Hiring a maid/housekeeper

Lets do this thing!

You already understand that the benefits of hiring a maid (helper/maebaan) for your home in Thailand are enormous,  but do you know the cultural ins and outs and good hiring practices required to ensure a truly successful outcome?

 

The following resources have been designed over 20 years of working with maids across Asia, to drastically increase your chances of an employer-employee dynamic that not only works, but is healthy and comfortable and beneficial for all involved.

Agency vs. self-hire

Pros & Cons

The Interview

the questions you need to ask yourself, and a potential hiree

What to pay

getting it right, and why that matters

Agency vs. Self-hire

The Pros & Cons of using a Recruitment Agency to hire your housekeeper.

Traditionally Thai housekeepers (Maebaans) are hired solely through word-of-mouth.  And although word-of-mouth is still the primary method of recruitment, today more and more recruitment agencies are springing to life.  See the pros & cons of hiring such an agency below, and decide for yourself whether or not an agency is the way to go for you!

Why use an agency?

  1. You Can’t speak Thai and therefore you can’t conduct an inteview without the help of a translator.  Nevermind that you don’t even know where to start looking.
  2. Acountability.  No matter if you are new to the area or a seasoned expat, generally you are going to be limited as to what you know about the background of a potential applicant.  A good recruitment agency should help to reduce this risk with proper background checks etc., by having the necessary employee documentation already on file, and on account of the very nature of networks themselves in helping to foster accountability and transparency.
  3. Teachability.  One of the biggest complaints employers have concerning their local housekeepers is teachability.  Especially (but definitely not limited to) situations where the employee is the elder of the employer.  Issues surrounding age and teachability in general can be greatly reduced with agency hires opposed to self-hires.  Why? Applicants who have sought out a recruitment agency in the first place tend to be more serious about the professional aspect of their work.  But possibly the biggest reason is that recruits tend to be greatly  motivated by peer performance.  A good recruitment agency will tend to hold recruitment orientation and training sessions in group settings where adherence to policy is much more likely to be observed (and continued forward) than in one-on-one training scenarios.
  4. A great recruitment agency should provide their customers with a post placement evaluation of the employee; as a means for fostering ongoing accountability/teachability and skill development, and to aid in identifying possible communication issues between the employer and employee.

Why NOT to use an Agency

  1. It’s gonna cost you to use an agency. True, with a recruitment style agency, you are likely going to either pay an initial finders fee, and this could be anywhere from equal to a month of the housekeepers salary, or more. If your applicant has received additional training from said agency, expect to pay more. Or, if you are using a Molly Maid style provider, where you pay a company per cleaning, (opposed to hiring an individual housekeeper outright) you can definitely expect to pay more per day (how much more, will obviously depend on the agency). If you are thinking long-term, and or you’d like a housekeeper that can learn some extra skills such as cooking and baking, the latter option might not be for you.
  2. Your employee might “rob you blind”! Actually this can happen whether you use an agency or not. Usually it’s not as dramatic as that, but the reality is that occasionally, even though you OR an agency, has done the due diligence, ahem, ahem… ” ‘bad?’ stuff happens”.  Agencies can only go so far in determining the background of a recruit.  And unfortunately, the lower on the socio-econimic scale, the less background/employment history may be discovereable at all!  That’s why it is our aim at Baan Savvy to urge all employers/agencies to (responsibly) provide a Employment (history) Letter or a Letter of Recommendation for all employees whos employment will be terminated for any reason.
  3. Your agency hire, (and possibly any replacement employee they send you) just might not work out, and you are left without a housekeeper or the recruitment fee!  It does happen occasionally.  (More commonly with part-time hires.)
  4. Your new hire could be incompetent and cause damage to personal belongings, or even pose a saftey risk within the home.

In the end, if you find you are strongly risk adverse, you may want to think about pulling those rubber gloves back on yourself.  But If you do decide to use an agency, resist the urge to immediately blame your agency if your new hire doesn’t work out (assuming you’ve used a reputable agency). Seriously.  Sometimes it just doesn’t, and that’s the risk involved.  Ask the right questions, use your own good judgment, use a reputable agency and…good luck!

