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I seriously can't cope with managing "staff". can anyone advise me please!

(28 Posts)
somuchtosortout Mon 20-Oct-14 07:40:12

I realise this is the ultimate first world problem, but it is actually affecting my day to day life.

having arrived in a very poor country in Africa last year I was greeted by a full time housekeeper and gardener living in an annexe to my house.

ok, just reading that back makes me sound awful!

we have an enormous house that gets covered in sandy African dust every day.

in an ideal world I would prob manage most of it myself, live in a bit of a muddle, just like we did in the UK. Maybe get a twice a week cleaner.

but I can't. Suddenly I have a gardener's assistant (nephew), a helper in the kitchen (friend).

I thought it wad good to give people jobs and salaries.

now I am surrounded by people gossiping in a language I don't understand, waiting for instructions, and today I have just locked myself in my bedroom!!!

everyone has a need, a sick relative, a school fee. I have tried to help and help.
I have even paid for professional training for housekeeper in the hope she could start her own business ( and leave). Same with gardener.

I don't know what I am asking here, but I can't be the only expat with this problem? I wasn't brought up like this, no idea how to organize such a big 'household'.

I'm so homesick for my muddly little flat in London ..... I'm not the only one am I?

somuchtosortout Mon 20-Oct-14 07:42:11

I guess I'm asking for advice on how to be a better employer. I just keep giving random days off to people,which dh says just confuses everyone, but I just want my space.

ThinkIveBeenHacked Mon 20-Oct-14 07:50:38

Can you draw up a schedule for each of them and issue them it - like a rota. With the instruction to go home as soon as all their jobs are done?

FunkyBoldRibena Mon 20-Oct-14 07:55:38

Ok - do any of them speak English?

They know what to do, make sure they are happy each morning, give them a list of tasks each month [so daily, weekly and monthly type tasks] and pay them well for the work they do. Make sure you pay them a certain amount of holiday time, and make sure that there is one senior member of staff that organises them and take the orders/task lists direct from you. Make sure that they know they can come to you but you can only give them an advance or days from their paid holiday time. Once that is gone it is gone.

If you need your space, have a weekly meeting with your senior staff member and leave them to it - and then give yourself one room that they don't go into, and make sure that you make this into your personal space.

I'd recruit for the position of senior person, and watch to see who is capable of managing them all.

It's called delegation!

FrontForward Mon 20-Oct-14 07:58:30

You sound embarrassed to 'have staff' because you view them like Downton Abbey style staff. Change your mindset and maybe your management and relationship will change. You sound like you can't be assertive because it's embarrassing you

I have staff. I manage a team. So do you. Think of it as a business, a building that you are managing.

I manage with rosters, job descriptions and appraisals. I doubt you can bring that sort of formality in (certainly not overnight) but you can set up a framework and gradually bring it in.

SophieBarringtonWard Mon 20-Oct-14 08:04:19

I would find this really hard too OP, do you have friends in your country you can ask about their experiences & how they managed it?

processedbeats Mon 20-Oct-14 08:30:36

My friend's dad works in an African country and says it can be difficult to work with Africans as they see Westerners as the people who give, give, give....for example he lent them money so they could plant a lot of potatoes (it might have been something else I can remember exactly). He expected that the family would keep a small portion for themselves and sell the rest and then be able to give the loan back. At that point he had planned to say that they can keep the money and invest in more potatoes etc.
However, that didn't happen. When the next year came they simply asked for more money. So my friend's dad has spent a lot of time there teaching about the value of money, how to start and build a business, etc etc etc.
I don't know if this is helpful but maybe you need to think about helping out by teaching how to save, how to start their own business, etc etc rather than simply giving money to whoever needs it, if this makes sense.

somuchtosortout Mon 20-Oct-14 08:33:49

Local expats vary from the ones who regularly hire and fire as they please, for all sorts of reasons from the legitimate (proven stealing), to the not (not thorough enough cleaning, not engaging and stimulating 1 yr olds in the neurotic western style!).

I have been on postings before and really got on well with cleaner and nanny.
but here it is so under developed I find the cultural differences too vast. And I guess I got lumbered with people who were already here and I didn't actively choose (they are fine as it turns out. Luckily)

I think you are right. I will draw up job descriptions they have to sign. They are paid more than the average expat, but I have been thinking of making it formal and seeing if I can also pay their taxes.

I'm not sure the senior staff member thing will work. People here are just not direct with communicating (except when they need a loan) they remind me of an old Japanese friend! Very unlike the west Africans I have encountered.

so I think I need direct communication.

making it more formal would make me feel much better, you're right. It feels weird drawing up contracts but also feels like the right thing to do.

hope I don't scare them though, will have to be gentle about it all...

