Shall We Keep our Helper? An Employer’s Dilemma Mirrors that of an Investor’s


There has been a lot of serious discussion going on in my household recently.

My helper has been with us for coming to two years and a decision has to be made soon as to whether she would be continuing. Should we decide not to keep her for another contract, we would have to source for another helper really soon.

There are pros and cons to each course of action. On one hand, our current helper is awesome with the kids. Not only does she ensure that they are clean and well fed, she also plays well with them. The kids are always happy to see her as she is to see them. With her i know for sure that the kids are safe. That I feel, is the biggest draw.

She is also able to keep the household running with minimal intervention from us. Clothes gets washed, dinner is prepared, the house is kept clean and tidy. In doing so, she has fulfilled the basic end of her bargain.

On the other hand, there is room to be desired. We noticed that she is tiring out more often recently. She also started to appear distracted somewhat. The chores still gets done, although in a less prompt fashion.

She has her mobile but we are adamant about her not having one with a camera. That has been the agreement. Recently though, she told a fellow helper (bad move bad move) that she has purchased one for herself without our knowledge. We did not want to confront her outright so we are monitoring the situation.

She also appeared to be more impatient with my mother. Not to the point of defiance but the capacity for that is definitely there.

The Dilemma

The situation is not so dire that it warrants our immediate attention and action. If she had been in the middle of her term we would have just left things the way they are. Now that we need to make a decision, it presents a dilemma.

Had she been royally bad, we would have sent her home without a second thought. She isn’t. She is also not so brilliant that we would want to keep her at all cost.

The household is split down the line. I am in the ‘Remain’ camp. To me, the pros outweigh the cons. The kids are my priority. She is good in that department and up till now there is no showstopper for her continued employment. The thought of sourcing for and onboarding another helper is daunting and it sucks up precious bandwidth.

The new help may be brilliant. She might also be as sucky as hell. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

My wife is the ‘Leave’ camp captain. She sees these issues as precursor to bigger problems in the future. Rather nip the problem in the bud than allow it to go full blown. Even though my helper did mention that she would like to continue, her heart is simply not here anymore. That is something no amount of managing can change.

Besides, my wife suggests, the new helper may take a bit of time to get into the groove of things but she might turn out to be most hardworking and conscientious.

Motivational Focus

In their 2013 book Focus: Using Different Ways of Seeing the World for Success and Influence, Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins bought up the concept of Motivational Focus.

According to them, Motivational Focus affects how we approach life’s challenges and handle its demands. We can divide people into two different groups based on their Focus.

Promotion Focused people play to win. They concentrate at the rewards and it is the rewards that keep them going. They dream big and dream creatively. They are comfortable at taking chances. People who are Promotion Focused look at the big picture and leave the minute stuff to others.

Unfortunately, in doing so they tend to be more prone to errors and are less likely to think things over as thoroughly. They also usually do not have a backup plan for situations where things go really wrong.

People who are Prevention Focused are the exact opposite. They play the defensive game, and their mantra in life is ‘Not Losing is Winning’. They often worry about what may go wrong and strive to maintain status quo. They end up doing more meticulous work and they will have their fair share of admirers. Detractors though, will claim that they are too safe and boring and that they will never achieve any breakthrough.

Assuming everyone starts at Point Zero. Promotion Focused people are constantly thinking about how to get to One while Prevention Focused people are fixated about staying at Zero and not dropping to Minus One.

Motivational Focus is a great concept for human resource practitioners, marketing and sales personnel, and team leaders who want to better motivate their crew. It allows us to understand why others work and react they way they do all the time. In my case, it also allows us within the family to understand where we stand.

Can someone be both promotion and prevention focused at the same time then? According to Halvorson and Higgins, the key word is dominant.

Although everyone is concerned at various times with both promotion and prevention, most of us have a dominant motivational focus. It affects what we pay attention to, what we value, and how we feel when we succeed or fail. It determines our strengths and weaknesses, both personally and professionally.

Focus in Investing

The concept of Motivational Focus applies highly to investors and investing.

