You've Sourced the Perfect Domestic Team: Now, How Do You Keep Them?
So you have assembled the private service staff team of your dreams. It took time, money, and patience to source the calibre of Employee that other Employers dream of. What is more, staff has been trained to the specific standards of your household. Your domestic staff is trustworthy, reliable, and bring a standard of professionalism to your household. You can now sit back and enjoy the benefits of your hard labour, except...
Except for the fact that domestic employers should never rest on the assumption that the fruits of their labour are forever lasting. Retaining talented Employees requires as much attention and effort as did recruiting the team in the first place. Why is that? Well, humans being humans tend to keep their eyes open for opportunity. Occasionally this means jumping from one job to another because the grass looks greener.
I know, I know... But you invested time and money in improving your staff members’ skills and you did not do it so that they could jump ship at the first sign of a position that might be marginally better than their current one. I get it. I understand the frustration of Employers experiencing what they will interpret as disloyalty. When an Employee disembarks from a job they take with them their skills, their training, their knowledge-base, and their role in making the team cohesive.
Here is the thing though... sourcing talented Employees should only be one aspect of an Employer’s household management strategy. Retaining that talent is the other key ingredient. So, just how does an Employer retain good staff members? I suppose the first thing every Employer needs to come to terms with is that there are no guarantees. Sometimes an Employee will move on to a different job for reasons that go beyond an Employer’s ability to remedy. One such example is the Employee that leaves private service to do something entirely different. There is not much an Employer can do in such a circumstance. In most situations, however, there are plenty things an Employer can and should do if they wish to retain their staff. Some of these include:
Show appreciation for jobs well done. The number of times staff members have come to me complaining that they are never thanked for their role in a smashingly successful party, or for simply not watching the clock and consistently being willing to work later, always amazes me. If Employers knew the difference a “thank you” or a “well done” can make to an Employee, I am convinced they would overcome whatever emotional obstacle is in the way and show heartfelt appreciation. In most cases the appreciation is there; it is just never verbalized. That is a mistake.
Do not be afraid to exchange pleasantries. Sometimes a simple “good morning” or “how was your vacation” can make a tremendous difference in an Employee’s workday. I am not suggesting Employers engage in deep, involved dialogues, but rather that they recognize the person in front of them who will make their beds, prepare their breakfast, look after their children, and answer their telephone. It requires minimal effort and achieves significant results. One of the wealthiest men in the country I call home used to go to the park every day in his retirement and chat with the Nannies. When he died, he was mourned by those who knew him well and by those who enjoyed the few minutes he would take to acknowledge that people, all people, matter. I am fairly certain he did not experience high staff turnover in his household.
Conduct annual performance reviews. Once again it amazes me the number of homes that do not bother with such a fundamental exercise in staff retention. Staff want to know how they are doing and they want to hear it from their Employer or a trusted representative. Performance reviews present perfect forums to review and reinforce job descriptions, acknowledge areas of strength and improvement over the last year, as well as identify objectives for the Employee to strive towards during the upcoming year. Of course, with a performance review should come a salary review. Economies do not stand still. Cost of living tends to rise and this should be reflected in how staff is remunerated. I recall one household who ran performance reviews like clockwork. Prior to every review the lady of the house would inquire about rates of pay in the job market for various positions. In order to retain her staff she always wanted to stay ahead of the market average. It is a clever tactic and one that was rewarded by valued staff members remaining with the family for the long term. Provide training. It might sound like a trifle, but it is not. Training that is ongoing and meaningful demonstrates that an Employer values their Employees and wants to invest in them. People do not like the feeling of stagnation in a job. In fact, feeling “stuck” in a role is likely one of the highest single contributors to staff departing jobs for the brighter lights of other opportunities. Training is such an easy “fix” that it is surprising more households do not avail themselves of it on a regular basis.
Buy into the importance of regular staff meetings. Employers should insist that structured staff meetings occur on a weekly basis. Employees should know that the meetings are “Employer-approved.” They need not be long (no more than a half hour), and the person conducting them must be organized with a pre-approved agenda that identifies current items, upcoming events, as well as previous trouble spots. They also present a perfect forum to praise staff members and reinforce a single training point like how the telephone should be answered and what information should be included in a message.
Do not be afraid to ask questions. Either Employers or Household Managers should seek out information from staff members. Usually it is a member of staff who will notice that the faucet in the seldom-used third floor bathroom is dripping. While that staff member should be bringing it to the attention of their manager, regular checkins never hurt since they make the Employee feel valued. It will also reinforce the importance of open communication within a household.
Feed your staff. As the saying goes “an army can’t march on an empty stomach.” Feeding staff does not mean filet mignon and expensive fish. Employers should ask their Household Managers what they think is a fair weekly budget for staff meals. Special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries can be acknowledged through a communal meal. Word of caution, however... Staff meals should be staggered so that the household does not go unattended. Deal with staff conflict swiftly and fairly. I have written previously on the matter of staff conflict. It will occur at some point. Do not play favourites. Occasionally a favoured Employee (they will inevitably come to exist) does wrong. Correct the Employee and have them apologize. Reinforce the notion that your household is a place of work and relationships must always be conducted upon a basis of mutual respect. If conflict persists, Employers have a decision to make, which, from time to time, includes dismissal. Provide small perks. For example, if an Employee works later on a cold winter evening, offer them a taxi voucher so that they can get home quickly and safely.
Provide discretionary annual bonuses. Staff should understand that the bonus is discretionary and may vary from year to year. There should be metrics for evaluating bonus amounts since staff will talk. If the metrics are not clearly understood by all, the awarding of bonuses, which should be happy occasions, can become triggers for conflict. Years of service is an obvious measure.
Promote from within when possible. As opposed to automatically seeking out new talent for a position, take time to consider your current pool of labour. For example, that Housekeeper who has been with the family for 8 years, who is respected by their colleagues, just might make a perfect Executive Housekeeper.
Keep your relationships with staff professional... always. The temptation to tell a staff member that they are just like family is and always will be a mistake. It confuses the relationship and raises false expectations. Staff members are not family. They are paid Employees with a role in your household. When the time comes to rebuke them for some reason (and that time will arrive), the staff member who thinks of themselves as a member of the family will have a rude awakening and will very likely be left with a bad taste in their mouth. On the other hand, if they have been treated professionally as respected workers, the criticism will much more likely be received in a professional manner. Make sure that your House Manager treats your staff in a manner consistent with your expectations. Employers can have the best of intentions where their Employees are concerned, but if they are not followed through by their House Managers, those intentions are all for naught. A healthy work environment starts at the top and trickles downward. It is important that Employers remain observant.
Conduct Exit Interviews. Staff will inevitably depart for one reason or another. An Exit Interview is an ideal way to discover why and possibly present an opportunity to improve upon a feature of the work environment.
This all sounds like a lot of work and in some ways it is. I think, however, that each of the above strategies share three common denominators. Household Staff are like any other Employee when you really think about it. They want to be...
1. Recognized 2. Appreciated, and...
There can never be guarantees where human beings are concerned. I will say this though... By creating a positive and nurturing work environment, Employers get as close as they possibly can to retaining staff members who foster a happy and healthy household. Isn’t that the objective of good Household Management?