The Interview

Read all of the above and still game to proceed?  Good for you!  Whether you have decided to go with an agency, or you already have someone in mind, it’s a good idea to be prepared with some questions of your own for your interviewee.

Questions for the interview

Think about what the top values and priorities in your household are, and take notes. Start the interview with some general logistical questions to help relax your applicant and get them talking. Download the PDF below to help you get started.

General interview questions

Age of applicant. If it’s not immediately obvious who is the elder of whom between employee and employer, culturally it is recommended to establish this.

Marital and familial status of the applicant. Do they have children, and if so, are in-laws/parents living with them? Who is caring for children outside of school hours?

Living situation. Distance to the place of employment. Do they have their own motorbike? Are they licensed for that motorbike? Are there any reasons why it could be difficult for them to get to work in a timely and reliable fashion?

Work Requirements. Are they looking for full or part-time work? Live-in or live-out work?  Short-term or long-term? Availability: days and hours.

Core questions

We strongly recommend discussing these core points across the board because they establish core values from the very first encounter:

  1. Are they teachable? Surpassing even experience is whether or not they are good listeners and willing to be directed. This is the number one complaint we hear of from employers regarding their domestic staff. This is the time to discuss any age-related concerns (see below) as well.
  2. Experience and or work-related training. Experience can be a huge plus, particularly when you can also contact previous employers for specific information on an applicants’ prior job performance and character. If they have experience: where, and for whom? Was this work for foreigners or nationals? Over what period of time? (Do they have a history of flitting from job to job?).  Did they enjoy their work as a maebaan/housekeeper? What did they enjoy most? What did they enjoy the least? Did they like their boss(es)?  Why did they quit? How much notice did they give? What was their salary? Don’t waste the opportunity to contact previous employers, and do try to ask open-ended questions in an effort to get a more accurate understanding of an applicants character and work ethic.  I almost always ask the applicant about any job-related training as well, even if I am fairly sure an applicant has not had any? Why? Because it helps to establish the value and expectation of skill and ability in job performance, and also can help to realign your employee’s expectations in terms of salary (if there are any preconceptions towards western employment equaling a higher salary).
  3. Are they honest? It is unlikely that you will ever be able to firmly establish this as fact during a mere interview; no matter how well the applicant is able to present themselves. Who can vouch for them?  Do they consider themselves to be an honest person? We already know that answer. Ask them for examples of ways that they have proven their honesty and integrity through their actions.
  4. Can I rely on them? How many days, outside of set holiday times, did they take off during their last job? If asked, what would their previous employer have to say about their reliability and character?
  5. Do they have a good attitude? The attitude of a domestic employee can have a big impact on the overall atmosphere of your home. How would they rate their own attitude? How would their friends and family members rate it? Look for hints in questions like “What did they think about their previous employer? Was he or she a “good employer”?

Additional considerations or questions might be:

  1. Can they cook? Do they enjoy cooking? This may or may not be a consideration for you. Maybe your need is for someone who truly loves working with children. For myself, the ability to cook (I don’t expect a prior knowledge of western cuisine), or at the very least enjoyment of cooking, is a must, as everyone in my family eats regular meals.:p And we love GOOD food! A-N-D there is nothing like coming home after a busy day out and about coupled with  soccer or ballet practices, and then sitting down to a complete, nutritious and delicious meal already prepared and on the table! Nothing like it!
  2. Grocery shopping.  Can they go to the market/grocery store and buy my groceries? (In other words, do they have a license and a motorbike?)
  3. Child-care. Do they have experience or training in child-care, and do they love working with kids, or do they merely put up with kids? If you do plan to have them working with your kids, we recommend that you have your children nearby during the interview so that you can introduce your kids and observe how your applicant interacts with your children. (Do they attempt to engage with your kids? Or crouch down to their level with smaller kids?)
  4. Pet care. Do they like animals, and do they have any pet-related allergies?
  5. Do they wear a helmet on their motorbike? How often? Yes, this one sounds a bit silly perhaps. But actually, the answers to questions like these can provide insight regarding an applicants level of respect for authority and for rules in general. Which in turn may be an indication of how an employee might be expected to respect your household rules and standards.
  6. Hiring your elder. Are you willing to hire a housekeeper who is your elder? I’m not talking about a senior citizen here, although not out of the question perhaps. I’m talking about hiring anyone who is even one day older than you. In a Western context, this might not factor in heavily, if at all, in your decision-making process. But in Asian culture, it can be a make-or-break-it dynamic in your relationship with your helper, and in your ability to advise and instruct the employee regarding your needs and expectations. It is very common in Asian cultures for difficulty to arise between employers and helpers who are the elders of their employers, because of the very deep cultural respect and deference that is given to elders. Because of this many Asians themselves will hesitate, and sometimes not even consider hiring someone who is older than themselves, whether this age gap is considerable, or merely a matter of days.

