Newsletter Steven Ferry

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

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry


Vacation and holidays granted by employers vary from generous to positively medieval.

“Currently I receive 5 weeks of paid vacation and 8 paid holidays.”

“I have had 6 employers in a 40-year career, so vacation and holidays have varied, in part because Federal laws have been changing. I am supposed to have three weeks off this coming year; (starting my seventh year) but still cannot get my second week off. I have been made to take my vacation days for week two, one day at a time here and there, although that usually doesn’t happen either. I just have the accountant add the paid day off to my check. When I began (here), I had five paid holidays. With each passing year, I was given another paid holiday. But, that too, is subject to change if my employer wants to have a party or guests. Currently, I am owed 2 paid holidays, so, I will just ask that also just be added to my pay. Even if I worked 5 1/2 months straight, as I did last year, everything is about the employer, not me. If you are understaffed and overworked, your employer should want to relieve you of your duties for a relaxed vacation or a vacation that is full of excitement and glee. But, when you’re understaffed, more and more responsibilities are placed on the management personnel. As someone who wants happy housekeepers, I insist they take their breaks, holidays and vacation, as their work is never done—it can look finished until someone clutters up the kitchen with dirty dishes, pulls out a game and does not put it away, pool towels are strewn around the yard, etc.”

“For the most part I have been blessed with good vacation time and bank holidays. But it’s not always the case and you should read your contract VERY carefully before signing it. NEVER assume because if you do and you don’t have it in writing it will bite you in the rear-end later. I had taken a position with three weeks of vacation that matched my previous post. The contract reflected this but, silly me, I did not question the six bank holidays I had always enjoyed in the past. When my first working bank holiday came, I mentioned to the estate manager that I’ll take the holiday later. I was told ‘You don’t get bank holidays as you have three weeks of vacation.'”

Looking for any difficulty in having vacation time and holidays honored and how best handled brought up the following:

“I have never had a problem, except when I wanted to take my first vacation I was told I could only take nine days at any one time. If I had known this on signing, I would have never agreed to these terms.”

“I never have any issues with holidays or vacations: I make sure my principals know when I will be away and that I make arrangements for certain tasks to be covered during that time. I’m very detailed with this.”

“You have to be extremely careful what is said to the principal, as some are understanding and some will have you escorted off the property. I remember trying to reason with a principal regarding needed time off. Not a lot, when working six days a week for months on end; when I finally asked for two consecutive days off, it was ignored. I had been at the job for five or six years, so I was becoming burned out. So I would wait a week and ask again. This went on for over a month. Then the employer flipped out and said, ”I am not having this conversation again!” They left in their car and came back an hour later. At which time, I was asked to give back my keys, phone, credit card, and to leave immediately. As I left, the principal said “Have a good life,” which meant they gave me the ‘middle finger.’”

“The moral of the story is, if you can have a manager talk for you, they are more likely to see results. If you are the manager, have an iron clad contract that spells out EVERYTHING.  Speaking up for yourself may see you fired. Just like having to read your employer, you need to know your own personal boundaries and what your body is telling you. I am a good saver, so I always have an emergency fund.  Being in this business for decades, I have the sense that material items bring people zero happiness. The cars are nicer, the trips more elaborate, wardrobes of Couture clothes, it doesn’t give someone the right to use you as a pawn in a chess game. Life is short, working an 8-hour shift is a fun job; 14-hour shifts, months on end, just create burnout.

“Do yourself a favor: Make sure you work in a staffed home. One luxury vehicle costs $150,000, $400,000 and up, not to mention airplanes and yachts. So why people won’t hire another worker to lessen the burden on the staff, is just baffling. I don’t blame them, but they do experience a lot of turnover, which does not benefit them.”

Obviously, providing sufficient notice of vacations is important:

“I currently have to give four or more weeks notice, and preferably schedule for when the family is out of town.”

“I just need to make sure I make them aware of time off as much in advance as possible.”

