How to Handle 5 Difficult Conversations with Your Employer
Not sure how to approach these tricky topics? Here are tips to help.
It can be scary and sometimes downright intimidating to approach your employer about problems on the job (after all, they write your paycheck). In this tough economic climate you want to make a good impression, but it's crucial not to let a bad situation get out of hand.
"Be upfront, because the truth eventually comes out," says Dr. Robi Ludwig, a Care.com contributor and nationally-known psychotherapist. It's best to be upfront about your feelings, and find solutions that will work for you and the family.
Here are five of the most common uncomfortable conversations -- with tips on how to handle them professionally:
The Kids are Being Disrespectful and You Disagree with the Parents' Discipline Style
"As a nanny you have to be proactive and carefully read the house rules before you take the job," says Carolyn Stolov, a Care.com family life expert. Behavioral guidelines should be part of the house rules, and they should be developed in advance.
Before you take a job, do your homework. "Nannies should ask parents, 'What is your approach to discipline?'" says Stolov. "Then you need to really look at what your philosophy is. If the family uses an approach that the nanny isn't comfortable with, ask the parents, 'Are you open to suggestions from me?'" she suggests. If parents don't have a behavioral plan, they should develop one with the nanny and present it to the children together.
However, if after you've worked with the family and grown attached, you realize the kids are allowed to do or say things that you don't think are appropriate, request a check-in with the parents if you aren't already having regular meetings. Start the conversation by pointing out positives you've observed on the job and then move onto the behavioral challenges. Overall it's a good idea to address the bad behavior sooner rather than later with the parents, especially in the instance it creates a safety issue, which might require immediate attention.
Your Employer is Asking More from You
You're just a few months into a job when you realize it's not what you signed up for. Maybe the job isn't what you expected, or your employer is adding duties such as laundry or grocery shopping, which was not in the original discussion. What should you do?
"The 'nanny contract' work agreement should be revisited at three months and one year," suggests Stolov. You should write down some of your added responsibilities and show them to the parents, along with the original work agreement. Comparing the two documents may be all you need to make the employer aware of the situation, so that it can be dealt with."
"Just don't approach your employer in a confrontational style," she continues. "Say something like, "Do you mind going over our contract together? There are a few things I've started doing that weren't in the original job description and I want to get us back on the same page."
No original contract? Ask if you could create one together belatedly. Use our nanny contract examples and add or delete your needs. This will protect both of you and put all expectations on paper, including number of paid days off, household chores and discipline strategies.
It could be that the added responsibilities are temporary because a parent is going back to school or is busy at work. Using a "let's solve this together" approach will help you keep the relationship positive, which is especially great if you love the kids.
However, you need to be honest about your needs and decide whether the arrangement is working for you. As Dr. Ludwig reminds, "There are some arrangements that are non-negotiable. Don't think love can fix all the issues."
The Parents Keep Coming Home Late
If you're missing friends' birthday parties, important classes or time with your family, this situation can lead to resentment. "Bring up the situation as soon as you can so that it doesn't fester," says Dr. Ludwig. Ask the parents, 'I noticed I've been staying beyond the agreed upon time, is that what I can expect?'
While a work agreement should clearly spell out what the compensation will be if the family comes home late, if you don't have one -- or they haven't been paying you extra -- you need to ask for a family meeting. Suggest a time when both parents can be home, so someone can watch the kids, and open up the discussion by saying all the things you love about your job. Then explain your concerns. You're missing time with your family. You had to cancel appointments. Every once in a while this is okay (things happen, right?), but you need to be compensated.
And if this new schedule is to be expected moving forward, you need to decide if it works for your lifestyle. Be sure to keep careful records of your overtime to document how many days you've been working late (just in case it's disputed).
You Made a Mistake on the Job and Are Afraid to Bring It Up
It's your worst nightmare: You lock the baby in the car or you lock yourself out of the house with a preschooler still inside. "The biggest mistake nannies make is not taking ownership of the mistake," Stolov says. "Tell the parents as soon as possible, and put a system in place so that the parents are reassured it won't happen again." Acknowledging the problem and providing a solution to be better prepared, shows maturity and control. Yes, the parents will be rattled, but they'll be more upset if they hear about it from their talkative toddler.
When you fess up, present a plan for this to never happen again. Parents will be more willing to accept that it was a one-time mistake.
The Kids Don't Listen to You
It can be tricky to juggle the responsibilities of caring for a defiant child. It might be that you're worried about being their "friend" and not an authority figure. Or, he could be having a hard time transitioning to a caregiver. Either way, you need to get the parents involved and get some rules and consequences in place.
Approach the parents and explain what's going on. Ask if you could come up with house rules and discipline strategies together. Then approach the child as a united front (you and the parents). The child needs to see that his parents respect and value his nanny, that she is part of the family, and cannot be treated any differently than he'd treat his parents.
Then discuss consequences of breaking the rules with the child. Follow up as a team every day to praise his success or discuss what he still needs to work on.
If it's a teenager who takes advantage of "babysitter time," not doing her homework and being rude when you're around, the same advice applies. House rules should be created. Stolov recommends you include the teen as part of the problem-solving. It's important that you are seen as fair -- but not to be messed with.
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