Other potential age-related concerns:

  • Energy, stamina, and dexterity. Can they climb a ladder to clean windows and fixtures up high? Can they change a standard 5-gallon water cooler bottle (if needed)?
  • Motivation for personal development may be lower. Housekeepers in an older demographic may feel like “their time has passed” and have less incentive to learn new things. Likely not a problem if your housekeeper has been hired for cleaning only, but if your desire is for them to learn western cooking and baking, or to learn a higher level of child-care safety standards, this may well be a consideration. Most Asian housekeepers will find tasks such as measuring out ingredients in recipes to be altogether new concepts, and therefore the older the demographic, the harder this may be in terms of confidence and ability.

Why you might want to hire your elder after all!:

  • The hiring pool can be much more plentiful in an older demographic (there are more people available for hire).
  • We’ve found that when age-related concerns regarding teachability are addressed directly, in a firm yet gentle manner, right from the interview and orientation process, that this approach can often help greatly to circumvent these issues and to successfully establish an appropriate employer-employee authority structure.
  • They can be more reliable with the maturity of age, and for those that are beyond the active child-rearing stages, less prone to work interruptions from related familial demands.

Hiring through an Agency?

  • Find out what their policy is on background checks.  Does the agency actually contact previous employers?  Nowadays with maebaans often having access to even Facebook and Line app etc. on their mobile phones, there is practically no such thing as a maebaan not having her previous employers phone number. Somewhat unlike what one might assume in a western context, in an Asian context “not having a contact number” doesn’t automatically mean the previous employment ended badly on account of the employee, or that the applicant was at fault in their previous employment. However It can indicate cause to ask further questions, and to make use of any provisions by the agency for trial periods and replacement staff if necessary.  
  • What is their “back-up plan” for hirees that don’t work out?  Is there a trial period?  Will they provide a replacement housekeeper in the event that this happens? 
  • Has applicant undergone a medical check?

 

Make use of the 3 month probationary period

 

 

In any hiring scenario, make sure to confirm that there will indeed be a 3 month probationary period. This provision has been established by law, and most applicants already expect it, however, we recommend affirming this expectation upon agreement to hire. All the more important  if the applicant does not provide letters of recommendation, or sufficient contact information for previous employers. Don’t miss this opportunity to emphasize the value of proving oneself and establishing one’s reputation and character.

 

What to pay

Salaries that foster skill development

 

At Baan Savvy our primary objective is to foster and encourage skill development for maids in S.E.A., (South East Asia), and excellence in the services they provide.  Fundamental to that excellence is people, therefore one might say we are in the business of people development. For us, this is where it gets most exciting because people development never occurs in a vacuum! There is always a trickle-down effect. People development is especially critical to our goal of service excellence in an industry that is characterized by a disproportionately low skill labor force, and with numerous social stigmas to overcome.  Fundamental to our goal of people development is motivation; motivation to learn and to surpass current industry and even certain cultural norms. The balance between excellence and motivation is therefore critical to the development process and we ask you to consider salaries accordingly.

 

Two “going rates”

 

We want to set the record straight. Currently (and for decades likely), there are two “going-rates” for maid salaries. There is the going rate that the average Thai citizen expects to pay a maid in their employ, and the going-rate among Westerners who employ Thai or ethnic minorities. We can not disregard either, but we recommend a more balanced approach to salaries.