SophieBarringtonWard Mon 20-Oct-14 08:41:19

I wonder if it is worth looking for advice from South Africa - I know there is legal stuff about employing domestics there, minimum wage etc, might be possible to find some more culturally appropriate advice? Just a thought, no idea if the info is out there, but more cultural fit than Filipinos in Hong Kong for example.

somuchtosortout Mon 20-Oct-14 08:41:43

Processed I am afraid I am faced with the same mentality. I have already written off two loans.
but there have been aid organizations and NGOs lending and "teaching" the same things for 30 years. Nothing has changed. The issue you raise is a whole other thread!
they have seen expats come and go all their life. Nothing is certain and its a hand to mouth existence. I don't blame them for making their maize crop their priority. They have learnt that's the only thing they can rely on.

CiderRules Mon 20-Oct-14 09:04:24

Things that we've found helpful in a similar situation are:
- loans come out of pay - agree how much will be deducted each month but make sure it doesn't take the take-home pay below a certain level (enough to live on)
- things like illness/school fees we often give as a gift - different people have different systems regarding how much/often and how to make sure it's being used for the intended purpose (i.e. ask for receipts, go with them/go yourself etc...)
- with daily tasks/waiting for instructions when all you want to do is get on with your own stuff, we usually agree daily tasks that are always done & then if there are extras I tell them when they arrive (if they read getting a board/notebook to write it on can be helpful) and they do that along with or after the usual tasks.

It is tricky to adjust - I have days where I hate it and days where it's fine, I doubt it will ever feel completely natural for me to have staff but it is an important part of life here.

How many days a week do they work? I don't have them come at weekends so that we do have some time with our house to ourselves, which is really good for recharging and fully relaxing.

processedbeats Mon 20-Oct-14 09:13:59

Oh somu I feel for much longer are you staying in Africa?

Laptopwieldingharpy Mon 20-Oct-14 10:12:13

Are they all living staff?

My rule of thumb is no gardener in the house (including kitchen) unless occasionally helping in weekly spring clean and certainly not in bedrooms.

No one in kitchen after lunchtime except the cook at meal prep times so you can reclaim that ground for yourself for a cup of tea? (that is if you can find where she put the utensils....)

No staff in bedrooms, family areas past mid-day when all shores should be done. They can put the ironing away in the afternoon but when children/husband is home no one crosses the kitchen threshold apart from serving dinner or if called to look after children.

Yes to strict job descriptions and keeping them really busy with specific timed tasks. rest of the time, they have their quarters.

somuchtosortout Mon 20-Oct-14 12:06:55

cider and laptop lots of good tips thanks!

yes, medical and school fees always been gifts.

I realize now its up to me to bring a bit of order and reclaim my personal space. Glad I posted, thought I'd get lots of "oh, poor you with your cleaner and gardener!"

they work Mon to Fri - but have a day off on Thursday for their on chores or professional development, even though it is a paid day.

ZamMummyInGabs Tue 21-Oct-14 17:36:45

Hi somuchtosortout [waves from across the Limpopo]
Agree with everything cider & laptop have said.
We've been in Southern Africa ten years & although it does get easier, it's never easy. For me anyway. And I definitely agree about the indirect communication, it reminds me of what I've read about Japan & SE Asia - not losing face is supremely important.
Introducing a degree of formality will make it easier for you & them - it's much easier to do a good job when you know exactly what is expected of you. A simple contract gives you the opportunity to write down things like working hours, overtime, number of days leave, whether or not you pay a 13th month at Christmas, what gratuity you will pay when you leave, terms of loans etc.
I also write down every loan & make them sign for it & what the payback terms are. I also keep a running record in a spreadsheet. Every month I write a "payslip" on the outside of an envelope with their cash in breaking down exactly what they've been paid that month. I give small advances as well as bigger longer loans.

Alligatorpie Sun 26-Oct-14 10:48:15

I agree with the formality idea. I had a list translated into Arabic which said what needed doing on each made life much easier. I was pretty lax about checking it though.
It is stressful having people in your space every day, don't feel bad about it. You do need to be assertive. I have a friend who has a revolving door of nannies, cook preps, cleaners, gardeners and is constantly stressed.
Now we have a nanny who goes home every day at 5 and that makes things much more comfortable in our house. Not sure I could have live in staff again.

BioSuisse Mon 27-Oct-14 15:15:11

My advice would be to be kind but firm. Set clear boundaries, it will help you and your staff understand each other better. Remember it may be your home but it is their workplace.

Don't try to befriend them, a working friendship may develop overtime but initially keep things a little more formal. They may try to test you to start with so keep your guard up. One Algerian gardener we had walked all over me. He was young, cute, good with the DCs and liked to practice his English. But after a while he was walking all over me, he had little respect and became cheeky and lazy. The other staff were horrified and one left because she didn't like such an informal working environment where another member of staff had the the upper hand over the employer.

The British have a reputation for not being good at managing staff due to guilt over our colonial history. The Americans are much better at it. Some staff are aware if this and might try to push the boundaries if you are British.

Nanadookdookdook Tue 28-Oct-14 19:12:33

Had staff in the past. I am older and wiser now. Would def never let a relative/friend join the team, you can end up with a mafia bullying the other members of staff. You should choose the staff.