We might be in a state of promotion when we join the Toto queue. Our concerns might be on prevention when we are preparing to up our insurance coverage. But over time, we will revert to our dominant trait.

Promotion Focused investors are risk magnets. They actively seek out new and exciting investment opportunities. They look at the upside and often have no inkling of what the downside could be like. Or they think they do, but in actual fact they have only given the downside a cursory thought.

They tend to take action more quickly, sometimes without thinking through the entire prospect throughly. Many of them do not track their performance. A lot of them do not know how much commission they are paying for their trades. They simply cannot be bothered with these details. On many occasions, they invest and forget and move on to other things. This is especially so on investments that have not done too well.

Promotion Focused investors look to George Soros (or Donald Trump, if you can call him an investor) as their role model. They want to win, and they want to win big.

Prevention Focused investors take a different track altogether. On one extreme, they are so cautious that they fixed deposit and lock up everything they can afford to. The pain of losing money constantly to inflation is a lesser one than that of losing to market movements.

Unlike their Promotion Focused counterparts, Prevention Focused investors never forget. In fact, they will always be beating themselves up over the investment that went sour two decades ago and they are determined never to allow that to happen again.

More balanced Prevention Focused people do have the requisites for being great investors though. They are consistent and meticulous, and the fear of losing keeps them from doing silly things with their money. Case in point, Warren Buffett with his quintessential investing rules. Rule #1. Don’t Lose Money and Rule #2. Don’t Forget Rule #1.

Investors who are prevention focused makes good money caretakers. To become great investors, they have to look beyond losing all the time and entertain the possibility of winning.

In Conclusion

We have long insisted that the key to successful investing is in understanding ourselves as an individual. In doing so, we can capitalise on our strengths and keep a closer watch on our weaknesses. When you have a quiet moment today, do ponder over the issue of whether you are Promotion or Prevention Focused. The awareness will be most helpful.

Even better still, spend some time discussing this with your spouse. It might help you to understand why one of you is always playing to win while the other is bent on preventing losses.

As for us, no prizes for guessing what we will be talking about. The decision on the helper looms near.


Dive, snowboard and have moved house five times in the last ten years. Miraculously filled up every single page in my passport before it expired. Manage risk for a living.
Read These Next

2 thoughts on “Shall We Keep our Helper? An Employer’s Dilemma Mirrors that of an Investor’s”

  1. Jon, I am interest to learn deeper into your decision point to keep or not to keep your domestic helper. Obviously I do not have full information of your situation, Therefore, take it with a pinch of salt.

    The old saying is a bird in hand is ……. Another saying is, jumping out of the pan into the fire. Wishful thinking is like seeing a high probability signal to trade, yet the professional trader is fully prepared to take a loss and move on. Can you bet your luck on a sure win to have your next helper more “ideal”, and to your satisfaction?

    The past record of your helper seemed good, yet she “changed” towards the end of her contract. Why the “change”, did you know? Was it your feeling, or was it reality?

    When I was managing a team of 400 people, I never judge their performance, When I felt they were not performing, I asked them to tell me what happened. Together, we identifed the real issue so we had the proper solution. I learnt to separate symptom from the real cause, which helped to remove the colored lens through which I assess things.

    Was the change you see in your helper the symptom? Was it a fact?

    You might have gone through the process to come to your conclusion. When the decision is made, go for it, just make sure your stop loss is there to protect you. Good luck.

    James Hon

    • Thanks James, wise words from a wise man indeed.

      An analogy. Let’s say you have a car. You drove it for many years. It is not perfect. Scratches and dents here and there. On some mornings it makes a rattling sound, and the air con is not too cold on hot afternoons.

      It has never failed to start though and it can be trusted to get you to your destination faster than public transport definitely.

      In a couple of months time, the COE will run out. You are now faced with the decision to scrap and get a new car or to renew, service the aircon and the brakes and continue driving it.

      That is the decision we face now. No amount of fixing will transform a 10 year old Toyota into a brand new BMW. Small tweaks and slight improvements yes, but thats about all.

      And that is the reality we are facing now.

      Tell you more about it over dinner soon!


Leave a Comment