The Washington Post

@Work Advice: How to deal with hired ‘helpers’ who are more interested in helping themselves

Reader: I am at home recovering from a long illness. I pay several aides, all relatives or friends, to come help me for a few hours a day with home care and light housekeeping. I show my appreciation by rounding up their hours to give them extra money; occasionally treating to lunch or a movie or a small gift; and offering them their choice of downsized items from my giveaway pile. However, I am unprepared for their endless attempts to extract more from me. I regularly deal with the following: “That looks delicious. Is it?” Or, “I’m hungry.” And the one that really puts me in an awkward position: picking up an item that’s not in the giveaway pile and asking, “Can I have this?” I have responded using humor, avoidance, non sequiturs, and the occasional tall one.

I am tired of dealing with this. If I tell them how uncomfortable their comments make me feel, however, I risk losing their help.

Karla: Behold the dangers of mixing business and personal relationships. Your hired help seems to feel entitled to a paycheck plus the freedom to mooch off the boss without fear of being fired.

Can you replace your ham-handed helpers with professionals? I realize that kind of aid doesn’t come cheap, even if covered by long-term-care insurance or Medicare/Medicaid — but consider what you’re already paying in extra wages and gifts. An Internet search for “home health care agencies” or a conversation with your doctor might turn up affordable part-time options.

@Work Advice columnist Karla Miller (Deb Lindsey/DEB LINDSEY/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

If you simply can’t afford professional help or can’t bring yourself to “fire” your team, you’re going to have to firm up your flimsy boundaries and replace the random rewards with a more consistent system. In short, start treating this as a business arrangement. You are paying them for their time.

Consistency is key. It may seem obvious to you that occasional treats are where the freebies end — but to your aides, it may seem normal to ask for more than has been offered, especially if they’re ... let’s say, “not well brought up.”

To “That looks good” or “I’m hungry”: “Oh, do you need a break to go get yourself some lunch?” Or use your “treat” funds to stock up on snacks. And stop the giveaways. Put away the pile and tell your helpers you’re done downsizing for now; repeat as needed.

After you’ve recovered, host a thank-you party, with gifts if you like. If you’re feeling generous, you can then direct your helpers to any remaining goods, clearly labeled for donation, in the newly reappeared giveaway pile and tell them they may have first pick before the charity truck arrives the next morning.

Karla L. Miller is ready to hear your work dramas and traumas. Send your questions to You also can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork, or Facebook,

Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. Miller, of South Riding, Va., was the winner of the 2011 @Work Advice Contest. E-mail your questions to Karla at



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