The Downside of Trial Periods

I’m sometimes asked why there isn’t a trial period clause in the A to Z Nanny Contract. That’s an easy one, I don’t’ encourage parents and nannies to use them. Trial periods are too often misused, making them more of a hiring headache than a help.


A Risky Safety Net

The biggest problem with trial periods is that most parents use them as a screening safety net. Instead of using in-depth interviewing, referencing and background screening to decide if a candidate is a quality caregiver and a good match for their family, parents do superficial screening and count on the trial period to uncover any major flaws.

This approach has two big problems. First, a caregiver puts her best foot forward when she’s new to a job so a trial period rarely uncovers any real issues. All but the most dysfunctional nanny can hide her bad behaviors for three or four weeks, especially when she knows her job’s on the line. Second, it puts kids at unnecessary risk. Even if a caregiver’s shortcomings came to light during a trial period, it does little good to uncover them after she’s emotionally or physically hurt a child.

Nannies often use the same flawed process. Instead of focusing on interviewing and referencing a family to make sure they’re a good match to the nanny’s needs, she focuses on landing the job. Relying on the trial period to reveal any big problems.

If you’re solid in your understanding of what you need, of what you offer and invest the time and energy necessary to effectively screen your potential nanny or family, you won’t need a trial period. (I talk about the exceptions to that rule below.)


A Temporary Fix

Some parents and nannies use trial periods as a ruse to fill an immediate need with no intention of committing to a long-term employment relationship. In these cases, a parent needs childcare while she searches for the right nanny or a nanny needs a regular paycheck while she searches for the right job. Instead of being honest about the temporary nature of the working relationship, these parents and caregivers find a quick match and operate under the guise of a trial period while they continue their search. This deceitful maneuver is devastating to the unsuspecting party who’s left with nothing when the parent or nanny moves on.


An Easy Way to Fudge the Numbers

Trial periods also skew failure rates. Problem families don’t include the nannies they’ve fired or that have quit during a trial period when disclosing the number of nannies they’ve employed. Problem nannies don’t include jobs they were fired from or quit during a trial period on their resumes. Clearly this tactic makes it difficult to accurately evaluate a parent’s or nanny’s ability to develop and maintain a successful nanny / family relationship.


When Trial Periods Are Helpful

Trial periods can be helpful to parents and nannies who are faced with an issue they must experience firsthand in order to accurately evaluate.

I once worked with a family that had found a wonderful person to replace their long term nanny but they had one concern. The new nanny wanted a closer, more familial relationship with them than they shared with their current nanny. The family was afraid that a closer relationship with a live-in nanny would infringe on their privacy as a couple and a family. They decided to work with the new nanny for a month and then make a final decision. At the end of the trial period, the parents realized they could enjoy a closer nanny / parent relationship and maintain their privacy.

I also worked with a nanny who had found her perfect job just 15 miles from her home. Unfortunately getting from her house to her employer’s required commuting during the worst hours of the day and through the most congested part of the city. Although she really wanted the job, she wasn’t sure if the two hour daily commute was worth it. She took the job with a trial period in place and before the week’s end, she realized she wasn’t cut out for the daily drive. She then took a position making a little less money but only 10 minutes from her home.


You’re Never Stuck

Many parents and nannies are afraid that if they don’t begin the employment relationship with a trial period, they’ll be stuck with a bad nanny or job. That’s absolutely not true. Although you should do everything possible to make the employment relationship work once you’ve committed to a caregiver or position, if after the job starts you truly feel it’s not the right match, it’s your right and responsibility to move on.


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