Not A Fun Task
Hiring household helpers can be a tedious (and expensive!) process.
It can be scary reading all about the horror stories online of what household helpers can be capable of. We’ve all seen videos of yayas spanking and maltreating their alagas, going out on an errand and never coming back, applicants from the province asking for transportation fare and never showing up. The list goes on.
As we continue to go through the hiring process and learn from our mistakes, Albert and I have come up with our own principles when it comes to hiring household helpers:
1. Prevention Better Than Cure
Everything starts with the standards you place during the hiring process. It sets the tone for the environment and culture you want for your own home. As much as possible, we try to get it right the first time around. It’s easier to be choosy when hiring rather than being stressed and having regrets later on.
Even if you’re desperate. Especially when you’re desperate.
I write this having the privilege of working from home. My timeline and endurance for being helper-less can be longer when everything is status quo. But honestly, as we’re going to have our 3rd child in a few weeks, I’ve made mistakes in judgment just because I was tired of being tired.
On a good day, I’d always rather be helperless and exhausted than having someone I feel uncomfortable with in my very own home. Because face the truth — 90% of the time, we don’t know these people are strangers who we don’t know at all. They will sleep in the same house, be near your family, prepare your food, have access to your possessions. One careless mistake can burn your house down, hurt your kids, (insert imaginary scenario here) that can’t be undone. I know it sounds overdramatic, but these things happen.
2. Where to Hire?
The most ideal source of new helpers are referrals from family and friends who have hired them before. They can share experiences and what to expect, both positive and negative, so you have a higher level of confidence and know what you’re getting into. But these come far and few in between.
I’ve had an all-around helper who stayed with us for 8 months (while her expat employers were away for vacation), and those were the most stress-free 8 months of our household. Hannah’s first yaya was also a referral from a good friend, and she stayed for us almost a year before leaving to take care of her mother.
I’ve stopped using recruitment agencies because of bad experiences with them. (Feel free to list on your blacklisted agencies on the comments below). Aside from the exorbitant placement fees, the quality of work seems getting lower and lower. Plus, forget about getting a timely replacement.
The usual profile of an agency maid is someone who may be skilled in what they do and have lived in the city for a long time. Based on experience, agency maids attitude-wise tend to be more proud, entitled, and harder to work with, in general. The last time I got from a recruitment agency was in 2016 and we haven’t looked back ever since.
Our lone helper now (1 yaya for two kids, with me at 8-months pregnant) is from an informal recruiter referred to me by a friend. Informal recruiters are usually older ladies. They do recruitment as a sideline and charge 1,500-6,000 pesos per hire, with no or one guaranteed replacement.
The helpers they hire usually are people who live in their barangay. In general, I found these informal recruiters easier to talk to and to empathize with, and my success rate in getting a refund or a replacement is much higher than the registered recruitment agencies.
Don’t hire anyone before speaking with the applicant first. There have been times I got complacent (and/or desperate!) that I’d agree with whoever the recruiter recommended, and I’ve always regretted this decision. I didn’t learn my lesson. The recruiter would say, Matagal ko na ‘yan kilala, ok yan. (I’ve known her for a long time. She’s a good hire.) But these comments are usually motivated by them wanting to place their recruits asap (since the recruiters have to shoulder their board and lodging while they are unemployed.)
Also, explain your situation to these informal recruiters and give them extra (cash or food) whenever they come to drop off applicants so that they’ll remember and prioritize you for replacements.
It’s become a trend lately for strangers to message randomly on Facebook asking if you need a helper. I haven’t tried this before so I have no experience about it but my gut just screams “No!” at the idea.
Facebook can be beneficial, though. Ask your applicants for their Facebook profile name (because it’s usually different from their real name), and get an idea of what they look like, their families, and what they post on social media. I know it’s being judgmental, but let’s face it. We all judge people on a certain level. That’s how our brains are wired to think – to make assumptions based on previous data we have collected through our experiences.
Keep an open mind, but trust your gut. One of my good friends hired someone who looked iffy to her because she didn’t want to seem judgmental, and the iffy helper tried to kill herself in their home after a few weeks. Trust your gut! If there’s ever a least inappropriate time to judge, it would be to someone who you’re placing your trust to in caring for your kids.
3. Do We Shoulder Pamasahes? (Transportation Money)
No For Us
It’s common for applicants to ask for pamasahe nowadays. Our yaya who has been with us for two years so far was a blind leap of faith. We had no way to know if she was going to come after we sent her pamasahe from the province.
It was a good experience for us that we did it again, only to be left hanging and waiting this time around. So right now, it’s a fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me situation. We don’t send pamasahe anymore, no matter how much we need a helper. I would ask the applicant to borrow money and reimburse them once they arrive, to which they almost always reply “Walang mauutangan dito” (There’s no one here we can borrow from).
Wait, Wait and Even More Waiting
And it’s not because of the lost/stolen money. It’s also the waiting time, waiting for them to come (if ever), waiting an extra few days (because the boat “broke down”), and a bunch of other excuses.
Going back to the original point, we ask the informal recruiter to just advance the transportation fee for the applicant. We’ll ask them nicely and tell them if they’re really sure about the person they are recommending to us, then they will surely come. And we will reimburse the recruiter once we meet them in person.
Otherwise, we’d rather just wait for an applicant who is already in Metro Manila.
I know it’s cutting off a huge number of potential applicants from the pool, but we just see it now as not giving others the temptation of stealing from us and leaving us hanging.
