Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, May 2020, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

What is the Proper Exchange, Salary, etc. for a Butler/Estate Manager?

This month we examine a topic that impacts every butler and estate manager—their remuneration package.

As some people in the profession and the media have lowballed the exchange given to butlers and estate managers from time to time, which is not helpful when negotiating a salary, especially with an employer not used to having butlers or estate managers, we thought we’d ask what the general experience has been. Salary amounts have been converted to USD for the sake of consistency and refer to net amounts.

Salaries for experienced butlers today range from $85,000-$230,000 net per annum; the salary earned would be 25-50% higher, depending on the country’s taxes—so between $106,000 as the lowest and $345,000 as the highest gross salary.

Starting salaries were lower: In the $40,000’s three decades ago, $50,000’s two decades ago, and in the $60,000’s a decade ago—those canvassed for this article had been in the profession for quite a while now and were seeing their expertise remunerated appropriately as they gained experience.

One estate manager saw a job posting for between $60,000-$100,000—a huge differential—from a principle who recognized that he may be buying into a new-hire he does not wish to overpay, while leaving the door open for a more-experienced candidate to apply.

Obviously, there are employers who pay less today, especially in certain markets, and those who pay more: The highest on record is $2 million—not sure if that was gross or net, but when dealing with such numbers, who cares?

Asking for any recommendations on how to manage the employer or agent perception of what constitutes a fair salary, or for ensuring the salary reflects your value, the advice was:

  1. Ensure they are familiar with the industry norms (as given in this article, for instance);
  2. Refer to your years of service, relevant education, production record, the combination of needed skills you bring to the table;
  3. The uniqueness of this combination;
  4. Refer to your salary history, if you have one;
  5. Consider the duties, whether light or complex and onerous;
  6. Consider the hours—24/7/365 availability versus 8/5/245 needs to be reflected in the salary;
  7. Location matters, too—a large city commands a higher salary because the cost of living is greater and often the position is live-out;
  8. Avoid over-asking at the outset, instead negotiating a reasonably low starting salary with options to grow into that desired top-notch salary within a fairly short and stated time frame, once the principle can see the employee has walked the talk.

In an ideal situation, trust your agency/recruiter to look after both your and the principle’s interests and at the outset, state the salary range you wish for and stick to your guns. If the market does not support that range, then search in an area that does. Never argue, plead, or barter for a fair salary either with an agency/recruiter or with a potential employer—just do not apply for those positions that do not match your criteria or sign any agreement that does not pass the fairness test: As one estate manager said, “Regret has a bitter taste that is difficult to remove.”

Salary is only part of the picture: A full remuneration package can include variously:

  1. On- or off-site accommodations, paid for;
  2. Health benefits with a low deductible;
  3. 401K/retirement fund contributions;
  4. Use of a company car, which may/may not be for private use;
  5. Or mileage for use of own car on company business (some people prefer petrol/gas, and car maintenance & insurance as a percentage of the miles driven for business versus personal miles); parking, toll fees, and valet costs also covered;
  6. And/or a monthly travel pass for commuting via public transportation where appropriate;
  7. A telephone, which may/may not be for private use, including the phone and service agreement;
  8. A laptop or tablet, which may/may not be for private use, including wifi;
  9. Paid overtime (not normal, but certainly where the hours are 9-5 and the salary is in a lower range;
  10. Travel bonus;
  11. Business class travel when required to fly more than 4 hours.
  12. Uniform supplied and maintained, or a uniform allowance if there is no set uniform but a certain dress code is required, including outerwear in colder climates; for ladies, accessories can be included;
  13. Per diem for food;
  14. Two- and later three-weeks of paid vacations annually;
  15. One paid sick day per month, cumulative in any calendar year;
  16. National holiday days off, or time-off-in-lieu where one is on duty on those days;
  17. End-of-year bonus;
  18. Annual review of performance and salary;
  19. Professional membership dues paid for;
  20. A relocation allowance.

“During my almost twenty-year career in private service, I have found the perfect employment package to be not the highest income but rather one including gratis housing, transportation, and of course insurance benefits. When combining the value of these perks, I find I enjoy a finer lifestyle than a higher income level can provide.”

For any recommendations on improving the package, the following was offerred:

“Do your research before asking: It’s easy to ask for more, but more difficult to explain why the boss should give you more.”

