DEAR AMY: The woman I have employed to clean my house for several years has a very difficult life. She’s a hard worker, does a beautiful job and is completely trustworthy. But, like so many people in her situation, her financial situation is extremely precarious. I pay her very well and am generous at Christmas, birthdays and so on. When she is faced with a sudden emergency such as her car breaking down, I will give her some extra money to tide her over. She always says she’ll find a way to pay me back, but we both know that won’t happen. These extra amounts probably total around $1,000 a year, overall. I am able to afford to help her, and am so glad to be able to do this. I tell myself that I choose to support her instead of a far-off charity, although I contribute to organized charities, too. She is always tearful and very grateful, but I am increasingly uncomfortable. I hate being put in the position of being her “last resort.” The last time she came to me, she needed $300. I would feel awful knowing she was going to lose her apartment or something, but I cringe when she walks in the door, wondering what it’s going to be this time. How do you think I should handle this?
Trying to be Kind
DEAR TRYING: If you are willing to spend $1,000 annually to help this person, you could either raise her pay by that amount — and perhaps be willing to say no to any extra entreaties, or put aside that amount into a private “emergency fund.” Having this money (figuratively) set aside might ease your anxiety about her next “ask” by simply adjusting your mindset.
As she draws down the fund, you will have to decide what to do if she asks for over the amount within the course of a year. You should also do some research to see if there are local organizations that might help with her utility bill (for instance), or with emergency needs.
You could also help by recommending her high-quality cleaning service to others. Income from an additional client might give her the cushion she needs.
You are doing the right thing to help. Many hardworking people are, as you note, one car repair (or trip to the doctor) away from disaster.
DEAR AMY: I recently had a difficult anniversary of a loved one’s death, and was under a lot of pressure at work. I ended up treating my intern badly (I was hypercritical and micromanaging). She switched supervisors and badmouthed me to my colleagues (she tended to badmouth people, so I should’ve seen that coming). The intern has now completed her internship and is now working elsewhere. I feel so ashamed of how I treated her, and frankly am shocked at myself, because that’s not how I normally behave. I am now having a hard time forgiving myself because I know there’s no excuse for treating someone badly, no matter the stress I was under. How do I begin to move on from this?
DEAR SAD: The path toward forgiving yourself starts with acknowledging your behavior to the person you have wronged. You should also ask that person to forgive you.
Contact the former intern through email or a Facebook private message. Write: “I feel very guilty for how I treated you. I was going through a very stressful and rough patch in my own life, which is not an excuse, but an explanation for my behavior, which was unprofessional and unkind. You deserved better from me, and I regret that I didn’t take the opportunity to apologize to you in person. I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me. I wish you all the very best in your career.”
Understand that this person could copy and paste and share your apology with others, depending on her motivation and maturity level. Regardless of where your apology lands, you will have demonstrated an important attitude of acknowledgment.
Then, you should make an effort to turn the page, understanding that like all of us, you occasionally make very human mistakes in your professional life.
DEAR AMY: “Perplexed in NY” was judgmental about a family member (who was hurting financially) who never brought gifts to celebrations. Thank you for noting that receiving gifts is not the purpose of hosting a celebration.
DEAR NOT: Exactly. This attitude is why some people are accused of “gift grabbing.”