Letters to the Editor Newsletter

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, August 2019, Letters to the Editor

PostBoxLetters to the Editor

Something happened to my staff and I the other week that no one can prepare for: The death of a staff member on the job. I wanted to share it with the MBJ readership in the hopes it could help a colleague.

I have had the pleasure and honor of working with a gentleman, a contract worker at two of my employer’s homes, who was one of those rare people willing and eager to help wherever and whenever needed; he was a joy to be with and a valued member of my team. 

He had experienced and come through a couple of health issues. We returned North for the season and were in full swing with house guests, when all hell broke loose at a dinner party, at which he was helping serve, as we finished clearing the main course.

This gentleman had mentioned to one of the housekeepers that evening that he had a pain in his chest and was feeling clammy. She had offered to walk him to a bench in the hallway and give him some water when he started gasping for air and turning a very deep red in the face and his body became very rigid.

I was in the pantry when one of the housekeepers came in screaming for me, saying the gentleman was not well. When I went to him, the other housekeeper was by his side, begging me to help him. Not knowing what a heart attack looked like, I had no idea what was happening, but lay him on the floor, loosened his shirt and tie, and called out to him with no response. We called 911 and I administered CPR until the paramedic and police arrived. They took over his care while firing all sorts of questions about what had happened, what medical conditions he had, the name and phone number of his doctor, whether he had undergone any operations or had any allergies; what his address was, date of birth, next of kin or friends and their phone numbers. Some questions I could answer but many not. 

The paramedics worked on him for well over an hour until all hope had sadly gone and they pronounced our dear co-worker to be dead. The shock and horror of this event is still quite raw for all of us.

After taking in all that had happened that fateful evening, I asked myself what I could have done better.

The main thing I came away with was how little I knew of the immediate information on the staff: Next of kin or close friends, phone numbers. So often we know some things about the people with whom we work with: Their phone numbers should we need to contact them, but [nothing about] allergies, health issues, medications he or she is on. So many of these questions are personal and maybe we are reluctant to share them with co-workers or employers.

This incident has helped me realize how important this critical information is, even if it is only the name of a contact should that colleague go down and be unable to speak.

In all my long career, I have never had a member of staff die on the job. Without becoming too personal, if nothing else ask your staff members “Should you ever become sick or worse, whom would you like me to call?”

Ed: Thank you very much sharing this unfortunate story. Many companies, such as airlines, or the government (such as on passport application forms), or medical offices, ask for contact numbers in case of emergency. The precedent is certainly there for this minimal question.

In the close team that is a household staff, a caring approach to asking all the questions that a paramedic might ask should not be seen as an invasion of privacy. Any such consideration on the part of the employee would tend to reveal a potentially problematic and tetchy attitude. If an explanation were provided as to why the questions were being asked and it was made clear that the questions (a) were not mandatory to answer and (b) would never be shared except with the proper authorities responding to an emergency the employee were undergoing, any legitimate objections or risk of legal action should be satisfied.

Note: If this common sense advice violates any law in your area, then you will have to follow the law—even if it be asinine.

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.