How to motivate your Ayi to take initiatives ?


You have an Ayi who has been working with you for months, even sometimes years. But she still doesn’t take initiatives like coming up with meals ideas, buying new vegetables, making more quantities to freeze them, preparing week-end meals in advance,…. And you wonder how can I help my Ayi to do so?

There are some reasons for that and also solutions that I’d like to share with you.

  1. Chinese culture doesn’t necessarily encourage initiatives

Chinese people are hard workers but they often do not like to take initiative. For them it is a “Responsibility” issue, suggesting an idea implies that the person will be in charge of that proposal, beginning to end, and that they will therefore be responsible if it fails. I give you an example. I used to work in a Luxury Chinese Hotel. My manager one day told me “Olivia, why are you fighting so hard for this project. If you don’t follow what the top management suggests and then nobody sign up for this event, it will be your fault “.

For your Ayi, it is exactly the same. She will most probably have this fear of doing things wrong. Think, you are her manager, she is part of your staff: your job is to  encourage her and  help her gaining confidences. She needs to know that you understand that new ideas of menu is often not easy ,but that you are ready to experiment with her without getting upset ,encouraging her initiatives and that she can be rewarded at the end of the year for her effort.

  1. Try to put yourself in her shoes

Let’s say you are an Ayi and your Chinese employer ask you to prepare a meal. Maybe you’ve been to Chinese restaurants, maybe you took a few cooking classes but organizing a balanced meal ,day in and out ,is something else. So even if your Ayi has been working for many years for expat families, remember that food habits are different between countries and even between families from the same countries,so she will be afraid to do things wrong. Second, it is possible that nobody has ever explained her for instance that a portion of soup corresponds to one bowl, that cherry tomatoes are not served as fruits like in China or that we don’t want a dish too be too salty because as we put the salt of the table, everybody can adjust the seasoning once eating. And in China, it is the cook who has to do the right seasoning.

  1. Take some time to sit and talk

Once employed, you may tend to tell her to cook right away or to do the shopping. But have you ever taken some time to talk precisely about your needs and family habits and make a list. Have you ever been shopping with her, explaining her where to find which product ( because don’t remember she can only read Chinese), telling her the brands you like, how to check the expiration date of a product,…Have you ever cook with her ? By cooking, I mean teaching her step by step. The first time you introduce ingredients and tools and you show her how to make the recipe. The second time, she cooks and you watch her. And the third time she cooks alone.

Finally, writing done what a breakfast, a lunch and diner looks like in your family can be useful.

To conclude, let me share with you what my Ayi one day told me : “for Ayis the most difficult is to come up with meals ideas because most of us have never shared a meal with the family we work for. When you have dinner, we are already back home! “

So my biggest advice is take some time at the beginning, sharing with her your habits of shopping, cooking,… You may feel like time is a constraint but be sure that the time you share with her at the beginning is the one you won’t have to spend in the future. After a while you will realize how  confident she feels and how less frustrated you are.

Hope this video was useful. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.

How to help my Ayi take more initiatives ?


Writer: Olivia is the founder of Cuisine mei wenti and expert for expat families ( auprès de) who are lucky to have an ayi at home but don’t have the time and the method to teach her how to make delightful and balanced meals.