4. The Interview
Ask The Same Questions Repeatedly
When I had my first pregnancy, we were wayyy stricter with hiring. We would only hire people we’ve met during a face-to-face interview. But market forces are at play and there are more employers than applicants. So we settle for phone interviews first, then meet with them in person.
I’ve also learned my husband’s lawyer-style of asking the same questions over and over. It was really annoying at first, in my head I would say “She already answered the question! Are you not listening?” But Albert, ever brilliant, says it’s a way to check for two things – consistency and patience. Are they consistent with the details and answers they give? Do they get annoyed easily when you ask the same question? If they aren’t patient enough to answer again or elaborate in the interview, you can bet the odds that they’re not going to be patient in taking care of your kids either.
Know Their Family Situation, Personality and Plans
A lot of people are very good at interviews and can fool anyone, but at the same time, the more you know, the better chances you have of making an informed decision;
- Ask for ID’s and if they have SSS, Philhealth, etc. Ask them to draw a map of where their barangay/house is.
- What is the applicant’s work history – how long did she work for her previous employer? Reason for leaving? Name and location of previous employer? Previous work responsibilites and salary
- Health conditions – previous medical history, if they are open to a medical checkup (we will shoulder the cost), pregnant/tuberculosis/hepatitis/smoking/drug/alcohol use?
- Family life – yes/no husband, work of husband, kids and ages, who takes care of their children while they are here, where do they go for day-off?
- How are their finances? Do they have a bank account? Where do they spend most of their money?
- How long do they plan to work? When they plan to take a break/ go back to their province/ go abroad?
Clear Expectations From The Start
During the interview (whether phone or in person), we disclose everything as clearly as possible. The work load, the home environment, salary, benefits, and expectations.
We don’t have a written contract (yet), but here are some ground rules and other important notes we discuss:
- No Cash Advance
- No to “Yaya lang ako” – the picky/mabilang ones who won’t be team players
- Cellphones in their rooms only, policy on house clothes and uniforms
- Salary Schedule, Day-Offs, Vacations
- Work Responsibilities, Work Hours, Break Times
- Privileges and Benefits – monetary, government-mandated, bonuses, etc.
- Values: Respect, Communication, Teamwork and Accountability
- Cite Grounds of Termination of Previous Employees
Jo Koi is a comedian and I recently watched his Netflix special. As a comedian, he makes a living off of making fun of stereotypes – he defends his jokes by saying stereotypes are there for a reason, because they’re true.
I don’t agree that all stereotypes are true, but honestly, they ARE there for a reason. Like Chinese are kuripot or Christians are preachy? (I use this example as I fall into both demographics)
Again, not advocating close-mindedness and being judgmental – but more of a “Watch Out Just In Case” based on our experience, odds and probabilities:
a. Previous experience of being tindera/having their own store – used to being their own boss so probably won’t follow your rules or constantly challenge your authority.
b. Under 20 years old – a small proportion may be responsible, but the rest still immature, highly impressionable and influenced. Expect above average use of cellphone
c. Above 50 years old – good work ethic, stubborn/hardheaded/untrainable, black and white phone, with more physical limitations – poor eyesight in washing dishes, etc.
d. With experience abroad – multitasker and responsible, but may also be using your home as an “in between” before their next deployment
6. You get what you pay for?
More often than not, yes.
You sometimes can get great yayas from the province who ask for a more modest rate, but in the four years we’ve hired helpers, I would say 70% of the time, the higher the pay, the more experience and skill, the helper or yaya brings with them.
Of course, watch out for those who overestimate their abilities and shoot for the moon when it comes to hiring. Sometimes, I see yayas of expat kids at the park just staring at their celphones while the kids swing and slide. And these expat yayas get paid 50% higher or more than what we pay our helper.
Always offer a decent living wage, and tell applicants your plan for salary increases, bonuses or additional opportunities (scholarships for their kids, etc.) to incentivize them to work hard and improve.
7. No yaya, No problem?
There’s a popular phrase “No Yaya, No Problem”, and in some ways it’s right. You don’t have to concern yourself with looking behind your shoulder (or your phone’s CCTV app) to see if your helpers are up to no good. There is no room for doubt because there is no one to give your trust to. And there is definitely less drama since there is one less human person’s emotions, problems and personal history to concern yourself with.
… but I LIKE having a yaya.
I admire moms who love spending 24/7 with their kids and single-handedly juggle so many hats. But that’s not me. Even if I am already a work-at-home mom, I like having me time, time with my husband, and space to pursue other interests.
It’s always a risk to bring in strangers to your home. Every time I see a Facebook post about a helper who broke their employers’ trust, it makes me a bit more on my guard and review what precautions my husband and I can take.
We’ve had our share of crazies and thieves, learning from mistakes along the way.
The Only Guarantee
Honestly, you won’t really know if you’ve hired a gem or a lemon until they start working with you. And sometimes it may take years to discover that a trusted yaya or helper has been doing or saying things behind their employer’s back.
The only guarantee we have as employers is prayer. I know it sounds cheesy (or preachy? see what I did there? hehe) but Albert and I always pray for protection and wisdom when it comes to the people that come into our household. Specifically, we pray for applicants who would fit into our family and household culture.
We also pray for God to reveal to us if our helpers are doing something suspicious, wrong, or outright evil. It’s happened more than a few times that I’d be out for a meeting and I’d feel a prompting to check our CCTV – only to find our helpers not following rules we’ve explicitly laid out for them.
Thankfully, most were minor infractions that can be discussed peacefully. By God’s grace, we haven’t had a lot of soap-opera level drama in our household, and we hope we never have to encounter any. In the end, always trust your God-given gut.