If you are arriving here having never had the option of affordable help, then you’re going to be very happy. If you are a well-versed expat you might be a little disappointed. There is a wealth of help; but it is very hard finding good, reliable staff.
The good ones want to go abroad. It is important, before you employ anyone, to really think about what YOU want to get out of it.
Here in Colombo, a lot of domestic helpers like to have a set role; like nanny, cleaner or cook. We think it is best to find someone who is willing to muck in with a bit of everything, like a general housekeeper, or a driver who is willing to help in the garden. There can often be a hierarchy within the ranks when employing multiple staff; it is best to discourage this from the start and let them know they all have equal value. The best ways to find staff are undoubtedly through word of mouth, or advertising in a paper or Hit Ad. Be very careful of using an agency, we have yet to find a reliable one.
Here are some guide lines on employing staff.
1. Make a list of what you need from help & refer to this list when interviewing.
2. When interviewing, really ask yourself if you can see this person in your home with your family. Your gut is important in this regard. You just know when someone is going to click.
3. Ask about their family situation and pay attention; you don’t want extra drama brought into your home. Make it clear they are here to do a job and you don’t want their emotional baggage brought to you which will cause disruptions in your home environment.
4. Ask if they’ve got any previous experience; if they haven’t any, don’t rule them out but look for potential, sometimes no experience is better as you can mould them according to your needs.
5. Run through the job description with them and make clear from the onset what their role is, and your expectations from them in that role. Set clear boundaries so that everyone knows where they stand.
6. Say honesty, trustworthiness, and reliability are extremely important to you. You absolutely won’t accept lateness, stealing etc.
7. State the days you would like them to work. For example, consider whether you would like them to work on Poya days ( which are public holidays) or on Saturdays. As a rule of thumb, domestic staff are given Sundays and 17 extra days off including Poya if they take it annually. They may choose when they want time off, but must give you warning. Within the cultural norms, most staff would expect to work 6 days a week. Tailor it to your needs.
8. If they don’t turn up to work without letting you know, it is a day deducted from their salary. Make this clear.
9. Think about whether you are happy to pay for their meals, they will often cook a big lunch. If not, you could provide money for a meal packet. They usually cost around Rs. 150.
10. Pay- this depends on how experienced they are, and would range from 25,000-35,000 with the hours of 8-6pm (obviously what suits you). If it is a driver, think about when you finish work, kids’ activities, whether you will be expected to go to lots of dinners etc.
11. If you want a live in helper, they would often expect all their toiletries provided for them, and all meals.
12. Bonus – choose the time of year you would like to pay it; tradition is the Sinhala & Tamil New Year in April. A bonus is one month’s salary. Usually, do not pay a bonus until they have worked for you for a year; this encourages reliability.
13. It is obviously up to you how you handle your staff, but it should be noted that over the years many staff have struggled to find other employment because their culturally instilled work ethic has been changed by previous employers. Remember you may not be here forever; you want to train your staff so that they are proud of their work and can also continue to find work once you leave.
14. Before you commit to anyone, always offer them a trial period.