Monday, August 27, 2018

Salary Is Generous - $688,896.00

...rarely was "training" of some skill actually the solution, except the often needed training for the family office in better communication skills to their domestic staff about performance expectations in exchange for compensation and benefits.


Generous is a funny word.  

It's just got that funny ring of charity about it, as if the provider has a propensity to offer more than what is customary - and to offer it as a gift. "Generous of one's time," for example, is usually within the context of someone offering a free-flowing, bottomless well of heartfelt reserves, in order to meet the receiving entity's needs and desires without regard to how the giver is perceiving fairness of the transaction. "Generous" implies a sacrifice from the provider.

"Salary is generous."  - Gaining popularity with many new employers as the default online job advertisement description of compensation for domestic staff positions.

I believe that "generous" is a misplaced, inappropriate term for proposing the salary in question of hiring domestic staff. It says to the candidate, "we don't think we should be paying domestics what they now cost, but since we're stuck having to do it, we just want you to know that this is coming from our heartfelt generosity - and not because we think you're actually worth it."


If you've had your coffee this morning, then it now may be a safe time for us to have a somewhat complex HRM thought experiment: What if the family office were to discover they were paying a staff team member, such as a Housekeeper or Houseman, $688,896.00 per year, instead of the $50,000 per year generous salary they thought had been agreed upon?  Would that still be considered generous?  Perhaps more than generous?  I'm not sure there's even a word for paying that amount of money, but I'm still searching.

One of the most helpful aspects of consulting for private estates, I found when I owned my domestic placement, consulting, and training business some years ago, was to interview the staff members themselves, privately, in a safe, quiet place away from presence of their employer and even their co-workers. It helps to have a bit of 360 review when assessing an estate staff, as the perception of the solution from the family office is frequently out of kilter with what's really going on, with what the root issues are, downstairs, which are now manifesting as poor service, upstairs, and misplaced under the prescription of "our staff needs training."  Yet, rarely was "training" of some skill actually the solution, except the often needed training for the family office in better communication skills to their domestic staff team members about performance expectations in exchange for compensation/benefits.

Often what I found among domestic staff, which ultimately would simmer and boil over into some generic form of bad service, was a sense of inequity and favored treatment for one or more co-workers. Of course, there was the occasional case of a superstar worker being allowed some extra perks, whereupon all other staff would, at the end of the day at least, be understanding and in agreement with the special treatment. For instance, if one Housekeeper was 100% of the time willing to stay late to work with an impromptu dinner party, the Housekeepers who refused to work past their scheduled times would, almost wholly and without any resentment, be supportive of that Housekeeper being given leniency with time off or even wage increases.

Yet rarely would a domestic worker of ordinary ability and performance be forgiving of their co-workers who are expending no extraordinary and no "generous," if I may say, extra work efforts to the mission, yet are earning in effect what is many times over what they are doing for their ordinary, yet even harder working efforts.

Typical of such assessments during a deep dive into how staff were actually spending their days, in order to report to the estate owners exactly what was amiss on the estate, in a case of staff just seem to be slowing down - were usually cases whereby some staff members had been favored - and not for having worked harder - and the resultant resentment and slowing down by other staff members who wish to create balance for what they perceive as inequity in pay for performance expectations.

Typically such favored domestic staff members would have developed a familiar, family-like relationship with their estate employer - and think of themselves as impervious to the rigors and expectations of a traditional employer/employee relationship. 

Interestingly, though, a favored worker such as this often would hear of other domestic jobs in nearby private estate homes, those with even less experience, yet, positions which always seemed to be earning a bit more, most of them around five thousand dollars more per year than their own annual wages. And, consequently, they feel underpaid, despite that their own job had basically devolved into a retired-on-duty position.


We pride ourselves on being a non-commercial publication, and certainly an online software program is not needed to print out or even explain to domestic employees their comp and benefits package, yet the one we're referencing here is a very good one - and we suggest you take a look. Your own payroll vendor may offer a similar service, or maybe not, but what becomes most important here is the comprehensive approach which must be used to ensure real, honest communication is taking place. 

