I often receive calls from distraught employers who are losing a valued, long-term employee to a much-deserved retirement or, sadly, a tragic illness. In both cases, most employers I encounter are kind and supportive of the employee who they recognize as someone who helped their children develop into well-adjusted adults and looked after their home(s) with a kind of dedication that is difficult to find in a person. This type of employee will always be difficult to replace, but sometimes employers have no choice.
However, here’s a hard truth:
These long-term employees cannot be replaced. They are special. They will always hold a valued space in your family’s story. That is as it should be.
Even though in private service we are not supposed to say such things, they are part of your family in many, many ways. Twenty years cannot be replaced by a new hire. Twenty years cannot be erased with a new face who is eager to please with a new set of skills and a resumé to back it up. Those twenty years will remain, as they should, a cherished part of your family history.
At some point there comes a time to turn the page. It does not mean a family is erasing all those years. They will remain as they should. It simply means that it is time to move forward and that entails doing so with new directions in mind and, yes, new staff as well.
What many families fail to understand is just how intimidating it is for a new staff member to walk into a home knowing that, in many ways, they are walking into the shoes of an employee whose knowledge of the employers is alien to them. The role of their predecessor, once they have left, becomes the stuff of history… of legend. A new employee should be forgiven for wondering how they are ever going to measure up to stories like "well, Maria used to do it this way and we liked that" or "George was always so good and so fast at getting this done." This is scary stuff if you’re just stepping into a role. Not many people would welcome the challenge of ongoing comparisons. But welcome the challenge they do.
Families should remind themselves of this struggle on a daily basis. Thinks the new employee: “I made a mistake today. My predecessor would not have made that mistake. My employers must be thinking I’m horrible… a fool…I’m stupid… and I’m about to be fired.” More often than not, it’s the opposite. The family thinks the new employee is different, but in ways that are good and are in alignment with where the household is directed, because homes do change directions. More often than not, a staff change offers a family an opportunity for a reboot in terms of the skills they require from employees. Employees should remind themselves that they are part of that reboot. Employers should recognize that they have a role in reminding new employees that they are an integral part of that reboot.
A new employee needs reassurance. They will always measure themselves against the past and the past is an intimidating force. The past has a tendency to take on fictional aspects and it's a losing game to play against the force of fiction. New employees will potentially feel defeated by that force. Worse than that, the employer might find themselves defeated by losing a good employee to those hard to detect forces.
I receive frequent calls from housekeepers (mostly) who express these anxieties. The odd thing is that I receive nothing but accolades about them from the employer. And so there is a disconnect. I try to reassure the employee, but I know my reassurance only goes so far. The heavy lifting is up to the employer.
So, here is my message to employers...
Let your new employees know the NEW differences they are making. Let them know the good ways they are helping to change the household at a time when it is needed. Let them know that, while you loved their predecessor, you value what they are doing in the here and now and believe that they too will share revered space in your family’s story.
Let them know that was then, but they are the now. Those few words will make a difference and words are both free and priceless. It is a kindness. Spare that new staff member who wants to make a difference tears and despair. It will pay off. It is also the correct thing to do.
© 2023, Portico Inc.