Should you employ a relative as your househelp?

A challenge that the average Kenyan wife or mother faces is finding a trustworthy househelp, housekeeper or babysitter. With so many reports of theft and child abuse in homes perpetuated by those hired to take care of our homes while we are away or otherwise engaged, it’s becoming harder to find trustworthy, effective and efficient help around the house.

This problem has led many women to seek help from people within their circles: their family. Kenyans, like most Africans living in the cities, have relatives back in the village. Other relatives, though not far might live close to us but be in need of employment. It is to these that we extend our arms and offer employment. But the question is; is it wise and morally acceptable to hire a relative as your house-help?

Advantages of hiring a relative

Image: @daughtersofafrica.org

Easier to establish trust

Chances of getting someone that’s reliable and trustworthy from amongst our relatives are higher than if we sought services of a maid centre. This is because it’s easier to trust someone familiar than a stranger whose background we don’t know.

Effective communication

There’s a natural mutual trust that exists in families. It is a belief that we all want the best for each other. This mutual trust has in it an implied effective communication. Because its someone we know, it’s easier to sit down and communicate responsibilities and expectations. Unfortunately, like most relationships, communication requires a lot of work. It does not come easier just because people are related or know each other.

Cheap labour

Some of my friends that have employed relatives have done so believing that it’s cheaper to do so compared to hiring from a maid centre or a complete stranger. This is because they’ve hired out of school teens who somehow couldn’t afford an education. Sometimes it’s a young person fresh out of high school who cannot get a regular job. Other times, it’s that cousin who for some reason just can’t find regular employment. These will accept anything you offer them because they only need some change for the basic necessities. Anything is better than nothing.

Challenges of hiring a relative

The blurry line between mistreatment and accountability

Because this person is a relative, they might expect that you treat them as you would any other relative. Not as an employee. It will be difficult to draw the line between work and family. You can’t correct them or hold them accountable without them feeling like you’re mistreating them. And usually, the abuse stories reach the rest of the relatives faster than you can imagine.

The moral dilemma

The implied contract between the employer and the hired help is one of mutual benefit. Unfortunately, not every relative will see the relationship as such. Complications will arise over time that will leave most people questioning the morality of hiring a relative to work for you as opposed to you simply taking them in and assisting them in whatever way you think they’re challenged.

Misguided expectations

This one is directly related to the moral dilemma of hiring a relative as a househelp. Your expectations as an employer are that they perform specific chores around the house. Their expectation is that you pay them for covering those chores. The problem arises when the issue of the family comes into play.

For instance, if you hire a young girl from the village that couldn’t finish school, the parents to the girl might expect that you put the girl back into school as payment for her helping you around the house. Unfortunately, the cost of paying a house help does not tally with the cost of paying a child’s education fees. Morally, those looking at you as you send your kids to school while a relative of yours of the same age remains at home working will not look at you kindly.

Therefore, if you cannot afford to pay for the school fees or take on any extra responsibilities, it is better to avoid hiring a relative of school-going age no matter how much you think paying them a helpers salary will benefit them. It might only complicate your relationship with your family.

Furthermore, it might benefit you and the family directly involved in the working relationship to communicate from the onset the exact terms of the contract. Because the person being hired is a relative, society expects that you treat them differently from how you would an outsider that works for you. The question you need to ask yourself is: am I ready or well-equipped to deal with the extra responsibilities?

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