Household Harmony: Learning from Bridget Hamilton's Experience

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Over the years, Bridget Hamilton has worked as a nanny, household manager, personal assistant and estate manager. She also worked in retail management for several years, but her passion is helping people in their private homes. She's one of the most resourceful people I know and she thrives on making things run smoothly in a private home. She's nannied triplets and worked with high profile clients on nearly every task you can imagine.

In my last post I introduced the topic of household harmony: a healthy and stable environment with mutual respect and empowerment while both parties are authentic and patient.

I spoke with Bridget last week about her experience with household harmony.

What does harmony mean to you?

To me, a harmonious home runs like a well-oiled machine. There will always be hiccups, but day to day there is routine, organization, and everyone knows their roles. These households are not chaotic. The staff feels valued and respected by the principals, and empowered to make decisions.

I think the keys to harmony are that everyone knows their job, has the freedom to do their job, and is communicated with regularly, especially with praise when due.

What do you do in your role to improve harmony in the household?

Communication is the most important ingredient for harmony. By that I mean communication with staff obviously, but also my principals. 

In most of my positions I get very little, if any, face time with the principal so in order for everything to run smoothly there have to be good alternative modes of communication. We communicate expectations and progress with binders and checklists; with technology tools such as Asana, Trello, Google sheets; and of course via email and texting. We also talk in-person at weekly staff meetings. 

In my last position we did a weekly in-person every Monday morning. My principal downloaded everything to me and off I went for the rest of the week. I would see her sometimes in passing, but primarily I updated her via text and email. In my current position, I work from home 2-3 days per week. We use Asana and I meet with the principal in person a couple of times weekly. Her household staff is Spanish speaking, as is the principal, so I have created a household binder with daily checklists and they have been translated into Spanish. When I had a larger staff, I always had a weekly meeting with staff and a touch base at the end of the week for updates.

What can employers do to increase harmony?

The principal has to make time in her schedule for communication meetings or it won't run well. 
When issues come up, I advise positivity. That is, what can we do to fix a "problem.” Asking the staff for their opinions is also a great way to keep employees happy and harmonious.

I strongly encourage annual reviews for all employees. It's not just about giving them a raise. Consider unexpected perks such as gift certificates to a spa or yoga class, or bringing in lunch for the team. I had an employer who would unexpectedly book a massage for me and tell me to go because she knew that was the ultimate pampering I loved. These perks go such a long way in motivating people to always perform and make the principal’s life easier/better. They’re so easy to give, especially when principals may have hotel stays, miles and other items that they don't usually use. It's the little things that go a long way!

I know working in a private home makes some people feel isolated and rusty. How do you keep your skills fresh and stay connected? 

Joining a professional network late in my career has been a fantastic and rejuvenating experience. As a board member of The Personal Assistant Network now, the educational seminars we hold monthly are super informative and I always leave learning something--even if it's from speaking with a fellow member.

Also, I recommend everyone in this field continue to grow and develop by attending workshops and classes to learn new tech skills, for example. It energizes you and makes you that much more valuable to your employers. I think having a yearly budget for continuing education is SO important. Even $500 a year is worth thousands in the return on investment. Help your principals see the value of continuing to develop your professional skills.

I know you have a service heart and truly love helping others. How do you take care of yourself at the same time that you have a 24/7 mentality for your principal?

That's a tough one! In my entire career I have always dropped everything and changed my schedule for my employers. I have a very hard time putting myself and my needs first, so it is a constant battle for me. Most important is talking with your principal about needing to do it for your own health. I think most would agree it's very important to fit exercise into your schedule. Coming up with the routine and agreeing you will be radio silent during that exercise hour, but they can continue to email you. I highly recommend it even though I fall off the wagon a lot. You can't truly be great for them 24/7 when you aren't the best version of yourself.  As before, it's the communication that’s so important, and then making sure you hold up your end of the bargain to YOURSELF!

Back to the perks piece, a gym membership is a great perk to ask your principal to cover, even if it's a portion. It shows they value you taking care of yourself.