A housekeeper’s home is always a reminder of the fragility of life.
On a cold, rainy day, when my sister-in-law went to work at a hotel, I couldn’t help but imagine what it must be like to be her.
And it’s not as though I don’t know my sister and her husband, who have two children.
But there is a sadness to the housekeeper profession that seems to be the norm in the United States, and it is hard to shake.
That’s the message I received from my brother-in, a full-time housekeeper in the Chicago area, when I visited him recently.
In addition to the stress of keeping the house, I also found out that a significant number of American housekeepers don’t have enough experience and have limited resources to handle emergencies.
And while many employers offer housekeepers who have recently graduated or are just starting as a career a salary bump, it’s still a daunting prospect.
“We don’t necessarily have the experience,” said Lisa Sorenson, a housekeeper who runs a small company that operates in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“It’s very difficult for a newcomer, but we have to prepare for it.”
The situation can get much worse.
There are many reasons why housekeepers can’t keep their jobs, according to a survey of 1,000 workers conducted by the Association of Professional Homekeeping Companies.
Some fear that they will lose their jobs because they are not qualified, because of a lack of experience or because they don’t want to take on the workload.
They also say they are being underpaid because they’re paid more than the typical housekeeper.
Some are worried about losing their home because of their children’s education.
A survey of 691 full-service housekeepers from 2009-2011 by the National Association of Home and Garden Clubs showed that nearly half were fearful that their children would be able to afford to buy a home if they moved away from home and work at the same time.
Another third feared they would lose their home if their spouse died.
And a third were concerned that they would be fired if they were deemed unfit to keep their home.
A third of housekeepers surveyed had quit their jobs after their children left home, according a 2010 report by the Institute for Safe Families.
“The average American is very aware of the importance of having family, and they’re aware that it’s very important,” said Sorenstons father, Bill Sorenstein, a former employee of a company that runs a nursing home in Virginia.
“But it’s been a long time since we’ve had a loss of a child.”
What are the dangers?
The first question that comes to mind when you hear the word housekeeper is, what are they supposed to do?
And, in the past, the answer has been very simple.
“A housekeeper should always be available to a homeowner in the event of a health emergency,” said Lori L. Johnson, president and CEO of the Association for Professional Homekeepers.
But some housekeepers are more focused on their own safety than on the well-being of their patients.
“They don’t care if they’re not going to be able care for a patient if they are sick,” said Karen O. Ziegler, a registered nurse who works for the National Home Care Association in Chicago.
“I would be shocked if I didn’t know somebody who would die at the end of a shift.”
A homekeeper is also not a member of a team.
They don’t get paid for working together, but they do receive health insurance benefits, according the National Partnership for Registered Nurses.
“That’s what homekeepers are there for,” said L. Ann Niehaus, a certified nursing assistant from Wisconsin who has worked as a housekeeping professional in the Twin Cities for 15 years.
“If we can’t be there to save the life of the patient, then what’s the point of being there?”
The lack of understanding can lead to stress.
“Sometimes it’s just too stressful to work,” said Zieglers husband, John.
“Some people just don’t realize what it’s like to work a full time job, so they can’t understand it.”
Many people don’t understand what housekeeping is or what it means.
Some people assume it’s a job for kids.
Some don’t think it’s an essential service.
Some assume it doesn’t involve working the family’s home, a decision that may not be made until much later in life.
Some even think that homekeeping is a job that pays too much, and that the paychecks are so high that the workers don’t deserve the income they earn.
There’s a misconception that the profession requires a certain amount of skill and knowledge to do their jobs.
“People say, ‘Oh, you can’t do this, that’s not what a housekeepers job is about,’ ” said Sorensen.
But that’s exactly what it is.
A housekeeping job is