It is important for ladies to run their homes smoothly and on an established system. And those with large homes and domestic staff must be even more efficient. A large household is like a business. And a business that is ill-managed or neglected leaves room for many errors, financial loss, disrepute, and unhappiness.
In the past, ladies were taught how to properly manage their home and understand its workings. What was not taught, they learned by watching their mother. Ladies learned quickly that every servant had an important role in the smooth running of a home. To forget this in any way could lead to problems.
There is a lot that goes into managing a household properly. Today, we want to discuss a few do’s and don’ts for managing household servants. But before we begin, we want to emphasize one fact: servants are human. They are human with human characteristics, personalities, likes and dislikes, good days and bad days, relationship problems, family dramas, goals, and values — just like any other human being. Now, let’s begin!
The mistress of a household should…
1. Clearly outline the duties she requires of a servant before hiring. Servants should clearly understand from the beginning the expectations. So, a mistress must learn to be organized and concise.
2. Be especially patient and considerate the first month a new servant works for her. New servants must be allowed to learn their new duties in peace.
3. Give directions as requests, not commands. She must remember, this is not the days of past when servants were treated like slaves. Service is an honorable profession for those who choose to help a mistress run her household.
4. Correct a servant’s mistake with respect. She should be pleasant about it. She should not show anger or impatience. “To allow impertinence or sloppy work is inexcusable, but it is equally inexcusable to show causeless irritability or to be overbearing or rude.”
5. Provide a comfortable servant quarters to all her live-in servants. The quarters should include comfortable rooms to sleep in, a well furnished dining room to eat in, and a salon to entertain themselves in as well as any family or friends that come to visit them. Again, servants are no longer treated like slaves. They have friends and relatives too. They deserve a comfortable and clean bed and sofa just like everyone else. Salons should have items of entertainment like books, magazines, comfortable furnishings, proper lighting, and so forth. In other words, a mistress should make sure her servants’ quarters are made into a home. And she should appoint a responsible older person, like the butler or housekeeper, to make sure all behave properly and respectfully and no visit turns into a troublesome affair. If she can only afford to give a cubbyhole for servants to live in, she then should not have live-in servants. Her home is not large enough for this luxury. And so, it would be more humane and appropriate for her to hire someone to come in everyday instead.
6. Provide good meals for her servants. It is not only beneficial to them but to her as well. Healthy servants will get sick less and will have more energy to work without much complaints. Even if she leaves the welfare of her servants to her butler, housekeeper, or chef, she should always make sure her servants are being fed healthy and quality food.
7. Allow servants their days off and vacation time. Again, servants are not slaves. So, do not treat them like one.
8. Respect servants’ rights for an un-interrupted lunch and evening. If a servant was not hired to work evening specifically, servants should be able to have their nights to themselves and should not be expected to work a 24 hour shift.
9. Respect a servant’s day off. Don’t ask him/her to run an errand on a day off. Be considerate.
10. Be courteous. Say please and thank you. And a good morning and good night would be appreciated as well.
11. Address lower servants by their first name. Never use their nicknames or abbreviated names like Sam for Samantha. This is after all respectable employment for adults.
12. Address her butler and lady’s maid by their last names. This honors their hard work and the time it took to reach that status.
13. Give orders clearly. If it would help her or her servant, she can write her orders down on a paper. This way all concerned will have a clear idea and reminder of what needs to be done.
14. Refrain from criticizing a servant in front of guests. Household business should always be left private as well as reprimands. Plus, publicly embarrassing someone is so uncomfortable to watch, for everyone.
15. Refrain from sending a criticism about a servant through another servant unless that servant manages the guilty servant.
16. Always say sorry if she has done something wrong. Being a mistress of a house doesn’t mean you will always be right. Nor does it mean, you should give up being sorry for a mistake. A quick apology is kind. Anything less would be inconsiderate.
17. Never allow her child to be rude or insolent to her servants. It is a bad reflection on her as a parent. To not correct this behavior early can lead to embarrassing situations and troublesome behaviors later.
18. Respond to servants with courteous gestures. It is not enough to say please, thank you, or no, thank you if your gestures are rude. Meaning: she should not roll her eyes, flick her fingers or wrist in dismal, stick out her tongue, put her middle finger up, or make other rude gestures. Courteous words spoken would be more appropriate. For example, if she needs a servant to leave a room, instead of flicking her fingers as if she was shooing away a pet, she should say something like, “Sue, can you please leave the room.”
19. Be appreciative of good work done on her behalf. It is a great incentive to get more of such work.
20. Refrain from physically or emotionally abusing her servants.
21. Refrain from sexually abusing or harassing her servants. Such behavior can easily lead to embarrassing moments, blackmail, and even prosecution.
22. Be fair and just.
23. Divide work evenly and appropriately.
24. Respect a servant’s time, duties, n time to do duties.
25. Refrain from standing over a servant to watch him/her. If she does not trust the servant, she should let him/her go. To continuously watch the servant waiting for a mistake, will create a mistake that didn’t need to happen.
The best mistress understands her house is a business. It is a firm that must be managed with tact, patience, diligence, diplomacy, charm, rules, plans, positive leadership, resourcefulness, adaptability, and decisiveness. If you hire a butler and/or housekeeper, you can share this role with them or leave it mostly in their hands. However, like any good business owner who employs hundreds, you must still have an understanding of those working for you – their duties, their strengths, their weaknesses. And you must have an understanding of what is required of you to run a smooth household. After all, the failure of a household mostly falls on the mistress’ shoulders, not the husband, nor the servant.