Safe Help In Your Home

Step One: How do you want to be helped? Getting a good job fit

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There are predictable bones of contention when people work in other people’s homes.

How do you find out what constitutes a good job fit for you? Think about people you’ve hired in the past—the electrician, the plumber, the gardener, the babysitter. Think about the behaviors you are comfortable with in people who work for you. Focus on how these people act rather than what they do. You could find someone who is wonderful at cooking meals but behaves in ways that drive you nuts. Long term this will never work. We’ll figure out the fit first, then take a look at the tasks.

Getting started

What characteristics do these successful workers have in common? What ancillary behaviors (things like punctuality, sociability, tidiness) have you liked? disliked? What makes you feel comfortable with them in your home? uncomfortable? Focus on these characteristics to hire a good fit.

Fit questions

Tolerance for strangers and differences: How do you feel about having a stranger in your home? Do gender, religion, appearance, marital status, sexual orientation, etc. make a difference to you?

How comfortable/anxious are you about having a stranger in your home? Are you going to be alone with this person? Are you worried about somebody working in your home while you are out?

Promptness: How important are promptness and timeliness to you?

Does promptness matter to you? Do you care that workers show up on time and complete work on schedule? Do you believe people who are late are demonstrating rudeness or disrespect?

Some people are sticklers for punctuality and are really annoyed by lateness. Others aren’t. Some people resent altering routines to accommodate a late worker while others are not bothered about a little lateness.

Cleaning: Are you tidy or messy?

A gardener may do a beautiful job trimming hedges and edging lawns but may be careless about tidying up after the job. A housekeeper may leave floors sparkling but forget, in the rush to the next job, to put away all the cleaning supplies.

Is everything always clean and in its place? Do you have fragile, expensive, or breakable things? Do you worry that an aide will move and break a treasured item while cleaning? If so, an otherwise excellent employee who is not fastidious is simply not a good fit.

Are things in your house a bit cluttered? Do you worry that a helper will move or even throw out things that you want to keep?

Noise: Do you like peace and quiet or prefer a livelier environment?

Do you keep the television or radio on for company? Do you get annoyed by talking, traffic, music, or phone conversations preferring a calm, quiet home? How affected are you by noise around you?

Many employees use noise as a way to pass time. Gardeners, electricians, or carpenters may play/blare a radio while working. Housekeepers may want to keep the television on while cleaning. These days it seems like everyone talks on a cell phone while working, arguing with nearest and dearest or having emotional conversations with love interests or contentious ones with children.

Hiring employees who like to play the radio, chat on their cell phone, or talk constantly can be a real fit problem. Decide now, before you begin interviewing, what noise is okay. May a worker play music? How loudly? Are there types of music that are just not acceptable? Is classical music okay but rap not okay? What about headphones? They stifle the noise but also block communication. What about cell phones?

Familiarity: Do you see casual conversation with employees as a form of companionship, a burden, or inappropriate familiarity?

Agencies often list companionship as one of the services their helpers provide, and the helpers often make valiant attempts to engage their clients in conversation. Similarly, extroverted aides, repair people, and taxi drivers chat simply because that’s what extroverts do.

If you’re lonely, the conversation may be a welcome relief. If you’re not, it can be an imposition and an annoyance. Age, education, and class differences can also affect your desire to chat. Do you and your aide have common interests? Do you enjoy getting to know each other? Does the aide reveal too much personal information? Do you feel obligated to listen to a conversation that feels inappropriately familiar?

Boundaries: What’s the difference between being with a friend and being with an employee?

No matter what level of conversation occurs, people who work in others’ homes are involved in intimate activities with non-intimates. They know about personal habits and shortcomings—things the employer would share only with close friends and relatives under better circumstances. How do you want to maintain boundaries with an in-home helper? What is comfortable for you? How reciprocal should the relationship be? What topics are off limits? How much of the helper’s personal life do you want to hear about?

Eating expectations: What happens at mealtimes?

Should workers eat in the house? Do they bring their own food? Do they put their food in the refrigerator? Should you offer coffee, tea, water? Do you feel obligated and burdened by the need to offer something to drink?

Some people readily offer coffee and a snack to employees and may even welcome the conversation that accompanies a shared cup of coffee. Others don’t mind somebody putting a sandwich in the refrigerator or getting a glass of water but would resent having to cater and host coffee and meal breaks. Still others may want the kitchen off limits to workers and may not want them to eat on the premises.

If the aide is preparing your meals, should the aide be allowed to prepare enough for both of you? Should the aide eat with you? Elsewhere? At the same time? Before or after you eat?

Bathroom use: Are you comfortable with others using your bathroom?

If you have more than one bathroom in your home, and want the helper only to use the one in the hall, say so at the outset. If having an outsider use any bathroom is a big deal, you may prefer to have help in short segments, perhaps an hour or two a day, rather than have somebody come once a week and spend six to eight hours in the house. You can’t forbid use of a bathroom, but you can schedule to make the need less likely.

Smoking: How does smoking affect you?

Some people simply want no smoke in or near the house while others are happy to share a smoke break. May workers smoke in the house? Near the house? If they go outside to smoke on their break, should they go far enough away that smoke doesn’t blow into an open window? If they’re that far away, does their absence create a bone of contention? How many smoking breaks per shift are OK?

Work ethic: What causes you to feel that people aren’t working hard enough or taking their work seriously enough?

Is it punctuality? Few if any breaks? A willingness to stay late if something unexpected comes up?

Compatibility: What level of compatibility is important? What areas of difference are unacceptable?

Age and income differences between older people and those who work for them can make compatibility difficult. Young workers who love to watch Jerry Springer are unlikely to be compatible with an older person who treasures opera.

While it is unlikely you will find an aide fully compatible, ask about music, television shows, outings, topics of conversation or other areas of interest near and dear to you that, if violated, would create an impossible fit.

Authority: How do you want people to offer to help you?

Many people find accepting help difficult for all sorts of reasons. They may find it more trouble to train the helper than to do it themselves. They may believe the helper won’t do the work exactly the way they want it done or an assistant may intrude on privacy. Or they may like to do things themselves and not rely on others. They may not want to cede control over their daily life much less have an aide tell them what to do and when to do it.

Informality, common these days, may feel more like haste and disrespect. Do you want to be addressed in a certain way? May the helper call you by your first name?

Do you want help offered in a certain way? Does certain language (“guy” or “dude,” for example) imply disrespect to you?

Think about how you want workers to behave – how much they should talk, how respectful they should be, how they should handle daily activities like eating, smoking, or going to the bathroom, what boundaries they should observe. Clarity about these topics will help you hire a good fit. The Job Fit Work Sheet will take you through each of these considerations so you can create a preference list to make clear how you want the worker to behave.

Job Fit Work Sheet Font Size 12

Job Fit Work Sheet Font Size 18

Step Two: What do you want help with? Figuring out the tasks