You Don’t Need to Be an HR Professional to Hire a Nanny (But It Helps)

You Don’t Need to Be an HR Professional to Hire a Nanny

(But It Helps)

In our ongoing quest to achieve a perfect work/life balance, dual careers, well-adjusted children, and the right risk/return ratio, my husband and I have, over the last seven years, tried all types of childcare (except childminding).

While nurseries, schools, and relatives have all provided entertaining anecdotes and lessons learnt, there is one childcare option that can be considered a gift that keeps on giving in terms of life lessons: hiring a nanny.

I have often thanked my lucky stars for the HR background I have. Here is my way of paying it forward: I present you with the 10 lessons we learned, sometimes the hard way, from employing a nanny.


Start with trust

An interviewing statistic which I picked up early on in my HR career helped me to understand that no matter how practised you are at interviewing, referencing, and testing, even the best judges of human character miss about 1% of psychopathic candidates. This statistic tells me that you can’t always get it right, and when you get it wrong – don’t blame yourself. This 1% statistic should not alarm you unduly: most people you will hire are perfectly decent people, who will function even better if there is mutual trust between you and them. So once you have made your decision, trust them to get on with the job. As Ernest Hemingway said: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”


Set expectations at the very beginning

Drawing up a good job description is an essential exercise, not only to ensure that you and your family are on the same page about what you want the nanny to do, but also to ensure the nanny is clear about your expectations! It is much harder to add new tasks at a later stage, so best to spend the time at the outset.


Client feedback is key

You are usually not around to observe your employee at work, and even if you are, they know that you are observing them, so the best source of feedback is your children. By this, I do not mean interrogating your children on the nanny’s strengths and areas for development, but being sensitive, as a parent, to your children’s state of wellbeing and whether anything is getting in the way of that wellbeing.


If something does not feel right, don’t ignore it, but seek further evidence

Each employment relationship has an optimum length. I have a friend who firmly believes that nannies should only stay in one’s employment for one year – otherwise complacency may set in. I am not so hardcore, but I do think that there is a sell-by date in each relationship. After all, we all seek development opportunities and if the job is static, it may stifle creativity. Keep a watchful eye on whether the relationship is still giving both parties what they need.


Have regular “appraisals”

Forget filling in forms and scoring your employee, but the backbone of any good employment relationship is open communication and the ability to give feedback on a regular basis. In this way, resentment will not build up and any changes will not come as a surprise.


Accept some collateral damage

When you let someone in your house every day, there is bound to be some accidental damage. Broken lamps, white goods, and even written-off cars. It is a known fact (and one that we have proven several times) that au pairs and nannies attract a high level of car insurance activity. Accept this as part of the deal and when collateral damage happens, take the high road. Phrases like “it could have happened to any of us” are particularly useful, even if you are seething inside. If you are uncomfortable with this, make sure your employment contract is clear about what happens in such situations, or insist that they drive their own car.


Remain the boss

Never forget that you are the boss and that, ultimately, you make the big decisions. It is very appealing to delegate tasks to your new life saver, but think about whether the delegation is appropriate or whether you are giving up too much power. We had a former nanny do all of our grocery shopping for us. This worked well for a time, until one month our credit card bill was double its normal amount. No wrongdoing had taken place, but some sort of hoarding instinct had kicked in and we had about 5 jars of each essential. We were working full-time and had not noticed the cupboards suddenly start to overflow. The Tesco order is now firmly in my hands, even if it means our stocks running out at awkward moments. It is an unexciting, but clear, indicator of who is the boss.


Trust your instincts and act swiftly but legally if you have to

We once had to react quickly after witnessing some manhandling of our eldest child. Although the temptation was to get emotional and to short-circuit the process, there are legislated steps that you need to adhere to in order to avoid grievances and unfair dismissal claims. If in doubt, seek legal advice or call a friendly HR person.


Ensure you have a well-developed relationship with your “business partner” (aka spouse)

By this I mean that hopefully you will have moved to the “perform” phase of Bruce Tuckman’s group development theory (“form, storm, norm and perform”) in your relationship. This will make it so much easier to be on the same page with your nanny when it comes to important child-rearing questions. It also means that you play to each other’s strengths. If my husband had been left to his own devices dealing with the aftermath of point number 6 above, there would have been many more contracts terminated early, by mutual request.


Treating your employee fairly pays dividends

We have enjoyed relatively long employment relationships with our nannies, due to fostering a friendly working environment which includes a clear job description and boundaries, but lots of autonomy (we have always believed that they are experts in their field and can teach us a thing or two about how to look after our children). We have demonstrated flexibility when it really counts (seeing our nannies through maternity leave, dog bereavement (true story), and other needs for time off). In return, we have seen very low levels of sickness absence, and high levels of engagement and loyalty. The “nanny grapevine” is also very active, so we know that good and bad employers have a reputation, just like companies do. Those with a great reputation will be able to find their next employee more quickly and at a lower cost. The ultimate test for us came when we had to make a much-loved nanny redundant due to our changed working arrangements. It is the only “at risk” discussion in which I cried! However, due to our strong relationship, the nanny was able to absorb the shock and handle the change in a positive way.


Our days of having a full-time nanny are coming to an end as our youngest child starts school in September. While we are looking forward to moving on to the next stage, we are grateful for all the experiences our nannies have brought to our family. I hope this blog will help you on your path to becoming an employer of choice!

Katariina Jalas

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