Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in the movie Groundhog Day. I get a call, email, or message from a nanny that’s unhappy with one or more aspects of her job. My first question is always “What did you agree to in the interview?” That usually leads to the admission that they didn’t really talk about the issue during the interview or they talked about it in vague terms but didn’t really get into the details.
Why does this keep happening? Why do nannies skip talking about things that are known to be trouble makers in the employment relationship? There are some caregivers that are new to the field and don’t know the issues that should be covered. Others know the issues but they’re afraid too many questions will turn off a potential employer. And others just don’t ask because they want to stay in denial about potential problems. The job fits in other ways and honestly, they need a regular paycheck.
Whatever the reason, the result is the same. The nanny quickly becomes unhappy in the job and she either ends up leaving on less than ideal terms or she suffers her way through the year. Either way, it’s not good for the nanny, the parents, or the kids.
So with the idea that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, here’s my list of things that you should cover during the interview process and fully commit to before you say yes to a job. If you skip talking about these issues, don’t be surprised when problems pop up, don’t blame the parents for being unreasonable or selfish, and don’t assume you can just renegotiate the terms you were hired under to better fit your needs. (You wouldn’t want a family coming to you a month into a job and saying “We’ve realized it’s too expensive to pay you guaranteed hours” or “We’d like you to do more housekeeping when the baby is sleeping” simply because they realized after hiring you the agreements they made during the interview don’t really work for them.) When you accept a job, you accept the terms the family is offering. If you don’t know those terms, you’re basically committing to whatever the family has in mind. So get clear around the things that are important to you and make well-informed choices that you’re going to be happy with over the long haul.
My List of Trouble Spots You Can Avoid With Effective Interviewing
My best piece of advice is to create and sign a comprehensive nanny contract before you start any nanny job. No matter how much you love the family. No matter how thoroughly you’ve talked through the important issues. No matter how confident you are that they’d never take advantage of you. A contract doesn’t just protect you from “bad” employers. It protects you from miscommunicated expectations, flawed assumptions and those times when one side forgets what was agreed to. It’s a smart idea for every situation.
And for those nannies that are considering accepting a job on the promise that you’ll have a signed contract soon, remember it’s much harder to get a contract in place once you’ve started because the “she won’t start without it’ urgency is gone.
This HUGE topic has so many moving pieces that it’s impossible to address in this article. So let me just say that you should make sure you’re on the same page as the parents in all the areas that truly matter to you. Don’t expect the parents to change once you’re on the job. If things doing line up during the interview, walk away.
Every nanny job description is different so it’s essential that you fully understand what you’re responsible for before accepting the job. Don’t rely on terms like “child-related duties” or “light housekeeping”. Sit down with the parents and create a specific list of the tasks you’ll be expected to complete each day, week, and season. Don’t forget to include frequency and deadlines when writing up the contract.
Surprisingly a fair number of nannies accept a job without knowing exactly what pay rate the family is offering. They’ve discussed pay in general terms during the interview so the nanny knows the expected range (e.g. “we’re paying $800 a week”, “we think $17 an hour will work for us”) but not the exact rate. Before you say yes, you should know EXACTLY what your hourly rate is and when overtime kicks in.
This is a topic that parents and nannies often talk about in vague terms but don’t work out the details until it’s too late. Often the family and nanny agree to “do things legally” but the family thinks that means giving the nanny a 1099 at the end of the year and the nanny thinks that means having taxes withheld each week. Obviously one side is going to be in for a huge tax headache come January. And that side is usually the nanny. So before committing to a job, make sure it’s detailed in your contract what type of taxes your employer will be taking out each paycheck so there are no end-of-year surprises.
Guaranteed hours, when the nanny is paid her typical wages when the family doesn’t need her, are a standard benefit for full-time nannies. However guaranteed hours are still a benefit that needs to be negotiated, not assumed. Include guaranteed hours as a “must have” in your compensation package and make sure to include all the details in your nanny contract.
Extra Paid Time Off
So guaranteed hours means you get paid when you’re available to work but the family doesn’t need you. So you still get your full paycheck when they take off Thursday afternoon for a long weekend or head out on a two week vacation. But what about the “available” part? That means that if the family wants you to come over and disinfect the toys, change the kids’ seasonal clothes, organize the playroom, or go shopping for school supplies, you’re obligated to do those things. There’s a difference between guaranteed hours, when you have to be available to work, and extra paid time off, when you’re truly off. If the parents say you’ll have “extra time off” during the year because of family vacations, visits from relatives, or long weekends at the shore, make sure you clarify in your contract how that time will be treated.
Using Your Own Car for Work
A nanny who drives her own car for work purposes is entitled to receive reimbursement for each mile driven at the IRS mileage rate, currently 56 cents per mile. Many families assume there’s no additional cost for a nanny to use her own car for work so don’t be surprised if paying mileage isn’t something your potential employers automatically offer. This is one of those issues that doesn’t require a lot of negotiation, it’s more about awareness.
Working with a Parent at Home
If you’re interviewing with a stay-at-home or work-from-home parent, this is an easy question to answer. But these days, there are lots of parents that technically work from an office but spend a fair amount of time working from home too. If you don’t want to work side-by-side with a parent, ask very specific questions around this issue and make it clear that you’re looking for a job where both parents work full-time outside of the home. And be prepared to explain your preference in positive terms. You don’t want to leave them wondering why having a parent around makes you uncomfortable.