Like most tools, whether they be online software or a collection of screwdrivers in a belted leather pouch, the most important thing is never the tools themselves, but if they are actually used to create the actual job at hand, which is in our case: 

the actual COMMUNICATION to domestic staff members what their actual compensation is - and this easily leads to another discussion about which duties they are actually - performing.

Moving beyond, in Citizen Editor's humble opinion, is the most critical aspect of this discussion with your Housekeepers, Nannies, Chauffeurs, House Managers, et al, in that real issues can be addressed about market value and how the workers' own performance measures up in comparison. Our typical staff member in question, as noted above, would often focus on a base salary of $50,000 and all those other domestic workers out there earning $55,000, yet would fail to know their real compensation and benefits total package value (our highlighted software contains an option for 60+ benefits which are often received by workers without them even knowing it), in addition to, most notably, the enormous factor of their base salary had been set many years ago when it was assumed the staff member would be working actively forty hours per week, as opposed to the average five hours per week total they may now actually be performing tasks (this "AWOL adjustment" calculation is not part of the software's capability, yet is quite easy to figure with a combination of simple arithmetic and what happens to be my own personal favorite technology:  a stubby #2 pencil and piece of scratch paper).

Such workers' performance, by all indications which I observed during assessments, certainly would start out differently than how it evolved, as many domestic worker jobs do, yet as time went on and a culture of non-accountability would become entrenched.  And like in many new jobs, performance would begin with a bang, yet slip over time with little to no one noticing, simply because there was no one to, um... really notice. Ten minutes late for such workers would soon became thirty minutes and then two hours; unpaid short lunches soon would become paid long lunches and then somehow, mysteriously, become even longer; the afternoon errands would somehow just sort of turn into entire afternoons off, and before anyone knew it, a worker now becoming resented by the other staff would be clocking in (an expression only, as often there was often no time clock for the non-exempt classified staff members) about five total hours per week of actual, well, work.

The math for staff on these estates is easy to do. Yet no one, including the estate owners dared ever do it - for fear of angering their workers whom they'd come to perceive as loyal to their home - nor was anyone ever around who cared enough about the workers' understanding their real compensation and value, to do it with them:

At 250 hours per year actually worked and multiplied up into a full-time schedule of 2080 hours with a total comp package value of $82,800, the typical worker in these circumstances - the one who had eventually set the other staff onto a downward spiral into resentment, depression, and poor service to the estate owners - would be found to being paid for their wage, non-exempt, non-managerial services at the full-time, adjusted rate of $688,896.00 per year.

And the most interesting part is the workers in these circumstances typically feel underpaid and ripped off - and despite earning an adjusted income of $688,896.00, would still be striving for $5,000 more somewhere else.


This case is really quite common on private estates, where the edges of reality of one's employment contract with the estate owners becomes fuzzy, because fuzzy is often easier than having an honest conversation about workplace expectations - only to be defined and then viewed by the workers themselves through an unreliable source of information, mostly unknown facts, and always foggy lens... and because there is often no one around the place who is authorized to correct or even address this tragedy by taking the time to bring this important topic for the domestic workers into focus... and into sense. 

Many employees have very little appreciation of the value of their health care and many other not-fully-understood benefits... it is critical to be communicated to employees in a meaningful way.

So what then, to do?  Such estates typically suffer from both a communication and mission breakdown, all from a disregard, unwillingness, or simply an unknown factor that having focused, compassionate, easy to enact and easy to understand, informative performance and compensation reviews with employees is a time-tested process that works - and works very well - yet is left to chance by the employers, much to their own dismay as their domestic staff become disengaged from genuinely feeling "devalued and paid unfairly" and seeking those supposedly and ever growing greener pastures just across the street - all while the remainder of the staff slow down in protest.

And never even knowing some of their domestic workers were actually being paid at the adjusted rate of almost three quarters of a million dollars per year. 


If an online software tool which helps bring onto one easy-to-read page the total compensation package which is often unknown or ignored... is what it takes to get the discussions with your staff at your estate started, we are all for it. 

But the most important thing to keep in mind is the discussions themselves, not just the forms, and the opportunities for each party to honestly examine what's really going on with their performance and the fair compensation for that very well examined performance, how they are earning it, and why, and how they can be and remain of not simply "good service" to their employer -- but how they can be and remain to be - of good value.

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