Tips for Managing Domestic Staff in Jakarta

I’ve  revised my two-year old tips based on a couple more years of experience as well as a dozen underlying assumptions about what its like to employ and be employed within Indonesia’s “informal sector.” By the way, the Indonesian word I have in mind is pembantu —  literally, “the help.”

These tips apply more to expat families who are in Indonesia for longer periods; who employ household staffers for a broader range of tasks; and who employ Indonesian at least some of the time for managing them. So if someone says they “could care less as long as the laundry is done” I suppose that’s fair enough.

Finally, I’m going to assume  your housekeeper or hired help is female. In fact, that’s not always the case, please forgive me.

Tips for hiring household staff

  • Indonesians say a domestic staffer (pembantu) should be jujur (honest) and kerja keras (hard working). Here are three more traits which ought to make sense to you no matter where you’re from (if you can guess what they are : ) inisiatif, kreatif, and berdisiplin.

Maids in Jakarta

  • Try to find a happy medium between wait-and-see and make-the-shoe-fit while a new staffer is still on training and probation. It may be a disappointment to spend a lot of time only to determine she won’t work out.  But it’s more likely to work if you go ahead and manage all those expectations early on.
  • Make sure your staffers know that the traditional “thirteenth month” bonus system is in place (it should be). Making it work for 12 months is a reasonable goal on both sides.
  • Working as a maid doesn’t require necessarily literacy (sure helps); but hiring one does. The basic terms of your maid’s employment, the agreed work calendar, and your expectations and notes about her performance should be written down, even if it’s just in a notebook sitting on the kitchen table.
  • Can’t figure out why your maid works so hard? Possibility because you do; although the reverse could be true.

Tips for tasking and training household staff

  • Does it work to have an interpreter, personal assistant or friend who also does your laundry? Maybe. But try to keep an eye on the “mission creep” and identify potential unhappy endings. Otherwise, hire an actual personal assistant so your maid can focus on the housework.
  • Your maid likely isn’t trained as bank teller or accountant.  Make things easy on yourself by not leaving valuables lying around or insisting she keep careful track of money. This is a waste of her time, especially in a paperless world like the traditional market. (I’m not saying to “let her keep the change,” which seems obviously a bad idea.)
  • Keep track of the relative strengths and weaknesses of your staff and use this for tasking. The relevant skill set is broad; you could conceivably have a “maid” doing anything from gardening to nannying and you may choose to re-task instead of re-hire. Still, it’s hopeless to have someone who is spatially unorganized tidy the closet, etc.
  •  The day your staffer fails to show up is the day that you must not. A decision has to be made and communicated to everyone involved about what happened, why, what happens next, what happens next time, etc. Likely as not it really was flu, flood or funeral — just like she said. You did catch what she said, didn’t you? If not, ask for an SMS. Try to figure it out. This shouldn’t require much time nor should it be postponed too long. Tips for losing household staff

Tips for losing household staff

  • Communicate as succinctly as possible how expectations weren’t met and follow up immediately with action, such as requesting return of keys, belongings, etc.  It will be easier to fire your staffer if the expectations and communications are already there in the first place. This is not the time for “misunderstandings.”
  • Don’t share the details. Third parties must be content to know that “she had to take some time off” and the confidentiality will generally be to the advantage of both household and staffer (especially if she reapplies in the future).
  • Sometimes it really is easier to do it yourself: don’t be surprised to discover that a dozen household bugs are zapped the day your maid walks out. That’s why she’s gone, right? Then in three days when you’re sick-to-death of doing things the easy way and start interviewing again, don’t forget to share your best practices with the new maid.
  • Someone you can’t trust who has access to your house should be released. But avoid paranoia. Install CCTV and do periodic security audits, including the servants quarters. But try not to worry about what happened to the Rp 20,000 you left in your pants pocket last Thursday. Whether it’s sneakiness or poor stewardship, being suspicious will undermine trust and worsen the situation.

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