code
To prevent employers from constantly arguing with house helps regarding provocative clothes like tight trousers, Njaungiri recommends the use of uniforms, which are presentable.
However, James Karingo* does not like this idea. Though his wife has implemented it, he feels that the concept is colonial and makes the girls look like second class citizens.
Domestic workers should be respected and treated as professionals. Give them a clean, warm bed to sleep on, free from bedbugs and mosquitoes. Give them soap and tissue for personal grooming and let them eat the food you are eating, so that she does not have to steal your delicacies, says Njaungiri.
Offer them fair working hours so that they do not sleep so late and worn out. It is important that they get an off day so that they can run their personal errands.
Njaungiri adds that in some homes, the girls are released at 11.00am on a Sunday and have to be back by 3.00pm. That is unrealistic.
According to Josephine, domestic workers are entitled to 21 days of leave days so that they can visit their families. She demonstrates this by occasionally giving her girl a Saturday and Sunday off.
“I also believe that the house help represents my brand; if I do not look after her it reflects poorly on me.”
Good salary & medical benefits
Employers should pay their domestic workers an amount that is commensurate to the work load.
Njaungiri says many girls complain that they do so much yet are paid peanuts, which is never paid on time.
“Paying a house girl Sh3,000 in this day and age is too little. These girls also have obligations and school fees to pay for their children”, she says.
Josephine says if you are going to pay your helper a minimal amount, then allow her to work for less days and free her to source for other income. Other benefits that you should give your girl are NHIF, NSSF and advice them to join a suitable micro-finance organisation like Jamii Bora and Maono Investment where they can borrow a soft loan when need be.
Should one chat with their domestic workers or not? While it is important to keep a professional distance with your workers, it is good to be able to freely converse with them.
Talking with them helps you to understand them better and know some of their issues. It can also help you detect depression syndromes or mental illness.
Employers should correct the house helps with dignity and not scold them in front of the children.
Women should protect the girls so that they do not face rape or sexual abuses from the man of the house or other relatives.
If your girl informs you that your husband has made sexual advances at her, rather than be in denial and chase her away, confront him, advises Njaungiri.
Finally, if you are in a cycle where you change like three girls in a month, you need to re-evaluate yourself and see if there is something you are not doing right.
In any case, it is not possible that all the girls have a problem. It could be you!