 

Salaries that are too low can have a negative effect on motivation & performance, however, paradoxically, salaries that are too high can also kill motivation-and in cases where the disparity in pay is obviously far higher than local averages, this is, in fact, the much more likely of the two- to develop those skills that are fundamental to excellence.  As humans beings, we don’t desire what we already perceive to possess. Too high (without appropriate skill related justification) and a sense of entitlement and complacency, even a sense of getting away with something can creep in; and if that worked once… In the latter case, what may have been intended as gracious benevolence, becomes toxic charity.

 

At Baan Savvy we strongly suggest starting with the Thai local standard as your base together with the addition of justifiable incremental increases based on skill level, experience and performance criteria.

 

Isn’t more, just….more?

 

For many Westerners, it is tempting to approach the issue of how much salary to pay one’s employee based on Western world-views, without consideration to how those decisions, are perceived by a very different world-view on the receiving end.  After all, if you are an expat and happen to be anything like me, much of the impetus behind your decision to uproot from a comfortable life in the West, and to transplant yourself in S.E Asia, just may have been due to a deep desire to have an impact on the poverty that now surrounds you.  So for you, it might seem natural to want to pay double, triple the going salary rate (or more) in your own personal effort to combat poverty in the life of your employee through generous remuneration.  It is immediately satisfying, and a tangible direct actionable response to need, and after all, isn’t more just…more?

 

This response is entirely understandable, (and generosity is a beautiful thing indeed) however, after nearly two decades of working closely alongside thousands from S.E. Asia’s working class, I’ve come to the strong conviction that, careful consideration of how such a simple thing like how much we pay our domestic staff really does matter, and  can actually have long-term implications.

 

While the long-term goal ought to be for poverty reduction through salary increases and improvement in the standard of living, I’ve come to see that that path to this end is not nearly as clear cut as it would initially seem, and it can’t happen without skill development, motivation and work ethic. It requires a well thought out plan that considers long-term outcomes/impact.

 

It would take a book to explore this topic properly, (and indeed, excellent books have been written on the topic, such as When Helping Hurts, and Toxic Charity) but let me attempt to sum up what I’ve learned primarily from first hand experience.

 

Healthy remuneration is both legal and justifiable

 

In order for any healthy employment situation to exist, especially in the context of a developing nation, salary remuneration must be both legal, and justifiable.  First and foremost, as employers, we have a responsibility to ensure that we are meeting the provisions of the law in terms of salary, benefits and holiday etc.; protections for our staff.  Additionally, I believe we have the responsibility that our employee(s) is in an equal and ideally better position for re-hire after their employment with us has ended. In order for this to happen an environment that fosters skill development is desirable, but one that fosters work ethic is absolutely fundamental to long-term positive outcomes in the life of the employee. Salary remuneration that does not consider justifiable remuneration, is the nemesis of both work ethic and the motivation required to foster skill development.

 

How?  At the risk of being overly simplistic… 

 

A case in point

 

Jane hires a housekeeper for 2.5 times the going local rate, without any expectation for increased responsibility or skill development. She has a budget for this amount so why not “bless” her helper. Months later, with children now in school, Jane is ready to take on more work outside the home and really needs her helper to refocus her energies in the kitchen. Jane is frustrated because her housekeeper, who was hired with no prior cooking experience, doesn’t seem at all eager to learn how to cook, or even just to prep food. Jane feels she has been very generous in paying her helper far above the going rate, but continually feels unsatisfied because her housekeeper never really developed any new skills to aid in truly lightening the load in the home, and even everyday chores like dusting seem to produce sub-standard results.

 

Jane and her husband move back to their home country and now their previous housekeeper is once again looking for work. The housekeeper refuses several job offers based on a much lower, going-rate salary, and pressures from family to maintain her previous salary, and is out of work for many months before coming to the harsh realization that she does not have the skills required for re-hire at her prior rate of pay. 

 

A simple but somewhat common occurrence.