“I am fine with my package now, but it took me too long a time to stand up for myself and ask for and receive what I deserved.”

“Never agree to use your own credit card or cash for work-related expenses with the expectation that you will receive [immediate] reimbursement. If your employer is unable or unwilling to provide a credit card or cash, then they really do not want or need whatever they wish you to purchase. Ask if making purchases will be part of your duties and whether you will have a cash float or credit card to use. If not, please make clear to the agency, recruiter, or employer prior to employment that you will not use your own funds.

“Always be prepared to provide documentation for any purchase, no matter how small, so you won’t be responsible for reimbursing your employer when using his or her funds.

“I also suggest having an annual cost-of-living increase included in a work agreement, separate and unrelated to your work performance. You may or may not receive an annual bonus or merit increase, but a guaranteed cost-of-living increase is something you can depend on, no matter how small that amount may be.”

“Obtain a letter of recommendation as soon as possible if not just before departure and keep a personal file up to date with credentials—your next application for a position will benefit from having several positive recommendation letters.”

“My last employer had me on a salary and worked me 41 days in a row, close to 80 hours a week, and yet still felt compelled to call me at 2 a.m. for non-emergency business. I didn’t take any vacation time or any holidays, so when I left, I received a $4,500 check to cover the time off that I had been promised. I lasted over 15 months on that position as I needed a reference for my resume. I suggested to the new butler that he ask for an hourly rate. Now, if I work 70 hours, I am paid for them at time-and-a-half after 40 hours.

Asked if they had ever experienced any difficulties receiving what was promised in terms of salary and/or remuneration package, the answers were:

“Not at all—just had to be patient and work hard.”

“If it’s in your contract you should receive what is offered. I know when I brought up all the days my former employer owed me, they weren’t thrilled to hand over the $4,500 they owed me. To which I replied that not only had I read the 17-page contract before I started, but that I had asked a lawyer to do so, too. It is smart business practice to read your contract so you know what is expected of you and what you receive in return. Same with your review, when it comes to increases in pay, more vacation time, or whatever you’re getting, that it be in writing if you find the employer isn’t remembering what they had told you. Make sure you receive what you are worth, as your job entails physical stamina, emotional intelligence, logical thinking, an educated mind, grace under fire, and a thick skin.”

“It is somewhat humiliating to remind an employer to give you something they had previously agreed to provide, even when in writing. Depending on the relationship between employer and employee, it might be best for the agency or recruiter to intercede to resolve the question.”

Another estate manager added, “At the end of the day, you cannot ruffle your employer’s tail feathers. So, learn to read facial expressions and body language. Do not try and have a conversation when you see things are a bit crazy in the household. Do it at a mutually advantageous time. Better attitude means better response. Though I know I am entitled to a third week vacation this year, I have not brought it up [at this time of social distancing and skeleton staff]. It might have to wait until next year. At least I am an essential employee and didn’t lose a day of work!”

“One previous employer delayed signing my work agreement for weeks after I had started, despite my gentle reminders. Finally, although I was rather enjoying my new situation, I decided to hand in my two-week notice—without a work agreement, I did not feel confident that my employer would live up to their end of our arrangement and I was not willing to work for an employer I could not trust.

“Both principals were shocked by this action and immediately phoned the recruiter who had placed me to complain that I was being unfair after all they had done for me (including relocating me from across the country, providing me with corporate accommodation whilst I searched for a new home, and having me fitted for several bespoke uniforms).

“He calmly explained that all I needed to remain on the position was a signed work agreement. The next morning, a copy of the signed agreement was waiting for me—and to my surprise, my new employer increased my pay effective immediately. To this day, I honestly don’t know what I would have done had they accepted my resignation without any rebuttal, but I have no regrets about being true to myself.”

Hopefully, the experience of your peers will help guide you on this subject of interest to all butlers and estate managers, but which we prefer not to discuss because it is not all about the money at all—but for our long-term peace of mind, and to increase the likelihood that we will remain in service to that employer for a long time to our mutual benefit, it is important that we are exchanged with fairly—that what we put out is, in the big picture, roughly equal to what we receive back, so that we can take our attention off that administrative detail and just focus on providing brilliant and solicitous service.

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.