I still remember the little corner I was holed up in, in the one empty room at home I had converted into both a prayer room and a home office. I had a new live-in help and she interrupted me every nanosecond, asking a question or ten. And I couldn’t blame her; as is the case with new employees, you don’t want to make a mistake, so you ask questions about everything.
In that instant, I knew there had to be a better way. One that allowed both of us to get work done without interruptions. She was not just interrupting my work; she was interrupting my thought process. Here I was trying to get this home-based business I had just begun up and running, and I was getting interrupted on a regular with:
‘Ma, should I clean the window in the kitchen? Can I wash the baby’s cloths now or tomorrow? What am I going to make for night food?’
Then it hit me; Set up a domestic work structure for her, take the time to explain it, paste it somewhere and let her run with it.
In my last article, I wrote about the recruitment process for your domestic help. After recruiting, what next?
Create a work structure or, if you like, let her know her job description.
Most employers in the corporate world take the time to define the job description for employees, even before they recruit. Most moms, however, don’t see this as important, so we just employ someone and are okay with them asking questions on a process that can be predictable.
Now, someone may be wondering why a stay-at-home mom needs a work structure at home for her help. I mean she is at home now, so why?
Yes, you are at home, but you must control access to you, especially if you are actually investing your time into productive activities – maybe you run a home-based business, are working on a research paper, or studying for an exam. Such interruptions don’t help creativity, focus, or productivity.
Also, like it or lump it, most domestic helps are a reflection of the way the larger society views an average stay at home mom: jobless, or some related and definitely unflattering adjective.
However, it behoves on you to either correct or not even allow for that mindset to thrive in your home. You may not work outside the home, but you work within the home and so should not be interrupted every time. When your help comes into a structure that you run in the home, something shifts cognitively for her, and she knows we are here for business.
Now that that’s settled, how do I create a work structure?
I will share how I create mine.
First, I write out a long list of all the possible chores at home. This is the most important part of this process, if not, you will still get disturbed on a regular basis as issues come up.
Next, I determine which I would like to delegate to her. I don’t delegate every single task in my home, as I don’t mind doing one or ten things. For example, I still prefer to go to the market myself. It gives me somewhere to go to weekly. But she is responsible for writing a list of stuff that is out of stock.
Then I allocate tasks into days of the week, and this is no casual process either. For example, Mondays are spring cleaning days because my weekends at home are messy. Wednesdays are for ironing because we usually have a pile of laundry by then. Fridays are for cleaning the shoe racks because my son gets a chance to help out, and Saturdays are for washing all the trash cans in the home after the LAWMA truck guys come through.
I also have a meal plan at home and part of what she ensures is that we have everything we need a day before, not that in the morning, she will now tell me, “Ma, milk has finished.” Whatever needs replacement must come to me at least a day before.
In dividing tasks into days of the week, I make sure to space them out evenly, so she is not overburdened on any day. I also move beyond delegating tasks after a while to delegating authority. For instance, I give her a domestic financial notebook and some money weekly, so when we run out of some basic stuff, she can easily go and replace them without telling me, while keeping records in the book.
Does she do everything perfectly? Certainly not, so I must also give some wiggle room and grace for mistakes while I continue to teach and correct.
Even though I have delegated, from time to time I check in with what she has done just to ensure that she is following through as well as I taught her, and also to let her know I delegated, not abdicated the running of my home to her. Most people need supervision to ensure compliance, so supervise often, as it also allows you to see if a particular process needs to be changed, or discarded.
Your structure won’t be perfect at first, but practice makes things better, and no structure is set in stone. You can always change it as need be. Even if your help is not literate, I believe having a structure in place still guides you on what to tell her to do daily. You can read it to her.
When your domestic help has her job spelled out for her like this, compliance is increased and you can focus on other activities.
Having penalties built into this structure can also help improve compliance, but make sure you are gracious. Don’t penalize for every mistake. Chances are high that the girl is used to working casually, so adjusting to a structure will take time. But if you find that she is defaulting a lot, penalties may not be the solution. You may need to terminate her appointment, then begin a (hopefully) more informed recruitment process. It didn’t fail; you just now know better.
Also, to wrap this up: if your help doesn’t have a bank account before she starts working for you, make sure to help her open one. Most banks have account types that allow you open one, even without an official ID card. Help her open an account and pay directly into her account, as opposed to paying cash. If you do that, just stop already. Besides being great for record purposes, it also improves her self esteem and encourages her to save. After all, a good employer—you—also looks out for the interest of her employee – your domestic help.