 

Another example…

 

I once sort of…acquired a helper who just sort of “came with the house” when we first moved to Chiang Mai.  We spent several days together scrubbing down the house and a huge majority of the time was spent in the kitchen attacking fridge, oven, cupboards and ceiling fans in an attempt to eradicate years worth of grease and grime build up that had never been properly dealt with. I will never forget the day (after several months in our employ) when my then-helper pulled her first-ever pizza out of the oven.  She was beaming with pride at having made a delicious pizza from scratch, completely on her own.  But then after a few minutes of excitement, she suddenly got a bit serious and said to me “I have worked for westerners for the past 12 years, but I’ve learned more in these last few months working with you than I did those entire 12 years.  And now I’m old, and approaching retirement in a few years, and just starting with this?  What a waste of all that time.”  It was a sad/ happy moment, and I’ve never forgotten her words.  They’ve had an impact on me ever since.

 

Another less talked about idea is that remuneration that is not justifiable, creates a sense of “getting away with something”.  And if one got away with it once….From our Western perspectives, what we perceive as simple generosity toward our employee, can, without justification foster a corruption of integrity.  When it comes to a work situation, we all expect to be paid based on a service that we have provided.  When an employee perceives that they are being paid far more than for the service they have provided, it has the potential to present a conflict of personal integrity (if they don’t simply feel like a charity case where they feel like you believe that they did not have the capacity to have actually earned it otherwise) and to create negative habits or unrealistic expectations and desires.

Holidays and Absences

 

The employee is entitled to (these are the basics and, does not include all possible entitlements):

 

  • Thirteen national holidays per year, plus a minimum of 6 days of paid vacation leave after one year of consecutive work. If an employee is expected to work a national holiday, a minimum of two times the hourly or daily wage is to be provided.
  • Overtime beyond the standard 8 hour work day is to be payed out at one and a half times the hourly wage, and requires the employees consent (except in specific job situations).
  • One hour rest period per 8 hour working day. This rest period is not counted as working time.
  • Sick leave of up to 30 days is allowable, providing the employee is actually sick. If the employee is sick for three days or more, the employer may require the employee to obtain a medical certificate from a reputable medical establishment with an explanation of the illness.

 

Additional time off 

 

For additional time off requests, that are above and beyond any holiday time that you may have established (and those holiday and sick days required by law), we strongly recommend establishing clear expectations from day one. We’d suggest either: the employee takes the requested day(s) without pay, or, as is often more desirable (for the employee), the employee compensates by working another non-working day in substitution. We have found that when this is not established from the very beginning, it can often lead to the abuse of an employers generosity (which becomes much harder to rectify later) and therefore can lead to dissatisfaction between the employer and employee.  

 

A thirteenth month

 

In Thailand, many businesses and even private households with housekeepers/maids are known to pay an additional month’s salary after a year of work. This is usually payed out at Songkran (water festival/Thai New Year’s). This is by no means a legal requirement, and not all private households choose to do so. What do we suggest? If you have been pleased with your helper and deem them trustworthy and teachable and hard working, and you also pay a salary that is comparable to industry norms, then we recommend that you consider paying either a thirteenth month or a partial month. Ultimately though, it is up to you. Some families decide to give a half month, or even a thousand baht or two. Other families choose to pay a bit more per month in salary, and then are upfront with their helper that this is in lieu of an annual bonus. (In this latter case, the employee themselves may be asking for a higher salary during the interview).

Finding the happy medium- giving “more” while remaining equitable

 

The following PDF is available to help you come to an equitable decision regarding how much to pay your housekeeper. When used in conjunction with its Thai version, can be helpful as a tool to explain how you came to that decision to your housekeeper, and as an incentive for your housekeeper to develop her skills further.

 

Part-time staff:

 

Part time work is generally much less desirable to potential applicants, and therefore it is very common to pay considerably more than the normal daily rate. We recommend the following as a guideline:

 

1. Determine the skill level of  the applicant using the pay scale from the PDF below.  

 

2. Calculate the daily rate of a full time employee at that pay scale level (based on a 5 day work week). There are an average of 21.6 possible workdays in a month, so for example, an employee at 9000 baht per month, divided by 21.6 would earn a daily rate of 417 baht.

 

3. To the per-day rate, add an additional:

30-35% for 1 day per week

25% for each day, if hired for 2 days per week

15% for each day, if hired for 3 days per week

0% for each day, if hired for 4 days per week

 

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