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No more disrespectful employers! How to protect yourself as a caregiver

Here's why feeling respected at work is so important — especially for care providers — plus how you can set yourself up for success when choosing your next job.

No more disrespectful employers! How to protect yourself as a caregiver

In April 2022, 4.4 million American workers quit their jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As to why people quit their jobs in droves: toxic bosses and work environments.

Toxic work environments are created by unethical and disrespectful employer behavior, and employees simply aren’t dealing with it anymore, as the New York Times reported.

“The pandemic created a shift in the workforce both for employees and employers,” says Lia Garvin, career expert and author of
Unstuck.” “It’s been a long time coming, but we are finally reaching a moment where employees are more empowered to ask for what they need, and employers are needing to listen if they want to retain their talent.”

Luckily, there are ways to avoid getting into a toxic work environment when you’re working as a child or senior care provider. We spoke with experts to find out why feeling respected at work is so important — especially for care providers — plus how you can set yourself up for success when choosing your next job.

How respect is built when you’re a professional caregiver and why it’s so important 

Holding down a job in any industry comes with different demands, expectations and required skill sets. But it also requires that you trust your employer. 

Here are few key ways a client will demonstrate trust, according to Diane Hudson, a certified professional career coach and owner of Career Marketing Techniques:

  • Delegating important duties.
  • Allowing employees to ask questions without retribution.
  • Addressing and resolving conflict. 
  • Including employees in decision-making.
  • Helping them grow professionally with training or mentorships.

When these trust-building traits are missing, it becomes hard for a caregiver to do their best work because they don’t feel valued, explains Hudson. And when a caregiver is no longer able to do their job effectively, it can lead to feeling stagnant and burnt out

For care providers, the effects of not being able to do their best work can go far deeper. 

“One of the top reasons caregivers leave a job is that they cannot provide the care they feel their clients deserve,” says Eboni Green, CEO of Caregiver Support Services, who holds a doctorate in healthcare administration and has over 20 years of experience as a professional caregiver. “We often feel as a group that the care of our clients and residents come first. If care providers are not able to do what they came there to do, which is to improve the lives of their clients, it can cause guilt and frustration.”

“It’s been a long time coming, but we are finally reaching a moment where employees are more empowered to ask for what they need, and employers are needing to listen if they want to retain their talent.”

— Lia Garvin, career expert and author of

Tips for steering clear of a disrespectful employer 

While toxic work environments are still far more prevalent then they should be, there is a silver lining: the Great Resignation has given many employees the upper hand when it comes to switching jobs, especially in certain caregiving industries.

Lindsay Heller, a licensed clinical psychologist who also consults for families and their nannies as The Nanny Doctor, says we’re in a “nanny’s market.” “There is a low supply of nannies and a high demand,” she explains. “Nannies are able to negotiate all kinds of things because they are able to pick and choose right now.”

With this in mind, caregivers should feel more confident than ever when it comes to prioritizing their needs and respecting their values in order to avoid getting into a toxic situation. Here’s how to do it:

Know the red flags 

The interview process is an opportunity to not only better understand the job you’re considering but the person you’re considering calling your boss. “The biggest red flags for disrespect are when an employee is treated like a cog in a machine as opposed to a person, when their needs go ignored or unmet, and when they can’t share feedback,” Garvin says. 

You can establish a dynamic at the very start of a new professional relationship that will help you avoid getting mixed up with these toxic behaviors. For example, Garvin recommends making it a point to talk openly about expectations and agree to regular check-ins to talk about how things are going right out of the gate.

“Employees can see right away if there’s a lack of respect if an employer doesn’t want to have these kinds of conversations,” Garvin says. “And if they notice it, they should turn the other way.”

Ask questions around conflict solving during the interview process

Tonya Sakowicz, co-president of the International Nanny Association and founder of Newborn Care Solutions, recommends also utilizing the interview process to gauge a person’s response to stressful situations, a trick she learned the hard way during her 36 years of experience as a nanny and newborn care specialist.

“I once worked for a boss [who yelled] to get her way with her partner,” Sakowicz says, a behavior she eventually tried on her one evening when she was unable to accept a late request to babysit. “When I came in the next day, I asked to speak with them both and let them know if it happened again, I would be leaving as I was unwilling to work for someone who yelled at me when they did not get their way.” 

Unfortunately, it did happen again, and Sakowicz gave notice according to the terms of her contract immediately. She also changed the way she looked for jobs. 

“I am a quick learner, and I knew I would never be willing to work for a boss who was disrespectful again,” she says. “I made it a habit of bringing up ‘hypothetical’ difficult situations during the interview process to see what they told me their response would be. I also observed facial expressions and body language during those conversations to see what they did and if there was anything that would clue me in to possible issues.”

Hudson also recommends asking questions that will give you an idea of how your boss behaves on a regular basis during an initial interview, like: 

  • How much responsibility will I have? 
  • How will you judge my performance? 
  • What indicators of success do you think will make the person you hire effective in this job? 

Create a contract that enforces good communication 

Just as a corporation would require you to sign an employment contract, a caregiver should always require an employer to do the same. In both cases, including how feedback and needs will be communicated is crucial to building trust and respect.

“Before there is ever a conflict, a nanny should ask for a contract with a six-month review and an annual review,” Heller says. “The actual dates should really be put into the contract for both. Having preset meetings that are not disciplinary in any way makes it more about communication and evaluating what’s working and not working.”

In some situations, weekly or monthly meetings may be more beneficial to agree to in a contract. For example, if you’re caring for an infant, their needs, and therefore your responsibilities, will change more frequently so more frequent check-ins will keep everyone on the same page.

“The key here is putting a plan into place to prevent small issues from becoming big issues,” explains Sakowicz, who also recommends outlining — or including a specific clause on — how you will respond to disrespectful behavior. 

Set your personal boundaries — on paper

“An employer who is constantly trying to blur the line between professional and personal feelings of obligation is one who does not respect boundaries,” says Heller. 

Certain stipulations that can prevent a client from “blurring the lines:”

  • Set hours.
  • Set overtime pay if you take on extra work hours.
  • Designated time frames during which you will be available by text or phone.
  • The required amount of notice for schedule changes. 
  • Clearly detailed duties and responsibilities. 

“The most important thing is for a nanny to respect themselves. They will have their own compass.”

— Lindsay Heller, psychologist and founder of “The Nanny Doctor”

Know your worth

Your years of experience, education, technical skills and professionalism all contribute to your worth. For caregivers, worth may also include special skills like speaking different languages, ability to connect with children and knowledge of how different households set up care plans.

“A nanny needs to know their worth or else they will remain in situations where they feel exploited, rundown and burnt out,” says Heller. “They will feel trapped and feel like there is no way out of it.”

Heller can speak so clearly to this situation because she lived it firsthand while attending graduate school and working as a live-in nanny four days a week. “Sometimes families think that being a live-in nanny means you are available at all hours,” says Heller. “They wanted me to work more days, they wanted me to be available in the middle of the night. I was burnt out and overworked.”

It was only once she was out of the situation and looking for her next job that she was able to see things clearly. “I had experience as a professional nanny, I had education, I had great value as a nanny, but I had been beaten down so much that I forgot who I was.” 

Once she realized her value, everything changed.

If you’re aware of how valuable you are to a family and the skills you bring to the table, you can sidestep working for a disrespectful employer, says Heller. “The most important thing is for a nanny to respect themselves,” she notes. “They will have their own compass.”