Micromanagement is an issue popping up more and more between nannies and parents these days. Maybe it’s because parents can now watch their nanny in action through live streaming cameras all day and that has triggered the need to manage from afar. Or maybe it’s because we have so many new nanny employers who are getting faulty or lacking information about how to effectively create and maintain a successful employment relationship. Whatever the reason, micromanagement is derailing too many otherwise good nanny positions. If you find yourself working for a micromanager, here’s a three step approach that can help you work through the challenges and find success on the other side.
Disclaimer: I use female pronouns when speaking about bosses throughout this article. This doesn’t mean men can’t or don’t micromanage. They do. The choice is for simplicity.
Step One: Understand What’s Going On
It’s You, Not Me
Assuming your work performance is where it should be, it’s important to understand that the issues causing the micromanagement come from your boss, not you. This doesn’t mean your boss is unhinged or a jerk. It just means that she’s dealing with the normal trepidation that comes with leaving her child with a nanny or she’s struggling with a different type of emotional challenge and micromanagement is her go-to coping strategy. Remembering it’s not about you can be a big ask because this management style often shows up as criticism and questioning and that feels very personal. However when you can step back and put space between your emotions and the situation, it helps you move forward in a positive way.
New Nanny Grace Period
If you’re new to your job it’s natural for your boss to worry about leaving her child alone with you. No matter how amazing you are or how well they screened you, it’s a huge leap of faith for parents to trust a virtual stranger with the life of their child. That’s literally what they’re doing. Most parents work through this first phase of fear and anxiety by being more vigilant and involved. This can show up as micromanaging. Don’t panic, it’s a good thing. It shows they want to provide you with clear expectations around hand-on childcare and your other responsibilities, support you as you acclimate to the new job, and most importantly, it shows they’re invested in a real world way in the well-being of their child.
So look at the first couple of months on the job as the trust building phase. Use it to develop a solid foundation with your employers. Ask questions, check in with them to make sure things are going well, and don’t make assumptions around grey area issues. Miscalculated judgment calls like assuming it’s fine to let the baby sleep with a new lovey or leaving the toddler in the back yard to run to the bathroom can cast a net of doubt and anxiety over even calm parents. Trust builds pretty quickly in a good nanny / family relationship and most parents settle into a comfortable employer style. Just give them time.
But what happens when this phase doesn’t end?
What’s Really Going On
When your boss gives you step-by-step instructions on how to change a diaper properly or texts you asking that you check on the toddler because he’s made a sound that might have been a wake up cry (thank you Nest camera!) or calls every afternoon to remind you to pick your charge up from school, you can bet the underlying issues is fear. Fear that you’ll miss something and her child will suffer, fear that if she’s not in control, everything will fall apart and she’ll spend countless hours putting it all back together, fear that you can do it by yourself and she’s really not needed, fear that if something is done a different way she’ll lose her authority in the household, or fear that if things aren’t perfect or close to it, she’s failed as a parent. The list goes on and on. What fears lie underneath your boss’s micromanagement really depends on her life experiences and her beliefs about herself, her place in relationships, and the world in general. One thing is for sure, the only way to move her from that place of fear to a place of stability and calm is through support and communication.
Step Two: Start With Support
One of the best ways to help lessen micromanagement is to help your boss lessen her fear, which often shows up as anxiety or the need to control. Parenting, like nannying, is one of those jobs that make your best traits even more awesome and your worse traits even more troublesome. So if your boss’s natural inclination around new situations is anxiety or the need to control and her go-to coping mechanism is micromanagement, it can quickly become a problem. Acknowledgement and reassurance with a dab of proactive planning can help curb micromanaging before it becomes a permanent part of your employment relationship.