“The higher I am in the food chain, the more I seem to work. Truthfully, the best jobs on an estate are the groundskeeper and the housekeeper. They arrive, work, take their 15-minute breaks, lunch breaks, and leave after the shift is over. Often, I think of saying ‘No’ to taking on extra work, but there is usually pushback from the homeowner, like I am disappointing them.

“There are fabulous employers, kind, considerate and who employ enough staff. Then there are cruel and selfish people. If there were 7-10 people before you on your job in a five-year period, it’s not a good position. Even if you think you can be the ‘one’ who is capable of the job, better to examine why the turnover is on such a grand scale.”

Looking at whether a lack of a personal life ever impinged upon the butler’s or estate manager’s life and performance, it seems this is part of the job description..

“As we all know, we are in the kind of job that is very demanding. For the most part, we have very little-to-no personal life. Long hours and some long work weeks. Even when off, most of us are on-call 24/7/365. I have been at dinner with friends and had to ask for the bill halfway through because the house alarm went off and the police or fire department were on their way. The only time I feel I can really relax is when I’m a plane ride away—smile.”

“I typically work at the residence 45-hours a week, plus I’m on call 24/7. My principals usually don’t contact me on the weekends unless it’s an emergency. They do email and text me a lot though. I make sure that I always acknowledge that I received their messages and, where I can, answer them as soon as possible.”

“I had a twelve-year relationship and currently am in a twenty-year relationship, but I have not married because of my crazy work schedule. My clients have multiple homes, private planes, and yachts. Traveling for work, I am gone 13 days a month, month after month, year after year. Through my work, I live vicariously the lives of high-wealth families. Back and forth from home, devoting my life to my job, not my personal life or wellbeing. My pattern has been, one family at a time: Nanny-6 years, housekeeper 10 years. I hate to say it, but six + years seems to be my threshold as a manager—this is my fourth job as a manager and I just passed the seven-year mark—I would like to break the pattern!”

Asked for the best approach for dealing with schedules that are too demanding, the following was offered:

“You have to speak up early if you see an unacceptable pattern developing. I had one position that my boss would say, as I was leaving after a late night, ‘Thank you for a job well done, no need to come in until lunch time.” Then I have had other bosses who, when you leave at 2am, with hardly a ‘Thank You!’ expect to see you at the same start-time later that day, as though nothing had ever happened; it’s all very sad.”

“Good communication is the key.  Make time to schedule one-on-one meetings to discuss the demands and how they can be accomplished.  I had a mentor many years ago who instilled in me the discipline that if ever I approached him with a problem, I had better also suggest a couple of viable solutions.”

“This is so tricky. First, I hate to make anyone lazy, but the more you do, the more is expected. This is not for every client, some are fair, wonderful, and want a professional atmosphere. Others want to drive you like a plow horse. There needs to be a household manual, with time off and fair business-practices in place. I do make people work, but I don’t grind out a workload that is impossible to follow. I had a principal go through 15 housekeepers in 3 months. How is that even possible? As soon as they were trained, they either walked off the job or they experienced the infamous escorting off the property by security. A homeowner has to be compassionate and have empathy, otherwise they are just better off hiring a cleaning service to do the heavy cleaning. Let the housekeeper(s) do the day-to-day organizing, laundry, ironing, mopping and cleaning.”

“Laugh, love your family, enjoy your friends. Learn to deep breathe, do daily meditation, yoga, exercise, draw, have a hobby or find your gratitude through prayers. Old-monied families are easier to work for, they want a lifestyle and can afford it. The more ‘stuff’ your employer has, and the newer the money, I think the less-understanding they have of what constitutes a fair workload. Again, it depends on the family. I love my career, it is live theater all the time. But I am not the TV character “Bewitched” who can twitch her nose and have everything done. It is a physical job. Oh, and try not to be your employer’s emotional support very frequently— maybe an emotional-support animal is better. Even smarter, let a professional therapist have that job. The less personal-information you know, the better.”

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.