Does Work Relationship Matter? Enhancing the Effect of Work Relationship Between Frail Older People and Live-In Foreign Domestic Helpers on Subjective Well-Being of Older People

Project: Research

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Background: In many industrialized societies including Hong Kong, there is an increasing trend to employforeign domestic helpers (FDHs) as paid caregivers to take care of older people suffering from physicaland/or cognitive impairments. In Hong Kong, FDHs are mainly women coming from Philippines andIndonesia. The fact that the FDHs are co-residing with the elders makes the work relationship between theelders and the FDHs especially critical in affecting the well-being of the elders. The elder-FDH relationshipis an intriguing topic because of its very unique nature: it lies in the border between formal workrelationship in a work setting and emotionally close relationship similar to kinship. The relationship is alsochallenged by the great differences in socio-cultural backgrounds between the FDHs and the elders, such asdifferences in language, religion, ethnic origin, diet and even cooking methods. Despite the rapid growth ofstudies on FDHs in other parts of the world, there is a dearth of local studies on FDHs, and none on thequality of work relationship between the elders and the FDHs nor on the impacts of elder-FDH relationshipon the wellbeing of the frail elders. This study aims to fill this knowledge gap.Study goals: Ferris and colleagues (2009) proposed a multidimensional conceptualization for understandingthe quality of dyadic work relationship. This project will adopt Ferris et al.’s conceptual framework toexamine the quality of work relationship between the frail elders and the FDHs in terms of four dimensions(i.e. instrumentality, trust, affect, and emotional support). It is expected that the quality of work relationshipis better when there is a balanced or positive discrepancy between the elder’s care expectation and the actualoutcome of care provided by the FDH (i.e., expectation-outcome, [EOD]). Moreover, as proposed by theSocioemotional Selectivity Theory (Carstensen, 2006), perception of limited future time motivates olderpeople to focus more on interaction with a small group of emotionally close social partners, andintentionally drop peripheral partners. Past research also demonstrated that support given by emotionallyclose social partners, such as family or kin members, are important to well-being of older people. It ishypothesized that the elder-FDH work relationship can be affected by the elder’s perceived closeness withthe FDH. Therefore, the second objective of the study is to find out whether the perceived closeness with theFDHs by older people will moderate the relationship between the quality of work relationship and the elders’subjective well-being (SWB).Method: The proposed project will consist of two studies. A cross-sectional survey (Study 1) will first beconducted among 250 matched pairs of older people and their FDHs (N=500). Through the assistance oflocal community centers and day care centers for the elderly, older people meeting the following selectioncriteria will be recruited: elders who are community-dwelling, aged 65 or above, being taken care of byFDHs at home, capable of verbal communication, and mildly or moderately cognitively and/or functionallyimpaired. Screening test will be administered for cognitive and physical functioning before the interview.The elder and FDHs will be asked to provide responses to parallel questions on the 4 dimensions of workrelation, the perceived emotional closeness with the dyadic partner, and SWB of the elders. In Study 2, twowaves of follow-up surveys at 6-month intervals will be conducted among a subsample of 80 dyads, 40 withemotionally close dyadic relationship and 40 dyads taking each other as work partners. Each group willinclude a good mix of different backgrounds (e.g. health condition, living arrangement and housing types) toexamine the longitudinal impact of work relationship and perceived closeness with the dyadic partner onSWB of older adults.This study is the first study in HK that examines the elder-FDH relationship by collecting the views directlyfrom both the elders and the FDHs. The longitudinal study (i.e. 3 waves of data collection for 80 dyads) willverify the causal effect of the dyadic relationship and emotional closeness on elders’ SWB. Findings of theproject will provide insights and recommendations on policy directions and support measures that willpromote the dyadic relationship between elders and the FDHs, and ultimately enhance the well-being of thefrail elders.


Project number9042099
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1521/12/18

    Research areas

  • foreign domestic helpers,older people,subjective well-being , work relationship ,