What’s the best way to have difficult conversations with the domestic worker I employ?

The answers you find here are intended to serve as suggested best practices for domestic employment, and have been crafted by Hand in Hand with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. They are designed to help you take steps toward creating a mutually beneficial domestic employment relationship—and help set a framework for conversations with the domestic worker(s) you employ. Please understand that these suggested best practices may differ based on the particular domestic employment relationship and that these possible best practices do not constitute legal advice.

In all workplaces, open and respectful communication goes a long way in creating a caring, supportive, productive, and creative environment. Domestic workers labor in the most intimate settings, which makes open and respectful communication even more important. Check out additional guidance about open and respectful communication.

Still, we know challenging dynamics come up and many of us have had moments of confusion and anxiety about raising a difficult topic with a worker in our households. As a result, we often delay or avoid necessary conversations, which leads to unresolved tension that makes everyone unhappy. It’s hard to know how to raise an issue that is concerning you, or to make a change in the daily routine or the terms of the job. But we know from experience that open and respectful communication is the solution to many challenges in a domestic employment relationship.

What’s important to remember: Don’t try to sneak in a rushed conversation about a difficult topic, especially during the often stressful transition moments at the beginning or end of the day. If you’re worried about being late for work, you won’t be at your best; neither will your employee if she is worried about being delayed in getting home to make dinner for her own kids. Be direct and respectful of the worker’s schedule when figuring out the best time for a conversation.

What’s useful to say: I’d like to have a conversation about an issue that has come up for me. I’d also be interested in hearing about any concerns or questions you have for me. What would be a good time for you to talk?

Let her know that you will compensate her if she stays beyond her regular hours. Try to find a quiet time to talk, either in the house or out of the house, when neither of you are juggling household duties. (Long-term Tip: It’s a good idea to set up times for regular check-ins during the course of a work relationship.)

A great communication strategy: “Sandwich” a critical comment between two positive comments. For example: We feel lucky to have you taking care of Charlie and I really appreciate that you let me know that Charlie’s friend has lice. I know you haven’t intended to be late, but it has caused me to miss important meetings that my boss expected me to attend. In the future, it is important that you get here on time. Is there something I should know about your schedule that is making this challenging? Can we try and work something out? We are usually good at communicating so I am hopeful we can figure something out–this would help a lot. 

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