27 April 2007

Human resource management

Our household is currently employing two staff so I have needed to apply some human resource management skills. It is challenging to manage them well because I can’t speak Lao. Not that they really do need active managing- they do their tasks perfectly well while we’re all away from our house at work. Our mai ban (maid, literally ‘house mother’) speaks very little English and our guard does not know English at all. Our mai ban comes to our house three days a week. It may seem a like a lot but I didn’t want her to have to work too hard. She cleans the floors and washes our clothes. She also pays our bills, which is particularly helpful because we can’t even read the bill. The main reason I have a guard is because there is no way I could have fired him when we moved in. He told our landlord he was worried about his job when we moved in. I don’t think that’s something the man should have to worry about, particularly at the competitive rate he was offering. Also, the next best alternative would be to take out a better insurance policy to cover my items, which would involve paying a large insurance company over $1000. Our guard’s rates are far more reasonable. He does maintain our garden very well. It did trouble me that it is a 100% dead- end job. He’s there from 8am- 5pm so we take up all his weekdays. While I was thinking about possible education and training opportunities my housemate M actually did something. I was very impressed that she had a mini- teleconference with our guard and S from the English college that helped us get to Laos.

Our guard took up the offer of learning English, and the college offered it to us for half price. It may have been a long time since our guard has had any formal education and I’m guessing there would mostly be young people in his class learning English. If he can pick up a couple of things or enjoys the process of learning or meets some nice new people then the experience is worthwhile. I just hope he doesn’t find the whole thing intimidating! Our mai ban has a couple of days off from working with us and is paid a bit better so hopefully she has some free time to do what she likes. I might buy some English books for her. This week there were 3 days that reached 40 degrees, and for 72 continuous hours the temperature did not drop below 30 degrees. Our guard does not have access to our house- he just an open room out the back. Buying him a fan might be in order. I think a radio would help his day go by too. Occasionally we give our staff some random food like biscuits and beer for new years and some random oyster mushrooms M brought back from the farm next to her work. Any advice on how to human resource manage our staff would be much appreciated- a little creative thinking could really help.

There is someone at work who speaks Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, French and English. I have also seen him pull out the sign language a couple of times. He gets paid $20 US a month- unfair! There are a fair few Russian speakers in Laos. If they can say my name and remember it, that’s a good indicator that they can speak Russian. You notice some people roll their Rs when they speak English, which is a definite sign they speak French. Quite a few Lao people were studied in Vietnam or did military training there, which is why they can speak it. Increasingly more people are studying in China, I think, which is also close to Lao and I think Japan too because they give Lao a lot of support. Virtually everyone can understand Thai because most of their television is from Thailand. There are only a few Lao TV programs, only three from memory. All university textbooks are also in Thai, and I’m guessing many high school texts too.

I remember a friend of mine joking about someone who used to turn off the car engine when they were going down hills to save petrol. Well I got in a tuk- tuk and this is exactly what the driver did. He also turned the engine off while he was at the lights.

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