Leaving the House With the Kids
Most parents want the nanny to take the kids on regular outings to fun places like music class, the park, and the zoo. However there are some parents who don’t feel comfortable with the nanny driving the kids, who don’t see the need to leave the yard and neighborhood, or who don’t want to pay the extra cost of mileage. In all the years I’ve worked with nannies, I’ve only met a handful of caregivers that were OK with being housebound all day. In every other case, the nanny hated it and the restriction quickly becomes a constant complaint. So before you say yes to a job, make sure you get the green light for regular outings with the kids. And if the family says not now but soon (e.g. once the baby is 4 months old, once we get to know you a bit better) add that promise to your contract, include a solid deadline, and let the parents know that if the promise isn’t kept you won’t be staying in the job.
Bringing Your Own Child To Work
If you have a child or are pregnant and are looking for a family that’s comfortable with you bringing your child to work, this isn’t a grey area. It’s a straightforward yes or no from the family. However if you’re planning on having a baby in the next few years and are looking for a job where you can bring your child, it’s a more complicated conversation because there are so many unknown variables. You’re asking a family to make a huge commitment based on assumptions around how it will work and how they will feel so it’s essential that you explore the issue in-depth so they can make the most informed decision possible.
It’s easy to assume that a “good family” will allow you to bring your child to work. They want the best care for their child so of course they’ll understand that you want to give that same great care to your child too. Don’t let yourself fall into that type of thinking. There are many kind and caring families who simply have a different take on the option. That doesn’t mean they don’t value you or care about your family. It just means their needs don’t align with yours.
Picking Up After the Family
This seemingly small issue is one of the biggest complaints nannies have. The nanny leaves the playroom spotless on Friday afternoon and she comes back to a disaster on Monday morning. The parents leaves dishes in the sink, shoes and jackets sprawled all over the mud room floor, or laundry in the washing machine. Yes, it’s the family’s home but it’s also your workspace. If this is something that will bother you (and if you’re like 99% of nannies, it will), discuss the family’s cleaning habits around the shared areas of the house. Unless the family is naturally neat, expect them to leave some messes. The question is how often they leave them, how big they are, and how much can you deal with and stay happy in the job.
Input From Nanny
Some families view their nanny as an in-house expert on all things child-related and rely on her to help guide them through the behavior challenges, ages and stages transitions, buying decisions and other questions that come up with kids. Other families equally value their nanny’s knowledge and experience yet want to make their own decisions without input from their caregiver. Neither of these approaches is right or wrong, they just reflect two different ways of doing things. If it’s important for you to have input on discipline and behavior issues, ages and stages challenges, activities, product purchases and other kid-related questions, make sure you talk about that before accepting the job. And make sure you talk about how much input they’re comfortable receiving. If your idea of “input” is being an equal part of the decision making team and their idea is reading an article you’ve shared and then making the decision on their own, you’re going to have a problem.
Technology has made it relatively cheap and easy for families to keep an eye on what’s happening at home. Some parents still use the traditional hidden camera but more and more are using live streaming cameras so they can check in on their kids and the nanny at any time. And those cameras often come with an audio component so the parents can both see and hear what’s happening. (Recording audio is illegal in some states but live streaming audio is legal for parents to use.) If you’re a nanny that doesn’t want to work in a home with cameras or who is only willing to do so with full disclosure from the family, you should make sure the parents agree to your terms before you take the job.
Bad Weather Days
This past winter proved that bad weather days can impact nannies in all areas of the country. There are two big questions you have to ask around this issue. One, who decides when the conditions make it unsafe for a nanny to get to work? And two, is the nanny required to come in if the employer is staying home? The answers will give you some good insight into the parents’ employer style and if their attitude works for you, the details should be included in your contract.
Things You Won’t Do
If there are things that are reasonable to expect in a nanny job but you absolutely won’t do, you should disclose those things during the interview so the family can make an informed hiring decision. Won’t mow the yard? Since it’s not a reasonable expectation, you don’t need to bring it up. Won’t work with dogs? That’s something you need to tell a family in advance. They may not have a pet now but it’s reasonable to assume they may want to add a puppy to the family later on. Other issues that I’ve seen pop up that should have been disclosed include a nanny who will not:
· get any type of vaccine because of personal beliefs or medical concerns
· use disposable diapers because she feels it’s environmentally irresponsible
· buy, handle, or cook meat because she’s a vegetarian
· swim in public pools because of the “yuck” factor
· drive in the city because she’s anxious in city traffic
· install car seats because of liability issues
For most nannies, “won’t do” issues will come up in other parts of the interview. For example, if you won’t rock a toddler to sleep for naps because you believe he should be able to fall asleep on his own by that age, that should come up in the childcare philosophy part of the interview. If you won’t clean bathrooms because you consider that outside of the nanny’s role, that should come up in the responsibilities part of the interview. If you have a “won’t do” item that didn’t come up, it’s your responsibility to bring it up. Otherwise you might be faced with a “live with it or leave the job” decision.
This wasn’t an issue I was including in my interviews information 10 years ago. But today, it’s an important part of a successful match. Consider things like:
· food choices: organic, non-processed, etc.
· chemicals in toys, personal products, etc.
· green cleaning
· cloth diapering
· commitment to recycling, composting, etc.
· use of environmentally friendly vehicles, public transportation, and foot and peddle power
Wherever you are on the crunchy index, make sure your family is close to the same place. And if they’re not, that you can happily live with the differences.
Hopefully this article will help you find that just right match in your next search. And I’d love to hear YOUR list of things you always talk about.