Thursday , October 19 2017

An Introduction To An Old Profession: The Domestic Couple

I cannot begin to tell you the number of times I have heard the words “a good Domestic Couple is difficult to find.” In the Domestic Staff Placement world, the sentence is something of a truism. So, why is that?

Before answering that question, it makes sense to address the matter of the different kinds of Domestic Couples in Private Service. Couples are defined by skillsets as well as title. For example:

 

The Working Domestic Couple

This kind of Couple generally works alone in the household. The ideal is for members of the Couple to have complementary skills. Imagine individuals combining together like a perfectly completed puzzle. As the title suggests, Working Couples are highly hands-on, work as a team or apart, and do everything from housekeeping, laundry, ironing, cooking, driving, errands, to managing trades and looking after the exterior of the home. A good Working Couple provides a family with all the domestic skills required to run their home, which explains why they are so highly sought after. More often than not, this kind of Couple is live-in. They also have a work schedule that is shared. It is rare to find a Working Couple, for example, who will work on different days, although some will provide their Employers with a degree of flexibility.

 

The Estate Couple

This is a step up from the Working Couple. Very often the Couple who takes on this role has been previously employed as a Working Couple. Please do not let the semantics of the job titles fool you. Estate Couples work, however, the kind of work they perform is somewhat modified. For example, an Estate Couple, like a House Manager or an Estate Manager, is responsible for managing the residence and the staff employed within the residence. Very often, they will travel between homes. While Estate Couples will roll up their sleeves and work, they are mostly responsible for setting household standards, hiring new staff, writing SOP Manuals, event management, and training staff to the standards of the Employer.

There is also an administrative component to the position. Like a House Manager, one member of the Estate Couple will take on responsibility for managing bills, approving them for payment, coordinating with a Family Office, as well as organizing and maintaining a file system that maintains records on staff, projects, and vendors. The labour market calling for this type of Couple is far less robust than the market for the Working Couple, which presents career challenges that often result in an alteration of paths.

 

The Country or Farm Couple

In some jurisdictions, this Couple is referred to as an Estate Couple. Like so many other positions in Private Service, job titles can often lead to confusion. For the purposes of this article, I would like to differentiate between the two positions. The Country Couple works on a rural estate that can be an actual working farm with livestock and tenant farmers or a simple hobby farm for an urban-based Employer.

The position is almost always live-in. The reason for this is simple. This couple is responsible for the security of a large property, and, in the case where there is livestock, someone needs to be onsite to take responsibility for its care.

This position is highly gendered with the female member generally responsible for the household and the male responsible for the physical exterior and all that entails. Like all Couples, however, the Country Couple will blur individual job descriptions since they work as a team to keep the property functioning at an optimal level.

 

The Same-Sex Couple

As the song goes, “The times they are a changin’.” Same-Sex Working Couples are becoming much more common. The skills and attribute profile is the same as it is for any other Couple, and it is not just gay Employers who hire Same-Sex Couples. Private Service is a field that can often seem behind the times. It is refreshing to see acceptance of difference by Employers.

 

Mutually exclusive to married couples?

Continuing with the theme of progressiveness, contrary to popular thought, it is not a rule that Working Couples be married. Very often they are. In many other cases, the relationships are Common Law or simply working partnerships. Couples are interesting because their very existence is a convergence of the professional with the personal. For example, I know a lovely Estate Couple from Montreal (let’s call them S & N) who worked for a very prominent family. I recently interviewed them and here is how they described the history of their “coming together” in a professional capacity:

“The transition for us to work as a Couple came naturally. We weren’t always a couple. We met at work and, throughout the years, developed a friendship that turned into love. We worked together as colleagues for quite some time until we made the transition into working as a Couple.”

A Couple’s relationship is one of the things that makes the position so interesting and so potentially complicated. As this same Couple remarked, when things go badly, the Employer “doesn’t lose one… they lose two.” This is significant. An Employer gains a lot when they hire a good Couple. They gain, through a single hiring process, an impressive set of skills that can potentially meet all the family’s needs. On the other hand, when things go wrong, they do not lose just one set of skills; they lose both, and the consequences can be crippling. For those families who choose not to hire a Couple, this is the most commonly expressed reason for their decision.

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The second most common explanation for not hiring a Couple, is a lack of flexibility. Very few Couples will agree to working or travelling apart for extended periods. Of course, as with all things, there are exceptions and some Couples will do what it takes to be of service to their Employer. But, generally speaking, families are right; Couples should be thought of as a single position – almost like a single person. It just happens to be a position that can accomplish a great deal in a household and one that checks off far more skillset boxes than any single person could ever manage on their own.

These days there is still a significant demand for strong Couples, and the labour market struggles to meet that demand. That said, however, many Couples often reach an inflection point in their careers where they need to consider working apart. I asked the Estate Couple, S & N, about this and if that would be a sad day for them. They responded:

“Yes and no. In some ways it will feel like losing a right arm, but each of us have the skills and capabilities to work alone. Even if the day comes when we do work alone though, we can take comfort knowing that we will always be there for the other to offer support, advice, and understanding.”

I must say that I like this answer… I like it a lot. There is a warmth to it that I find endearing. And I think this is the allure of a Couple for families. There is a “homeyness” to the position. That “homey” feeling is important because there is a kind of alignment between the warmth and support that exists with a Couple and the familial ties and love that exist in a happy residence.

Deciding whether or not to hire a Couple is a decision that should be weighed carefully by families. The decision to proceed has the potential to solve so many needs through a single hiring process. That is a big deal. On the other hand, there are real risks involved. Then again, is it not the case that every instance of inviting a new Employee into a home comes with risks? The risks might vary from position to position, but the common denominator is the same. Will the engagement be successful?

Whenever I speak with Clients and go through the process of weighing the good and the bad, I usually encourage families to keep an open mind where Couples are concerned. For every minus, Couples have the potential to counter with at least one positive, and then some.

In my many years working for families, I have encountered numerous Couples who are thoroughly devoted to their Employers, and offer incredible service and professionalism. So, circling back to my original question regarding why good Couples are hard to find… Is it not the case that truly good Employees are also hard to find, regardless of the position?

Let me leave my readers with this thought: when it works, think of the relationship between a Couple and Employer as a different kind of marriage made in heaven… I might go as far to suggest that, when the magic happens, the relationship is akin to a sort of alliance of marriages. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?

 

Written by Scott Munden of Portico Staffing, which is one of the leading domestic staffing agencies in Toronto. You can learn more about Scott’s agency by visiting: https://www.porticostaff.com

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