Melanie Leung-Shea, Founder of Helpwise (an independent domestic help consulting service providing clarity and support to employers of domestic helpers) shares her sage advice for facilitating a healthy working environment for our helpers.
Getting Win-Win Results
Encouraging your helper towards a healthy lifestyle can have a positive effect on both your helper and on your home. A helper who has the time and resources to take care of her physical and mental health can become a more productive and alert employee. Sufficient rest, food, and exercise can boost your helper’s memory and attitude, resulting in a win-win outcome for both the employer and the helper.
However, many people are surprised to learn that two of the most common reasons that a helper will terminate her contract are due to lack of food and/or a lack of rest. Helpers often feel stuck in an unhealthy lifestyle, even if they work for the nicest employers.
Given the uniquely complex living and working dynamic, helpers can often be too shy to ask for things that could improve their productivity. As a result, employers may be innocently unaware of the workplace conundrum that their helpers are facing. So even though we can’t require our helpers to adopt a healthy lifestyle, let’s talk about some practical ways that we can enable them to have a healthy lifestyle.
Sufficient Food = More Energy
The law requires employers to provide food for their domestic helpers, and the employer has two choices on how to do that. They can either (a) share their household’s food with the helper, or (b) they can give the helper a food allowance which enables her to buy her own food. With shared food, it can be unclear for the helper which foods she is able to eat and how much, so most helpers say that they feel they are not eating enough. On the other hand, when food allowance is given, the employer may see their helper eating only instant noodles and worry about her food choices.
Although we can’t “parent” our helpers when it comes to their eating habits, here are a few suggestions that may enable them to make healthy choices:
- Consider switching to food allowance, so your helper won’t be shy about eating as much as she needs
- Define meal time breaks for your helper, allowing her time to prepare her food and sit down to eat, instead of eating on-the-go, which can result in inadequate portions or unhealthy snacking
- Send her to a healthy cooking class, to expose her to nutritious recipes and new cooking styles
Adequate Rest = Greater Alertness
Given the required live-in arrangement and the fact that Hong Kong doesn’t have any laws regulating maximum working hours for helpers, they often feel that they are “on call” at all times. Some of them will work late into the night, either at their employer’s request or simply due to their own hardwork ethic. Over time, this will lead to exhaustion or sickness which can negatively impact the household.
Think back on a time in your life when you were losing a lot of sleep, either due to study, caring for a new baby, or facing grueling work hours. That level of tiredness can cause us to make poor decisions, get frustrated easily, and forget details. Enabling your helper opportunities to get sufficient rest allows her to be more alert when she is working.
- Make sure your helper is receiving one full rest day a week ( A weekly “rest day” is required by law and is defined as a continuous period of 24 non-working hours)
- It can be difficult for your helper to rest and recharge if she doesn’t know how long her break is supposed to be. Provide your helper with a clearly defined break time during the day. This is better than telling her to just “feel free to take a break” if she’s tired. Giving a specific time of day and amount of time will allow her to enjoy her break without guilt
- If your helper has been sick or helps you with night feedings for the baby, she may need extra rest. Consider giving her a longer break time during the day, or possibly a half/full day off to allow her to recover properly. Use your discretion to bring balance in unusual circumstances.
Mental Wellbeing = Increased Motivation
The strain of working so far from home in a job which rarely has daily peer interaction can cause a lot of emotional struggles for domestic helpers. Some of them may do a good job of internalizing their feelings, while others may show their emotions through tears or a “long face.”
As employers we’re not obligated to monitor our helper’s social calendar or mental state; but, informing them of events and opportunities that may improve their lives and provide motivation can have a positive influence on their overall attitude towards work and life.
- If your helper is homesick, encourage her to get connected with other helpers. Many churches have thriving Filipino and Indonesian communities
- If your helper is going through a financial crisis or a pregnancy, recommend Enrich or Pathfinders to her; both organizations provide free services to helpers
Getting Out = Overall Happiness
Numerous studies reflect that staying indoors, without getting enough “outside time” isn’t good for our mental or physical health. Just like helpers, most of us have jobs that require long stretches of indoor time; however, most working adults have a choice to leave the office if they’d like to walk down the street for a cup of coffee or go exercise at a nearby gym.
Most helpers don’t feel like they have the liberty or permission to make those sorts of decisions on their own. As employers, we can help to increase our helper’s energy, attentiveness, and even her happiness by providing opportunities for her to get out of the house.
- Ask your helper to walk the baby or the dog through a park, or give them a long errand to run. If you’re worried about your helper’s safety or willingness to follow through, ask her to send you a photo at certain points in the walk.
- Sign her up for cooking or first aid classes that can give her a change of scenery for a few hours, while still providing fresh stimulation and benefits for both of you.
- Tell her when you see programs for helpers that she might be interested in taking on her day off. Bikini Fit does exercise classes for helpers, and Splash teaches free swim lessons to helpers.
Some of the best companies in the world succeed due to providing opportunities for their employees to have a healthy work/life balance. Stronger bodies and sharper minds are always welcomed traits in any employee. As you encourage and enable your helper to increase her mental and physical health, you’ll be helping her to create healthier habits which can have a positive effect on your household as well. Win-win!
About Melanie Leung-Shea, Founder of Helpwise
When Melanie moved to Hong Kong with her husband (a local Hong Konger), she was fascinated by the uniquely complex employer/helper relationship. With a desire to spread healthy, non-judgmental answers to employers, she launched Helpwise, becoming the first domestic help consulting service in Hong Kong to help employers navigate this unusual working and living arrangement. Melanie teaches workshops, does private consultations, and speaks at schools, churches, hospitals, and private venues, giving specific advice on motivating, managing, and professionalizing the employer/helper relationship.
Upcoming Workshops and Employer Resources go to: www.helpwise.com.hk
For Regular Management Tips go to: www.facebook.com/helpwisehk