Communicating effectively and having a healthy mutual exchange of feedback does not always feel easy. However, it is absolutely fundamental to the success of the nanny/family relationship, and in our experience, it is the main underlying reason for employment relationships to end earlier than expected.
As a nanny employer you are your nanny’s only colleague and only source of feedback as to her performance. When there isn’t an open exchange of expectations and constructive feedback provided, resentment can build – which applies to any workplace environment and indeed within our own families.
However, it is not uncommon to hear about a nanny who is unaware of the areas in which he/she can improve, or even the reason a working relationship is coming to an end—all because his/her employers shy away from providing honest feedback. Ultimately, this is the worst outcome of all, as continuity of care is far more beneficial for children’s emotional wellbeing, so investing time in ensuring that your nanny knows what is expected of them and is fulfilled and happy in the role is far preferable than being in the position of having to find a new nanny prematurely.
Feedback also means that nannies can grow and develop as professionals, and by turn for you, their employer to support them in achieving that. A nanny who feels supported and fulfilled will be much less likely to leave service, and will give over and above expectations in the longer term.
Many families are naturally not accustomed to being an employer in a home setting, or are unsure how to structure a formal employer/employee relationship with a nanny (which is, after all, a very different relationship to the corporate setting that many family’s may work in), while maintaining the compassion that such a personal relationship involves. Striking this balance is arguably one of the most challenging relationships in our lives, and so it’s important to get it right from the outset.
Here are some of our thoughts on the feedback process based on our experiences working with nannies and families over a number of years.
How often should “formal” feedback be given?
A nanny employment should be considered a professional employment situation and as such the employer should show a professional respect for their employee by sharing feedback regularly.
During the first three months of employment (which would usually be considered a probation period) we would recommend that you ensure to schedule at least a 15 minute feedback session with your nanny every two weeks. This will help you to find out from your nanny how she feels things are going, to air any issues and concerns (from both sides) and also be an opportunity to tell her what is going well! It is incredibly hard joining a new family as nannies do not know how your family works, and what may seem obvious to you may feel very overwhelming to a nanny. A regular feedback session in the early days will enable you to target anything which you may wish to be a focus point for the following two weeks, rather than bombarding your nanny with everything in one go.
Thereafter, a performance review should ideally be completed regularly whether there is an issue or not. Many employers will offer a catch up with their employees every 90 days, and we believe that this is also a good rule of thumb to apply to nannies as well.
A more formal annual appraisal should also be held, as well as fixing time for a short 5 minute debrief at the end of each day (and ensuring this is built into the nanny’s contracted hours).
What should be covered?
A good first step in providing AND receiving feedback is to acknowledge that there is a common goal here, namely to provide the best care for the children by working as a collaborative team. We typically see feedback as coming from an employer and being directed toward a nanny, but it is important to remember that the family’s home is also the nanny’s workplace. The nanny needs to feel comfortable so that he/she can focus her energy on what he/she does best—caring for the children! The concept of reviews and constructive criticism is universal; and as such can and should be used by nannies to give employers feedback as well.
It’s important to stress that appraisals don’t have to centre around “faults”. In fact, a review with no negative issues to be addressed is just as productive as it encourages the nanny to continue doing a good job. They really need not be a stressful time for you or your nanny and if you both practice good communication, should be as straight forward to accomplish as a normal conversation.
Managing difficult conversations
Giving and receiving more negative feedback is one of the most challenging issues for any nanny and family relationship. Sometimes, it can be viewed it as a personal attack, particularly when it is offered in less than ideal ways. Both nannies and families should consider this when approaching such a discussion (as it is important that nannies also give feedback to their employer too!), and give them the benefit of the doubt that their intentions are not intended to be malicious.
When addressing issues or mistakes that your nanny may have made, try to be understanding of this rather than risking driving your nanny away, as continuity of care is ultimately the best course for your family. Your nanny is probably doing their very best, and feeling attacked or criticised if she does not do something right can be very damaging for their self esteem.
Some specific thoughts on managing difficult conversations with your nanny:
- Set realistic expectations as the outset. If an issue has arisen with you nanny, you need to ensure that you maintain perspective on how you wish to manage this. Sometimes it is easy to forget that your nanny is not part of your family, and so what may seem very obvious to you may feel like an enormous amount of information for your nanny to absorb in a short time. Don’t expect your nanny to be able to start their job with you knowing everything, and to be perfect at it from the outset. It takes time to understand your family’s routines and needs, so focus on the big things first and address the smaller stuff once these are cracked.
- Make time. Set aside a good time to talk when there are no interruptions, distractions or outside stressors, including making sure the children are not around.
- Seek their feedback too. Find out what they are enjoying about job and what they find challenging. If there is a specific issue that you wish to address, ask them how they are finding it. For example, if the nanny’s management of your children’s behaviour is worrying you, you could ask “How are you finding xxxx’s behaviour, as I know they can be quite challenging – is there anything I can be doing to support you in this?”
- Listen as well as talk. Discussions should be collaborative—know when it is your turn to listen by using active listening skills, such as maintaining open, positive body language and listening to understand rather than listening to respond!
- Be constructive. Rather than providing feedback in a negative way, turn it around to be constructive. For example, if you are not impressed with the food your nanny has been cooking, how about “would it be helpful if I showed you some of the recipes that I know the children really enjoy?”/ “would it be helpful if we both maintained a food diary on the days you aren’t here so we can both see what they are eating over a week?”.
- Try to address any specific issues in a timely manner. Allowing something to gnaw away makes it far more likely for the message to be delivered in a harsh way, due to increasing frustrations.
- Give lots of praise as well! Make sure to always praise the positive things, and progress made, as well as any areas for development. It’s easy to overlook these or assume that they are taken as accepted, but nannies, like all of us, do want to feel that their work is appreciated, and the only person this is going to come from is you! So, start by listing the good aspects of the nanny’s work so far. This allows the nanny to feel pride in his/her work and that you have noticed the achievements he/she has made. You don’t need to embellish too greatly on the good aspects of the job, but simple acknowledgement can go a long way to encouraging continued success.
- Be professional. Remember that the nanny is not your counsellor and vice versa. A feedback session should retain its air of professionalism. Going into too many unrelated details can begin to wear down the employer/employee relationship. Although you don’t have to be rude by not sharing eg/ generally how your day has gone, you don’t really need to go too far into depth. You are the nanny’s employer and he/she shouldn’t be used as a counsellor or sounding board about your private problems.
- Know when to back down. If emotions do become difficult to control, ask the other person for the opportunity to continue the conversation another time. It is far preferable to come back to the discussion later than to say something you will regret and which may damage the employer/employee relationship. Make sure, though, to set a time for the follow-up conversation so that you leave things on a positive note.
- Write down a plan. Without wanting to sound too formal, it can actually help to put something in writing. Having some key points in print both removes miscommunications from both parties and acts as a reminder as to what has been addressed in previous reviews and how things are progressing.
Some final thoughts to end on….
In summary, try to keep things positive. Everyone enjoys hearing how the work he or she provides is appreciated and even something as simple as “great job today” periodically can improve self esteem and indeed productivity in any individual. This works both ways – families want to know a nanny is happy in their employment, so the occasional “thanks so much for reinforcing my strategy around screen time”, for example, should go down well also. Enjoy keeping an open dialogue everyone!
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