Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Domestic Tasks Requires Effort, Concentration and Checklists

Today was hilarious! I witnessed my team in an almost "Charlie Chaplin" like mode when our Boss rang the bell to signal that they were ready to go out of the house. Five of my staff ran to different directions like headless chickens scampering to all directions in order to have all the items that need to get in the car - one assembling the lunch boxes, one hurrying to put iced water on Ma'am's water bottle, one to open the door, two to assist the Ma'am and Sir with their bags and probably get last minute instructions.. Everything happened fast while the employer walks from family room towards the car. I had to re enact for them what happened to see how terrible funny they looked. And the reason for this is a lack of preparation: moral lesson - "failure in preparation is preparation to fail". (See Qualities of a Good Home Manager).

Most especially, one of my young housekeepers, Flora,  easily falls into panic mode. And she is so contagious.. One meal time, the lady asked for the dessert after the courses were completed, and she runs to the kitchen repeating " dessert, dessert, dessert in an audible panicky voice, I  am sure you can almost imagine how it gets into everyone's nerves.

I think - and the employer feels the same way too - that she gets self conscious that she focuses on how her performance impresses the Boss and others rather than focusing on how to do well the job at hand. I spoke to her today after the employer called my attention because it seems that whenever this girl finds herself in close encounter with the employers in any part of the house, she turns rigid as if wishing she were a furniture, what the... Apart from shyness, I also found out later that she sleeps late either watching late night shows on TV or at times waiting for employers at night - this makes her forgetful, light headed almost feeling mentally blank at work.

The task- dishwashing, making the bed, etc - is so damn easy, one can do it with eyes closed, you don't even need to think at all!! In these above situations- incident with the entire staff and this staff behavior - manifest mental distraction or dissipation while at work. Sometimes I feel pity, when I obeserve my staff working and living enough to survive each day moving like robots  and unfortunately busy themselves with sms, romantic relationships, body aches, misunderstanding with coworkers, fear of committing mistakes or causing displeasure, tiredness, routine;  in general a lack of mental preparedness thinking that domestic work does not require it at all. As a consequence they become negligent and of course end up being panicky, jumpy robots when they fail. How I wish to put some spring on their feet and love and respect for their work that they will exert effort, concentrate and yes, use checklists!!



Effort and concentration make manual tasks almost flawlessly perfect precisely because they are not very complicated tasks, only cyclical which make it hard. So we need to have checklists and to read checklist when we start work and to double check checklists after each completed tasks- task schedule, packing list, weekly menu chart, shopping list, inspection checklist, cleaning calendars, etc. A staff, as young and as inexperienced as Flora need to be trained to work with effort, concentration and checklist and I can almost imagine what a wonderful housekeeper she will grow to be..

Friday, January 13, 2012

Christmas in the Basement

We love the Christmas season and so festive it is that there are decorations all over the house...
Christmas is most fun in my part of the world! We begin the Christmas season ahead of Vatican!! As soon as the "BER"months begin , i.e. September, October, November...Christmas officially starts! Then Christmas songs play over the radio, Christmas bazaars sprout all over the city, we write Santa for our gift list...  And not only that, we end it even later than most- until the Church officially celebrate Christ's baptism and for those with Chinese descent, until the Chinese New Year!  I am actually writing on how to keep and care for your Christmas decorations after the holiday season. I just couldn't think of a good title.

So after many years of putting them up and keeping them carefully, I am writing down these simple guide:

STAFF - Plan in the calendar when the job will be scheduled and who are involved. It takes time to get this job done so it is good to plan ahead and let the people know ahead of time too so they can plan their work.

STAGING AREA - set up a big open staging area, better if outside of the house where all the Christmas decorations will be brought - tree, lights, wreaths, lanterns, angels, swags, and all. Advantage is you contain the messy job in one area and it makes the job of cleaning, sorting and 'containerizing' efficient.

SORT AND CLEAN - All items must be stored clean. Christmas decorations, apart from being a big investment, are part of family history so it is good to make them last. 
a.  Synthetic Chrsitmas trees which can be disassembled must be washed (if washable), if not, it can be vaccummed. Make sure it is completely dry when wrapped. Keep the tree with all its parts in its original box. I also keep in all Christmas tree decors together.
b.  Vacuum items like leaves, greens, assembled decors to collect all embedded dust. Plastic leaves may be washed and dried. Keep similar things in the same box.
c.  Wipe balls and figurines. Keep the Christmas balls and figurines in their original box.
d.  Roll the ribbons which can still be used.
e.  Check the Christmas lights and keep thosewhich can be used again for next Christmas. Keep them in their original box.

