Cadbury the Butler Q&A

Fair Workload

Dear Cadbury,
I was doing some research on Butlers Guild web site, to try and determine a schedule for housekeeping/cleaning large estates and could not find an answer. Can you help, please?

I’m trying to determine how many hours and people it takes to clean large estates. For example:

How many hours/people are required to clean estates in the sizes of:

1) 10,000 Sq ft

2) 20,000 Sq ft

3) 30,000 Sq ft

My wife and I are looking at some jobs that would require a lot of full-charge housekeeping and we are not sure exactly how to estimate the time required for the cleaning. It is important for us to know because other duties; such as cooking, serving and outdoor work are also required of us. In the past she has been dealing with most of the cleaning and has been doing houses in the 5,000 to 7,000-range size. We are trying to avoid an understaffed estate or a position that does not offer fair compensation.

I’d appreciate any information you could share on this subject.

Dear Anonymous,
According to Mary Starkey’s text book Setting Household Standards, a good rule is that it takes four hours to clean 2,000 square feet for average standards if performed weekly. (500 sq. ft. / hour) This does not include spring cleaning or daily service requests. Higher standards require more time.

I would add that some of the factors that would increase the time would include such things as special procedures for high value furnishings such as oriental rugs and antiques. The amount of use that the area gets such as entertaining or family fun affects cleaning time, as do environmental factors such as spring pollen season in some areas. The quality of the cleaning equipment, cleaning supplies and their organization also contributes to efficiency or lack of. Finally, the organization and style of the cleaner will impact the time it takes to clean square footage.

My personal experience is that one full time Housekeeper is required for every 10,000 sq. ft. with average standards, 4 or fewer in this fairly neat family, no pets, and with no other duties besides Housekeeping. For one person this would still be a big job and no outside work is included!

PS. Another of Mrs. Starkey’s handy “Good Rules” is that it takes an average of 1 hour and 30 minutes to sort, wash, dry, fold, and put away one large load of laundry.
– Cadbury

Dear Cadbury,
I am the new “House Manager”. This morning Mrs. told me that Mr. was not happy with the fact that I take the sheets to the cleaners to be ironed. The sheets are changed every other day and the duvet covers once a week. When I tried to explain to Mrs. that my days were 12-14 hours long and that it would be impossible for me to iron the sheets, she told me take it up with him.

The housekeeper is here 8 hours and here hands are full with cleaning etc. I find that I am doing more housekeeping every day. I am hoping to have a meeting with Mr. when my three months are up as he seems always in a hurry to leave in the mornings and in the evenings he is quite wrapped up with Mrs. I feel that it would be a bother to him to ask to discuss things. What should I do, I will burn out at this pace?

Dear SJ,
If Mr. cannot find time to discuss issues of the home and his expectations despite your polite requests to do so, you may have to find other methods of communication. Often the employers just do not appreciate nor understand the time involved in doing tasks correctly. Often employers do not want to understand! They want it all, but do not wish to staff up to levels that would allow every whim and fancy to happen as if by magic.

I recommend that you prioritize your day, do what you see is the essence of the job and see that Mr. gets a daily report. I recommend that, if possible, you make up a task sheet with your daily duties and then leave space to pencil in the additional things that came up and to note the things that did not get done. At the bottom of the sheet note “I look forward to a meeting where we can discuss how I am doing, what your priorities are and how we can work together to make the residence function even better”.

You are going to have to cut back on your hours by taking time off during the day. You may have to say that you need to rest so you do not become ill. You must be assertive. I know of staffers in this situation who feigned illness for a few hours. Obviously the employer does not notice (or perhaps care) if you work 14 hours a day when you agreed to 10, so it is up to you to be politely assertive. Most of the time an accommodation develops and in time the new House Manager gains the respect and trust of the employer and the situation evolves to one of greater mutual respect.

Of course, sometimes things do not work out- especially when you find out that there were 8 others in this position in the last couple of years. Ouch. That is the kind of information you should have discovered in advance. In this case, there is no strategy I can advise you of!
– Cadbury

Dear Cadbury,
We are on “Call” 24 hours with no time off in our role as Caretaker Couple. Our time averages 60-80 hours per week. We love living down here in Florida, but our employers are completely inconsiderate in our private and our working relationship gives us no appreciation at any time.

I do laundry, iron and cook weeknight meals at our house to bring over to their home for them. Our home is provided to us rent-free. We are only two people trying to maintain a small estate with no extra tradesmen to provide an organized and efficiently run property. We love and take care of their large guard dogs (Rhodesian-Ridgeback) 7 days, but we think it is deplorable for us to take them to their veterinarian for any health check-ups or medical problems in our own personal vehicles leaving a time consuming clean up on our own personal time. We were told there would be a vehicle to use and it is still coming after countless promises!

We communicate and provide our best for them, but we are so discouraged by the many circumstances we face. We are good, hardworking and honest people who love helping people, especially older folks who appreciate the care we gladly provide.

Please let me know if we are wrong, but truly we need a change, I know there are wonderful people are there.
D & D

Dear D and D,
You are caught is a situation that is not professional and it sounds as though you have been willing to put up with unpleasant working conditions because you are conscientious and you like Florida.

Part of the learning curve for Caretaker Couples is to recognize the difference between property care taking and private service. You are probably being compensated at a rate appropriate to keep the estate in operating order and supervised. However, you expected to cook and clean and everything else which even at minimal pay is equivalent to more than your current salary. You mention that you communicate, but it seems like there is a failure to communicate and both parties have a different expectation.

Since you mention a history of broken promises, I can only recommend that you bring your resumes up to date and start a job search while you are still employed. Learn more about the differences between a Caretaking Couple and being a Domestic Couple. I sense you have wonderful service hearts and hopefully the next employment relationship that you have will be based on mutual respect!
– Cadbury