Acknowledging your boss’s feelings – even if you wouldn’t feel the same way or don’t agree with her actions – can help her put her emotions in perspective and start to process and manage them. But how do you acknowledge someone else’s experience if you don’t know them very well and they aren’t openly sharing with you? We can’t ever know for sure what’s going on with another person but we can make intuitive, informed guesses that are often spot on. After all, at our core we’re all more alike than different. So saying “I know it’s hard leaving the details of his day to me. It was hard for me to leave my nanny kids with a babysitter in my last job and I’m not even the parent!” allows your boss to feel like her feelings are normal and that you really do get what she’s going through.
Reassuring your employer that you’re there to take great care of her child can help calm her fears and begin to give her confidence that things can and will be OK without her constant input or supervision. Don’t fall into the “If she hired me, she should trust me and let me do my job!” trap. Fears are not rational players. They invade our psyche and override our rational thoughts. A simple “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure he’s fully covered in sunscreen before we go out.” or “I had my CPST check the car seat installation last night and the seat is installed 100% correctly and we’re good to go for today’s trip to the park.” can make the world of difference to an anxious parent.
Brainstorming some things you can do to help your boss stay connected in an appropriate way can go a long way in taming the micromanaging beast. Simple things like sending a text and update at set times throughout the day or providing a list of tasks accomplished at the end of a shift can help. Throw out some suggestions to your boss and see which ones land best. Ask what ideas she might have. Creating a list together is a wonderful way to start working as a collaborative team.
So when you put those three elements together, it might sound like “I can only imagine how hard it is to go back to work after spending the last 3 months with Sam. You said last week you were just getting your footing as a new parent so this probably feels like things are being turned upside down. (ACKNOWLEDGEMENT) I want you to know that Sam is my top priority and I’m fully focused on taking great care of him. (REASSURANCE) I know you’re concerned about him eating enough so I thought we could sign up with Baby Connect so you can see exactly when and how much he’s eating along with other details about his day. (PROACTIVE PLANNING) Is there anything else I can do to support you as you go back to work?”
Step Three: Communicate Your Needs
Consistently providing acknowledgement, reassurance, and proactive planning over a few to several weeks can transform the way your employer engages with you. If the micromanaging continues, it’s time for a sit down with your employer. This is a difficult conversation however working in an environment where you don’t feel trusted, valued, or are able to relax into your own way of doing things is stressful and for most nannies, not sustainable long term. So here’s a 6 step blueprint for the conversation.
1. Acknowledge your employer’s feelings. You’ve gotten lots of good practice with this by now.
2. Use I statements to focus the conversation on what you need rather than what your boss is doing wrong or needs to change. This is a big challenge because the go-to place for most of us is to focus on the micromanagement and why it’s a problem. That only leads to defensiveness and the “as the employer, I have the right to…” argument. I statements can make or break this conversation.
3. Share how you feel without blaming or judging. This is where those I statements come in handy. It’s hard to share ourselves and be vulnerable when we feel under attack however it’s a necessary part of the conversation. Micromanagers often have no idea of the effect they’re having on those around them. They’re focused on their needs, the outcomes they want to see. Sharing your feelings can open the door to understanding and change.
4. Clearly define what you need in positive language. Rather than saying “I need to you to stop texting me all day with comments about what we’re doing.” say “I need to establish regular times during the day when we can check-in with each other. (Did you notice that first sentence was not a true I statement because it focused on the other person’s actions?)
5. Use collaborative language to develop possible solutions. This is the easy part because nannies are natural problem solvers. Remember to use team building language like “What can we do to meet your need to stay informed throughout the day and my need to work independently?”
6. Create a plan of action and a timetable for checking in with each other. Recognize that your first plan will probably need tweaking and that’s OK. Come back together at a set date and time to talk about your successes, your ongoing challenges, and your next steps.
What If None Of This Works?
Before you throw the towel in, I encourage you to go back through the steps I’ve outlined and honestly assess if you’ve done all you can. A micromanaging boss can be a strong emotional trigger and it’s hard to take productive steps when we’re flooded with emotions. If you have taken these steps and the situation hasn’t improved, it’s time to evaluate if you’re a good match for your boss. Not all bosses are ready to change and develop a healthier, more effective supervisory style.