Recently, a friend visited me and was surprised by how well I treat my house help. My house girl Mwende, has been with me nearly three years, which is a rare occurrence nowadays. One of the reasons why she has lasted is partly because she is a good girl coupled with the fact that I treat her fairly well. What do I mean by fairly well?
I never shout at her, she eats the food we eat, sleeps in a fairly comfortable bed in the childrens’ room. I shop for her every month and she is entitled to off days. I also plan to take her for a tailoring course. Occasionally, she accompanies us when we go out for treats like lunches and birthday parties.
She is allowed to watch TV as long as it does not interfere with her work and she is watching decent programmes. I basically treat her like I would treat my small sister.
“How can you treat her that well? You are spoiling her! She is not even a relative!” my friend blasted me.
“But she looks after my most precious property - my children. So why should I not treat her well?” I asked my ‘mean’ friend.
“But she is an employee and you ought to have boundaries with her,” my friend ‘educated’ me.
Her ‘warning’ got me thinking, “should an employer treat her house help like a distant relative or an employee?”
There are women who will argue that if you treat her well, chances are she will be more loyal, exceptional in her work and will treat your children equally well. But if you are mean to her, she will extend the callousness to your children.
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But there is a school of thought that argues that, treating her well does not translate to loyalty and good service that lasts years. So if you get an ill-mannered girl, treating her well will not transform her, but if you get a good girl, no matter how you treat her, her values will stand.
Quite true. I have a friend who demonstrated high level of kindness to her domestic worker to the point of even empowering her by taking her to a driving school and enrolling her for a hairdressing course, but the ungrateful girl ended up disappointing her by stealing her clothes and jewellery. But the interesting thing is that much as that girl was a thief, she treated the children very well.
Those who subscribe to the professional route argue that, the same way you have boundaries with your employer is the same way you ought to treat your employee. In fact, there are some women who have even gone to the extent of drafting a job description for the girl which they are expected to follow to the letter.
The employer also keeps her share of the bargain on remuneration. Fair enough. There are weighty arguments on this debate but bottom line is that one should treat the girl like a human being not a slave.
The writer is a married working mother of a toddler boy and a pre-school girl. She shares her experience of juggling between career, family and social life.
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