One of the greatest challenges of parenthood is finding and keeping quality childcare. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for an occasional sitter or a full-time live-in professional nanny. Quality childcare is rare—difficult to find and even more difficult to keep. We get jealous when we hear our friends talk about their nanny and how wonderful and perfect she is. Maybe you’ve even tried to poach a nanny. It’s tough out there. But the truth is, there are a lot of great nannies. The trick to recruiting and keeping a phenomenal nanny is being a phenomenal employer. The best nannies know what they are worth and won’t even consider families who won’t meet, at the very least, the minimum requirements of a professional relationship. You don’t necessarily have to offer more money or a better car. But you do have to cover the following basic concepts.
Write and sign a contract.
This is the first and most important step and the one most often overlooked. The nanny contract is a written document that clearly lays out your expectations for your nanny. It lets her know precisely what her responsibilities are. It also lets her know what they are not. This is so very important, not only for you, but for her. What often happens in the nanny-employer relationship is something I call job-creep. Over time, you ask your nanny to take on additional tasks, or “favors.” This can create a lot of resentment in your nanny. You think you are simply asking her to do her job. But what you are actually doing is increasing her work without increasing her pay. This is completely unfair. If you want her to take on additional tasks, then you will need to sit down with your contract and negotiate her job description. You may need to eliminate previous responsibilities or you may need to increase her pay. Either way, you must be explicit about your expectations and make sure that you are being fair with her. You’ll be happily surprised at how often she’ll willingly go above and beyond her job requirements just because you treat her with dignity and respect. The contract needs to cover every aspect of your professional relationship from the length of employment term, to salary, to discipline, to holidays, etc.
Offer defined salary, overtime and benefits.
This should be covered in your nanny contract in detail but it often isn’t covered properly and can cause more resentment than job-creep. Whether your nanny works part-time, full-time, live-in or live-out, you must address the full scope of her compensation. Will you be providing a vehicle? If not, will you be compensating her for the use of her vehicle for work-related tasks? If you need her to stay longer than her scheduled time, will you pay overtime? If so, how much? If her schedule is 7am-7pm, you need to specify what happens if you are five minutes late or ten minutes late. This is incredibly important to maintaining goodwill. You need to address issues such as sick days, holidays and vacations. If you are providing room and board, does that include her food as well? Make sure you do not leave any room for surprises. Assume nothing. And you would be well-advised to be both generous and fair. As with any employee, one who feels valued and appreciated is more likely to perform better and stay long-term. By no means can you afford to leave out these details.
Hire someone you trust and then trust her.
Nothing makes her job worse than untrusting employers. Micromanagement is the worst form of supervision in any organization, much less a family. You definitely don’t want to be that guy. If you have done your job and checked her references, her background, and experience, then you should be able to trust her. At that point, you need to hand the reins over to her. I’m not saying you can’t observe her or even put in a nanny cam, if that makes you feel comfortable. But you need to be a good boss. You are hiring her to be in charge in your absence. So, let her do her job. Don’t plan her every move. And please, please, do not undermine her authority with the children. Allow her to use the skills and knowledge that impressed you to hire her in the first place. She will do a much better job with your home and your children without your interference. Micromanaged nannies are the unhappiest and most resentful people on earth. If you want your nanny to hate you and quit the first chance she gets, then dictate her every move. Otherwise, step back and let her do her thing.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Open and frequent communication is critical. I recommend using a simple, spiral-bound notebook that you can use to write daily notes, reminders and updates for each other. It’s no secret that when the parents get home, the kids get loud and the nanny is usually ready to bolt. The notebook helps everybody keep up with each other without too many interruptions. If possible, weekly or monthly parent-nanny meetings can be very useful, particularly early in the relationship. Here, everyone can address important issues, whether child or job related. Just make sure you either schedule these meetings during her regular shift or compensate her for overtime. Remember, this is her job. However you decide to communicate, you absolutely must communicate, as often as possible.
This is so simple, but so true. I can’t tell you how many nannies I’ve known whose employers treated them like sub-human slaves. This person is raising your children in your absence. She is feeding them. She is teaching them character and values, such as kindness, sharing and getting along with others. She is reading to them, playing with them, singing with them, dancing with them and cuddling them to sleep. She should be one of the most important people in your world. Treat her as such. The value and respect with which you treat your nanny, she passes on to your children. Be nice and treat her with the love and kindness she deserves. Her job is handling your most important job – your kids. Never lose sight of that.
How do I know any of this matters?
First-hand experience and knowing A LOT of nannies. When I was a part-time nanny, I was always loved and respected by the families. My first experience as a live-in was one of the worst two months of my life. The family was controlling, condescending, intrusive, rude, undermining and downright mean. I never wanted to be a nanny again. I was talked into covering for a family whose nanny had suddenly left. I told them I would not stay. I would only help for a couple of weeks until they found someone else. This family treated me like gold. They never criticized me. They thanked me often. They never over-ruled my decisions while I was on-duty. They encouraged me to choose activities for their child. They supported my choices. We were all extremely happy and I stayed until they didn’t need a nanny anymore. My next family was very similar: loving, supportive, trusting. I’ll never forget when the mother of that family held her company’s executive holiday party at her home. I was invited as a guest. A sitter had been hired to watch the children. Her first toast of the evening, she asked her husband and me to stand. She said,
“To my husband and Zoe – the two most important people in my life. Without you, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”
Now, that’s how you lead a family! I stayed with them long past my contract, through serious illness and even their divorce. I only left after I myself was married, owned a house and was pregnant and had to go on bedrest. She inspired such loyalty in me I stayed long after I had intended to leave.
Finding and keeping a phenomenal nanny really isn’t as difficult as it seems. Just treat her with professionalism and kindness and you’ll bring out the best in your nanny. It’s really not a secret. The best nannies have been skipping over families who couldn’t live up to their standards for a long time. So, get your game up to par and go find a phenomenal nanny!
If you or your nanny would like more information on the nanny industry, professional development or even simple support for nannies, go check out: www.facebook.com/NannyMagazine. This is a tremendous resource that I wish had been available when I was in the field. There are articles, job-related resources, and updates for the January 2014 launch of the brand new Nanny Magazine.
Your thoughts, comments and suggestions are always welcome!
- Nannies: Don’t Even Strive, Just Know – They Are Your Equal (strivewithpoise.wordpress.com)
- The Nanny Contract (nannyville.wordpress.com)