Household Workers

The nature of the tasks performed by household workers can best be described by function. The general houseworker or dayworker is hired by the hour and fulfills numerous duties ranging from cleaning and making beds to buying, cooking, and serving food. The personal attendant performs personal services for the employer, such as mending, washing, and pressing garments; helping the employer dress; and keeping private quarters clean and tidy. Caretakers and yard workers do heavy housework and general home maintenance. They wash windows, wax floors, maintain heating and cooling systems, do odd jobs, and occasionally mow lawns or work in the garden.

Most households in the country can only afford to hire general houseworkers to work part time. These workers dust and polish furniture; sweep, mop, and wax floors; vacuum; and clean ovens, refrigerators, and bathrooms. They also wash dishes, polish silver, and take care of the laundry. Other duties may include looking after a child or an elderly family member, feeding and walking pets, calling and waiting for repair workers, and performing various errands. Houseworkers may have a regular set of duties, or they may be given different responsibilities each time they are engaged.

In larger, wealthier households, housekeepers usually have more responsibility and less supervision. At the pinnacle is the home housekeeper, who manages a household with a large staff of full-time workers. The home housekeeper directs the staff 's activities, orders food and cleaning supplies, keeps a record of household expenses, and may even hire and fire workers.

The domestic laundry worker, launderer, or presser is usually restricted to the functions of maintaining clothes. The cook has broader responsibilities. The cook plans menus or works with the home housekeeper or family to plan special diets, prepares the food, serves meals, and performs such duties as making preserves and fancy pastries.

Child-care workers are responsible for the overall welfare of children in a household. They may wake them in the morning, put them to bed at night, and also bathe, dress, and feed them. They supervise the children's play and in-home educational activities and discipline them, if necessary. They may also take them to the doctor or other appointments.

Nannies usually care for children from birth to their preteen years. In addition to some general housekeeping duties, nannies oversee the children's early health, nutrition, and education, among other tasks.

Governesses assist in the general upbringing of children, from helping them with schoolwork, to teaching them a foreign language or other special skill, to ensuring that they learn proper manners. They may also perform some regular housekeeping duties.

Companions are on more of a par with their employers; indeed, they often are of the same social background. Their prime responsibility is to act as an aid or friend to a person who is elderly, disabled, convalescent, or merely living alone. Companions may tend to their employer's personal needs, such as bathing, dressing, and dispensing medicine. They may also look after social and business affairs, read to their employers, write letters or e-mails for them, and perhaps most important, provide them with company.

Although women predominate in private household work, men also work in this field. A valet performs personal services for a male employer, such as caring for clothing, mixing and serving drinks, and running errands. The butler, like the home housekeeper, may supervise other household workers, assigning and coordinating their work. He also receives and announces guests, answers the telephone, and serves drinks. He may assign these duties to a second butler. A butler who is in charge of a large household staff is often called a majordomo.

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