My DD worked in west Africa, there any money/good fortune/gift to an employee is shared with relatives, so you could lend them a fortune but the lendee would still end up with little money.

Agree that Americans are better at this, they just don't get emotionally involved imv. Still fair and reasonable (though stingey in my eyes) but don't feel embarrassed at the difference in wealth, which is our (Brits) downfall.

In the end it's a working relationship, keeping it that way is the aim unless you want a stressful life.

Caterpillar2001 Wed 29-Oct-14 17:39:52

Having spent a part of my childhood and a substantial part of my working life in West and Central Africa and therefore having had to "deal" with managing house staff I would say that you have received some very sound advice here. The question of loans and "gifts" is often very tricky. The book "African friends and money matters" gives invaluable insights not only into how to deal with this often difficult problem and will enlighten you as to why giving money is mostly pointless. It is most important that you are perceived and respected as a firm "Madam/e" that may listen to problems (when you have time), but will not engage in (long) discussions or negotiate. I too do not think it a good idea to employ family members of friends of the "permanent" staff except on an ad-hoc basis, e.g. when additional help is needed for a party. A contract and a monthly salary receipt book is a very good idea. Both should be locked away! The administration of your local Embassy may have a sample contract that covers details of your (local) legal obligations to your staff. There are, unfortunately, places where house staff try to sue their expat employers for unfounded reasons.
Let us know how you get on!

BioSuisse Thu 30-Oct-14 09:03:43

And a last word...never feel guilty about having staff. You are not in Britain, you are in Africa. It is expected that you employ staff and provide incomes for local families. My DSis never got that i had staff and totally ribbed me over it. My American friend in Kenya said "think of it like this, by not employing staff you are taking money and stability from the poor who rightly need it. You're not he sort of scrouge who steals from the poor, are you?" She makes me laugh!

muphys Thu 30-Oct-14 09:44:51

Hi OP, yes it is a huge adjustment, but as said before, you have to make it formal and set up rota's etc of the things that need doing.

You need to stop with the handouts right now. Otherwise it is not going to end. You are a European in an African country. To a local African this means you have lots of money, and lots of it spare. In their culture, family bonds are strong, and they will do whatever it takes to support their families. And there are lots of family members, and lots of needs. I cannot tell you how many school stationary kits I have supplied, kids clothes, loans for funerals, loans for the slaughter of the cow, etc etc. If you don't make it formal and have it repaid back to you, it is going to continue. As harsh as this sounds, it is unfortunately the reality.

You say the staff are well paid so you are already helping out with jobs and accommodation as well. Also, there will be a niece or an uncle also soon needing a job, so you do have to be firm there too, you cannot have your home overrun with staff milling about with nothing to do as you feel sorry for them.

I have a gardener and a helper in the house, although not every day as I couldn't cope with that personally. The gardener drives me nuts in all honestly, every time I see him he needs something. If its not a pair of socks, its the bicycle I have here in the garage that he hasn't ever seen us use, so in his mind we don't need it. we do use it but just not when he is here Dh happened to mention that he was cleaning out his cupboard, so now every time he is here, he asks if there are clothes for him yet. As Dh hasn't sorted through what he does and doesn't want yet, we don't, so this week I just had a firm word and said he isn't to ask anymore and IF we sort it out I will let him know. But I am sure next week he will have forgotten that wink.

So rotas, and contracts on paper which they should sign. All loans etc must be logged and deductions shown on their payslip. Any gifts must be made clear that its a gift for Christmas, birthday or whatever, that it is a gift and not something to be assumed will be given out regularly.

Please don't feel bad. You are not in the UK and this is how life is in Africa. Remember the job you are offering, is probably supporting their whole family.

somuchtosortout Sat 08-Nov-14 05:47:18

Hi everyone! Thank you for all your advice, I agree with everything! I do have an update!
one day this week that I finally typed a contract and job description.
I was desperate as I had this person in my house that just was giving me nothing, and thought I was doing it all wrong.

found out yesterday she has run away to south Africa, leaving her husband (who also works for me)

so I wasn't going mad or being crazy expat employer! She had been planning this for a whole and it explains so much.

I'm so relieved to have my house back, but it is a weird feeling when someone disappears like that! Almost like betrayal, except I wasn't close enough to her to feel that.

anyway, now I'm in the position of choosing what to do next, I might enjoy a long period of no housekeeper/nanny and see how we get on!

ColdCottage Sat 08-Nov-14 06:29:34

Nothing to add just find this really interesting. I hope things are going well for you OP.

FishWithABicycle Sat 08-Nov-14 06:41:38

Excellent news that the difficult person has left. But for the sake of the local economy do employ a replacement eventually. No harm in giving yourself a few weeks of space to live without staff so you can get a handle on what needs doing and how much work it is. No harm in the replacement having a different job description which you decide on. And definitely contracts right from the start.

ColdCottage Sat 08-Nov-14 11:37:24

Can you have them live out?

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