You will need the following boxes to store the following things:
                                  Balls       Ribbons       Lights       Greens         Angels      
                                  Belen     Figurines     Wreaths     stuff toys       Flowers   
It is recommended that you keep the original boxes of the decors. If not you may store them together in plastic transparent containers so they are easily identifiable. You may also use recycled carton boxes which you can label for identification.

STORAGE SHELVES- We keep a portable storage shelving for every seasons decorations. This make it easy to categorize, transport and store the decorations. In this case we also wrap the shelves with a bubble wrap to further prevent dust accumulation during the entire year it will be kept in the storage room.

All items, per category are stored in portable shelves inside the storage room.

Halloween Decorations waiting for its turn
The day's work is over and I am super exhausted. I actually didn't wake up on time the day after because of tiredness. Oh by the way, do not forget to include monthly cleaning of the storage room. And install a dehumidifier to prevent molds if kept in humid places. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Home Management 2012: Getting-Started-Manual Mode

First week at work in the 2012 and this blog is dedicated to the moms who want to get started in managing their homes in 2012 in smart manual mode!! ( aka: no hi-tech smart home systems blah blah)...  January is great time to update your house manual for those of you who have documented the past year's house activities using a logbook, I call mine my home journal. For those who want to get started, I hope this inspire you.

Home Journal  I keep a home journal in each of the household I manage which is much like a personal diary. But instead of writing my crushes and my dreams, I write my household activities. First page outlines the basic terms of my agreement with my client and the following pages record my clients' household concerns that she thinks need attention - i.e.: items that need repair, needs to be cleaned better, personnel performance, an upcoming family activity/event/party that we need to prepare for,etc.. These are then discussed with me on a weekly basis and in turn after a day's work, I jot down my feedback: on how much has been accomplished, update of the regular household staff tasks accomplishments, items she needs to attend to - budget to prepare for, purchases etc-. All the entries of the 52 or so weeks  then become my basis for updating our house manual.

House Manual    This is my "Vademecum" , my little "red book" for every household.  I started with a basic house manual and kept updating yearly. It contains the following things with snapshot ofpages from one of my clients' manual:

1. House Policies - outlines the household policies that every staff must adhere to when at work.  ( I am showing here the native dialect version of House Policies since it is better understood by the staff).

2. Job Description and Tasks Schedule  - defines the job responsibilities and tasks of each staff and covers all the tasks required to serve the unique needs of Family A. I started with a very basic one: Laundry staff, Housekeeping staff, Cook...  and through the years, have been updating it to include the unique needs of this particular family as well as practical and functional for each staff to be effective in performing her tasks. Since every household evolves with the growth of the family;  lifestyle changes as family status improves:  schedule changes because kids grow up and activities change,  house moves or expands, this document must be reviewed, evaluated and updated each year.
This document provides stability and comes very handy during turn over of staff and is also useful as a tool during job interviews and orientation of new hires. It is most useful for me and I am sure it will be for you!!

3. Cleaning Calendar - is a customized monthly calendar of weekly and monthly cleaning activities. This serves as a monthly guide so that every cleaning task is covered and not missed out especially when the household gets busy or the staff gets smart and lazy !! I make mine color coded according to cleaning zones. The staff assigned follows her code.
I am not obessessive-compulsive person, so do not think this is too annal. It is a product of day to day, month to month and year to year experience.

I also included a room inspection checklist form which I attach  to my home journal as a monthly report of the cleaning and maintenance status of the house.

4. Yearly Calendar  is a summary of quarterly, semi annual and annual cleaning and maintenance tasks. This needs to be reviewed, evaluated and updated yearly as well. This comes in handy for 2012, it helps to and plan and foresee schedule and budget.

5.  Inventory-  Last year, I included an inventory of service items which I check every month or quarter.

6.  Monthly Grocery List  This is another update in 2011 and we began to implement its use with our family cook in 2011. Is this useful and functional? Yes!! with this,  our cook does not have to run to the mom and pop grocery every so often for items she forgot to buy or she run out of.  And of course, she has become more professional in presenting her monthly budget and purchase requisitions.

This year I will be adding the Equipment Maintenance History and Procedure from 2 years of journal records of experience.

For those of you who are in manualmode like me, I hope you do not find it daunting to produce your own. As I've said, i started with a rather basic almost generic household manual and employed a weekly home journal in order to come up with this. At this point, obviously there is still a lot of room for improvement  but it is a dynamic manual.

