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How have private household roles changed since the days of Downton Abbey?

  • Publish Date: Posted almost 5 years ago
  • Author:by Collette Negre

Although viewers of Downton Abbey may think that domestic service has now largely died out, especially in these days of greater social mobility, this isn’t the case. Times have certainly changed; gone are the “Upstairs, Downstairs” days when decorum and deference were the norm. However, white collar professionals still recruit nannies, high net worth individuals still require chefs and housekeepers, and owners of landed estates and multiple homes continue to recruit a wide range of indoor and outdoor staff.

Many of these jobs are now done by migrants aiming for a steady income and a better life. Britain’s exit from the EU may ultimately reduce the source of candidates from the European Union, but so far there is no significant evidence of this happening.

The impact of technology
One big change since the days of Downton Abbey is the emergence of technology in the home. Washing machines and dryers have replaced laundresses, and dishwashers along with all sorts of kitchen gadgetry have replaced kitchen maids. New roles have been created, such as pilots for private jets, and estate managers are now expected to be as proficient at managing computers and spreadsheets as they are at managing staff.

But interestingly, despite the sophisticated household gadgets and cleaning products on the market, there is a growing preference for being eco-conscious, and returning to more traditional methods of cleaning, such as using lemons and vinegar on limescale, and bicarbonate of soda on stains.

Societal norms
The way of life “upstairs” has changed too: although there is still demand for ladies maids, many more women are now out in the workforce, so may not be as deeply involved in the intricacies of household management as they were before. As a result, household staff are expected to be more proactive and take the initiative, rather than just follow orders.

Staff in the Downton era often came from families with a history of working in private service, and they rose through the ranks. Senior private service roles now require a degree and significant experience in similar roles, or a background in five-star hospitality.

Today’s workforce is also more mobile; in the past, household staff generally stayed for the duration of their career, whereas now it is unusual for staff to stay in their role for a long length of time.

Remuneration and perks
Remuneration has definitely improved since Downton times. Today’s house managers can earn from £45,000 for a live-in role in the country, all the way up to £120,000 for an international role. Salaries vary widely, depending on experience, the number of properties overseen, whether the role is live-in or live-out, and the amount of travel required. Highly qualified nannies and chefs also earn significantly greater salaries now; even more so if they’re working for clients overseas.
Pensions weren’t offered back then, whereas now they are mandatory for staff on payroll. Additional benefits can include a discretionary bonus (most employers now offer them), and often include a grace-and-favour property for live-in staff, plus use of a car.

So, although times have changed since Downton Abbey, the institution of domestic service continues to survive and even thrive. But ultimately human nature doesn’t change, and employers still look for the same attributes in their staff as they did in the past: discretion, trustworthiness, and a calm and competent demeanour.

If you’re looking for new staff, or for a new role, please do get in touch. We have over 20 years’ experience in private household recruitment, and would love to help!

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