“Have a chat with your helper about her day with the kids.”──Mirian Sim, CEO at Garford (Hong Kong) Ltd
Life Before Running a Helper Agency
I was born and raised in Singapore, the eldest in the family. Ever since we were young, my mom trained us to be independent and encouraged us to try anything we wanted to – she was always incredibly supportive of everything we wanted to do.
The big decision came when I moved to San Francisco, California and left my friends and family behind – I went on to stay there for the next 20 years. Being alone and away from home was not easy. I had to adjust to the completely new environment (the only good thing was I knew how to speak English!). I had to be more independent than before; I had to grow up and make my own decisions (both the good ones and the bad ones) and stick with them. I was suddenly responsible for myself.
I never regretted my decision though - living in the States made me a stronger person, made me more empathetic to people of different backgrounds, and made me grateful and thankful for all the wonderful people in my life.
The Journey to Becoming a Business Owner
My mother-in-law ran the agency for over 30 years, and when we came back to Hong Kong to raise our family I decided to give it a try. After a year shadowing her, I took over the agency. We hired a helper to look after our young children and she has been with us since then - 7 years and counting.
I was a flight attendant in Singapore, and I ran a medical insurance company and an employee benefits agency in the Silicon Valley. I saw taking over the agency as an opportunity that came to me at the right time, so I just went with it. I think it chose me, rather than the other way around.
The Challenges of Running a Helper Agency and the Secret to Success
It has been almost 7 years since I took over Garford. The ever-changing policies from the governing countries are our biggest challenges.
Let me share how we recruit helpers to make sure we provide high quality service. Here are the criteria that we benchmark against when matching a candidate with a family:
1) The helper’s attitude has to be good, and how they present themselves (body language/eye contact/appearance) during the interview is important.
2) Having a good working history and experience are a plus.
3) Their personality – for example, a candidate with a strong personality and many years of work experience usually won’t last long in a household with a stay-at-home mom. Instead, the family will need someone with a milder personality with less than 5 years of experience and has the willingness to learn.
4) I think what sets my interview methods apart from other agencies is that I make sure that I chat with the helpers about their family, their reasons for leaving their family to go work abroad, what difficulties they have faced and how they overcame these difficulties, their goals and plans for their future etc. I believe this part of the interview is the most important because it shows us what kind of mindset the helpers have.
3 Tips to Consider When Hiring a Helper
1) Don’t compare the new helper to your previous helper or someone else’s helper.
2) Give yourself and the new worker time to adjust to each other and the family.
3) Always have open communications with each other.
We always remind our clients that no matter how experienced they are, or you think they are, don’t have high expectations as expectations and reality are usually very different. Give them some time and observe the helper and come up with a workflow that works for both sides.
Memorable Experiences in Recruiting Helpers
The helpers who are first-timers going abroad to work will get their basic household training in the Philippines, and they will get it after they are selected by the employer. However, those who have experience working abroad usually don’t have to go through it again. I used to fly to the Philippines once a month for in-person recruitment interviews, and our agency is known to have a ‘very high’ standard in picking our candidates. I remember one time after I completed the interviews and stepped out of the interview room, the candidates all suddenly gave me a round of applause because they were very excited and happy that I had accepted more than I did before and that they would get the chance to go work in Hong Kong.
The Biggest Challenges Amidst Covid-19
Covid-19 hit our business hard as employers were very scared that the helpers would be infected and in turn infect their family. Thus the hiring of helpers from the Philippines came to a halt. It didn’t help with the lockdown in the Philippines and subsequently the flight ban from the Philippines to Hong Kong.
However, demand is on the rise, and employers have started to look inwards to hire local helpers who are already in Hong Kong. This has in turn created another issue of high demand for local helpers and low supply to go around.
Placing helpers from overseas was our main service but due to covid we had to shift our focus to recruiting local helpers to meet the demand.
How to Help Kids and Helpers Get Along Well with Each Other
Have empathy for the worker. Put yourself in their shoes. Can you see yourself working in a foreign country, staying in someone’s house for 2 years away from your family? That’s what they are doing now, just so they can earn money for their family back home.
Have basic respect for each other. The helper is not your slave, she did not sell her body and soul to work with your family. She is your extra set of eyes and ears, and she is there instead of you to care for your family and kids when you cannot.
What you do not want done to yourself, don’t do to others – Confucius. Set a good example for your kids to see. When you treat one another with respect and empathy, your kids will learn from you and treat you and others the same too.
Tips for Resolving Conflicts between Families and Helpers
After assigning child-care duties to her, trust the helper to do her job. Give her enough authority to teach and discipline the kids in your place. Respect the helper who cares for your kids; do not reprimand her in front of the kids. Have a chat with your helper about her day with the kids, how it went with the kids, any challenges with handling the kids etc. That way she knows that her employer is giving her support and sharing the burden as well.
When conflicts arise, be open-minded and have an open communication with the helper. Don’t play the blame game. Instead, listen, discuss the issue and what to do to resolve the issue, and how to handle it if something like that occurs again in the future.
Garfold’s Unique Role
We have been in business for almost 40 years, and 99.9% of our business comes through referrals. We make sure to be their listening ears. Employers and helpers know that they can always get hold of us, talk to us, and count on us to help them in any issues they may have. They appreciate and trust our candid advice and expert opinions when they need them. Be sincere and be there for them when they need you.
I highly recommend Garford. My experience hiring the helper was very smooth and they took care of everything from visa, quarantine hotel, flights, insurance and even applying for HkID for the helper. I hired my helper directly from the Philippines and they took care of the requirements in the Philippines as well. Happy to have our helper here now in HK. Mirian herself is very active and responds to all queries promptly and her staff was very helpful too.
The helper that I got is really good! I am so glad for having decided to get a helper at Garfold! Great service and price is reasonable. Would recommend to everybody.
Garfold is a helper agency who provides excellent and a lot of added value services. Honest, great follow through and efficient.