All the women and all you moms - Have a happy and daring 2012!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Health Care for Domestic Staff

Our cook Helene (not her real name) showed me an inflamed lump on her upper left chest one morning. Her last mammography a year ago gave negative results. After finding a good breast clinic offering a cheaper rate within the vicinity, we immediately began the laboratory tests required. Within two weeks time and without unnecessary delay, Helene underwent mastectomy to remove the malignant tumor found in her left breast.
Helene is in her mid fifties, a very good and dependable worker.  She is a single parent who raised her child and gave her a good education by working overseas as domestic helper. She came back recently and was hired in my client's household. Before the Christmas holidays, she shared with me her plans of spending her first paid vacation leave after 1-year of service in my client's household.  She excitedly told me of her plans to fly to Bangkok with her daughter who just graduated from nursing school, recently passed the board and got employed. All these plans had to be cancelled because of the prognosis.

It is the employer's responsibility to provide health coverage for every staff who has completed 6-1 year of service.  Below is a sample of a good health coverage for a household:

Budget Guideline for Health coverage for domestic staff
1.  Screening upon entry                    Chest Xray plus Hepa Profile (for food handlers)
2.  Tests after 1 year employ              Chest Xray, Lipid Profile, Urinalysis, Fecalysis, CBC
                                                           Physical  Check Up by a medical doctor
                                                           Additional:  Mammography (2500) for over 50 years old
3.  Dental check up                            Prophylaxis, dental filling, extraction
4.  Eye check up                                Pair of eyeglasses if needed
5.  Emergency cases                          Work related injuries needing medical attention, illnesses arising while 
                                                          in employ including hospitalization

Apart from the yearly medical examinations, we must also consider the following things:
1.  Provide suitable accomodations - staff quarters must have cross ventillation for good indoor air quality because this prevents virus spreading to everyone. Enough toilet facilities for the size of the household staff especially because the morning household activities are most hectic and we want them observing the proper hygiene before they start work. Provide each staff her own cabinet for personal effects, this helps prevent contamination and keep entire room from mess. 
2.  Provide enough hours of rest and sleep - a good 6-7 hours of sleep at night and an hour of rest in the afternoon will keep their resistance strong. Should work extend beyond the normal hours, we should be considerate enough to provide more hours of rest during the day when work is less hectic for them to recover. It is good to remind them to rest when you know they are overworked on the previous day. Twice a month days off are normal practice in many household but make sure that Sunday work is lighter than the normal weekday- no laundry work and lighter cleaning tasks so that more hands are available to help in the kitchen and dining service. I know many households that take Sunday meals out so staff can have more rest and even have time for their religous observances.
3. Proper work implements and safe work environment-  work should be enjoyable and never be punishing. Let us make sure we provide the right tools to make work easy and efficient. Make it a point to check periodically the tools and equipment we use in the household. 
4.  Regular Training and orientation for health, safety and hygiene - orientation for new hires and semi annual training for entire household will keep everyone on their toes and alert.

Helene's medical expenses for the initial tests, the operation and possible treatment will be shouldered by the employer. Apart from that, she was offered to continue to stay in the house should she chose to, during her convalescence and eventual recovery hopefully. In the same household, we have a trusted driver who, after figuring in a car accident, was prescribed not to drive until given doctor's clearance; he also stayed with us and given another set of tasks in the meantime and proved to be a good male nanny for the growing boys. Below are possible tasks which helpers can do while convalescing:
1.  Kitchen tasks- Help chop vegetables in the kitchen; prepare snacks; set the table, plan the menu if she is knowledgeable: in Helene;s case she will be able to do this; prepare the grocery list.
2.  Nanny tasks- bring to and fetch kids from school, accompany kids in their extra curricular activities.
3.  Laundry tasks - folding clothes and linen
4.  Others - take phone calls, contact service providers and follow up household repairs, accompany workers / contractors while repairs are ongoing.

These tasks may be light but they also take a lot of our time and it would be a great relief when we have somebody to take care of these things. It helps a lot that the staff feel they are able to help around.

The domesic staff take care of our families - they prepare our food, set the table, clean our rooms, wash our clothes and linen - their health is of prime importance to us not only in order that they may be able to render the service we pay for but more importantly because our household health is in their hands. We eat the food they prepare,  what we wear passed through their hands and we breathe the same air, thus we easily catch the virus they spread. 

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure so they say. Let us then make sure we provide them the proper health care, enough hours of rest and sleep, proper accomodations and safe work environment for a happy, healthy household.