Newsletter Steven Ferry

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

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Editor Note: We had just one brave soul responding this week—I am sure preparing for lockdown etc. is not only upsetting but also takes a lot of attention. Let’s not allow our attention to be completely distracted from our work by all the noise—panic is not in a butler’s vocabulary, after all!

Dealing with Dishonesty, Theft, or even Criminality

Have you had to deal with staff who might be described as being dishonest or even criminal? If so, what were they doing that did not work well for the professional home environment?

In my 40 years of service, I have seen my fair share of unethical behavior. Over a decade ago, I worked in a home where the client, a 77 year old male, was verbally abusing and overworking the staff. Though difficult to deal with, I tried not to react but dismissed myself [from each unfortunate interaction] as soon as possible. The butler, whose wife was the Chef, couldn’t take it and, after about 6 months,‘snapped’, grabbing the principal by his shirt collar and shaking him back and forth. Once the incident ended, the man was fired immediately. The client kept the chef, but, about four months later, there was another physical altercation between the chef and the principal’s much younger wife . Obviously, her job was terminated, too. There were no other conversations regarding the domestic couple again. The pressures of the job affects everyone, but physically attacking anyone is never the answer.

What was your approach to dealing with the non-optimum situation?

In a situation where the client is venting on me, and making it personal, I just act stoically, remembering that people act the way they want in their own home. So, if they are having a bad day, sometimes you’re on the receiving end of a not-so-pleasant situation. I back away a few steps, still facing the client, and try to excuse myself, explaining I have a lot of projects to attend to, thereby trying to deactivate the escalation. It is hard to hold your emotions together when your being screamed at, but I have to respect the homeowner. It is difficult not to take it personally, though—I often do.

Have you had to deal with family members or guests who might be described as being dishonest or even criminal? If so, what were they doing that that did not work well for the professional home environment?

I think most families have a manipulator among them. Someone who at the last minute throws a curve ball into the mix. Once a granddaughter wanted to visit for a few days with her boyfriend. They showed up with their two cats, and shortly thereafter, the grandson showed up to stay with his sister. They stayed for months, draining the staff of their energy with demands. First I asked for additional staff, which wasn’t approved. But you cannot have an extra 3 people and two animals, have them stay for months, and not create friction among the staff. Finally, the principal had to ask the grandchildren and menagerie  to vacate the premises, because the principals felt taken advantage of.

What was your approach to dealing with the non-optimum situation?

Well, you can only bring up a subject so many times before your client becomes frustrated with you. Without additional staff, the estate wasn’t being kept the way the client was accustomed. When the subject was broached, it was explained that we needed at least two more staff members to accommodate 3 adults and two animals, who were guests in the home, for three meals a day, snacks, cheese boards, beverages and all the laundry, both bedding and towels, plus their private wardrobe. Then there was the animal care, with cats, feeding, litter boxes and lots of extra vacuuming.

Have you had to deal with employers who might be described as being dishonest or even criminal? If so, what were they doing that that did not work well for the professional home environment?

If the constant pursuit of someone’s spouse is counted, I was always fighting off this man’s advances. He had a mistress, one of his wife’s best friends, who hung herself in the shower eventually. The rumor was that she wrapped a phone cord around her neck and the top the the shower head, and sat down, which I thought sounded odd. When his wife made up her mind to leave him, he took a butcher knife and sliced their mattress to shreds and hung a noose on a tree outside the window. Creepy. Then his wife asked if I had engaged in sex with her husband. Shocked, I stated that even though I was a domestic worker, I considered her a friend. She then blurted out that I was the only friend who didn’t have sex with her husband. Nutshell: Wealth and power can create a stagnant existence in some people, whereby sick intentions can be carried out without much blowback or punishment.

What was your approach to dealing with the non-optimum situation?

At first, I simply changed jobs without burning my bridges. Especially as I had worked with the family for ten years before the final incident. At that point, I actually moved out of the state. Not necessarily because of what happened, though deep down, I was not going to work for the husband after the divorce, which was drama-filled and anxiety ridden. I did work for the ex-wife on occasion when I would come home and visit my family. Since we stayed in touch, she always asked me to come by if I had time on my vacation. She missed me and loved the way I was loyal to her.

Any edifying or amusing anecdotes?

I have witnessed my fair share of unbecoming behavior. As long as I can be true to my ethical standards, I can withstand almost anything as long I am not involved in any deceit. Theft is a different story. Unlike a lot of people, I am never cool with thieves. Debauchery, well, your responsibility is not to judge, it is their life, not yours. If you are going to report something, you better have enough corroborating  evidence to support your claims, otherwise you look like a troublemaker. I have outside activities, when I have time off, like yoga for relaxation, my religion for guidance, and art for a creative outlet.

Ed: Many thanks to the Estates Manager who filled in the survey—you know who you are 🙂

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.