Bridging the Nanny-Employer Expectation Gap

Nannies and domestic helpers can significantly improve the quality of family life as an expat. But gaps in understanding and expectations between employer and employee often need to be addressed.

Hiring help to make family life easier is very common in Thailand; almost every family has someone at home to help them with such work as cleaning and minding the children, no matter their circumstances. Having such help can support the quality and standard of one’s family life.

However, because of the differing backgrounds, countries and cultures between expat families and their nan- nies, there often can be significant differences between the expectations of employers and of the helpers.

Unrealistic expectations could be about English language skills, education levels, approaches to childcare, social behavior or motivation, are of which all heavily dependent on the culture one has grown up in, as well as one’s work ethic.

Common Conflicts Could be:

  • The nanny will try to do everything to please the children, such as giving sweets. In some cases they might go against the parents will, just to ensure that the child is happy from their perspective.
  • The nanny might not want to say ‘NO’ a to a child, because they don’t want the kids to get upset.
  • Sometimes the nanny might use scare tactics with children when trying to discipline them, rather than saying ‘NO’ or explaining the reason; whereas in many Western cultures today, this would not be acceptable.
  • The helper may not have a similar understanding as the parents regard- ing the basic safety of the house and for the child. They may not recognize safety hazards around the home or see the danger of sharing photos of the children with their social media networks, for example.
  • Nannies may not have the same understanding regarding discipline as the expat parents; Western parents may be stricter with their children about following and respecting rules.
  • When feeding the kids, some nannies may walk behind the kids and spoon food into their mouth to make sure the kids will eat (toddlers and preschoolers are notoriously difficult to keep still!); whereas in Western cultures kids are expected to sit in one place while having meals and feed themselves.
  • Most nannies who apply for jobs in Thailand come from any of the neighboring countries, and their qualifications and experiences may vary wildly, including the level of their English proficiency. Typically, the expected base salary for each helper applying for a job with an expat family is de- termined to a large degree by their level of English proficiency. The salary is then further adjusted to match experience (references from past employers), education levels, other language abilities, and background. Most employers probably would like to give a fair wage, but also worry about being asked for too high a salary. Ask around to get a sense of what is acceptable. Fair pay will be a factor in maintaining a constant relationship with their caregiver for a long time.

Communication is key to develop the relationship and to maintain a positive work environment. The better both sides know each other and understand their weaknesses and strengths, the better the expectations will match reality and the fewer frustrations and disappointments will ensue. It also helps the helper to know exactly what the family wants.

As both will spend a fair amount of time in each others company, the family should treat the nanny/helper with respect, and make the nanny/helper feel like a member of the family.

At the end of the day, the caregiver is spending a lot of time closely with your family, so you must find someone with whom you are comfortable and can maintain a good relationship.

It is important that both the caregiver and the family are satisfied with the working relationship. If the nannies/helpers enjoy working with the family and the positive feeling is mutual, then a long relationship between the two can be expected.

Tips for Parents

  • Take time to find a nanny that matches your needs, whether full time or part, live-in or live-out.
  • When interviewing a nanny, rely on your observations when evaluating the candidate’s responses, mannerisms, and appearance. First impressions of nannies are very important as it could give you an indication if the nanny is a good fit for the family. Parents should listen to their instincts because the nanny will be a part of your family’s life.
  • Check their past experiences and educational background. Don’t hire a nanny with a relatively low salary if you are not willing to take your time to train them. Experienced nannies have higher expectations in terms of salary, working hours, duties, etc.
  • Give some time to adapt to one another. It will take at least a week or typically much longer to understand each other, given the differences in culture and background between the helper and employer. Your family is different from the helper’s previous employer, too, and so she will have to adjust to that as well.
  • Set a list of straight-forward instructions, A-Z. Even the best nannies have their own way, so make sure they know exactly what you are look- ing for. Mention clearly the jobs description, the specific job, duties, hours, salary, holiday. Once they start working for you, give specific instructions as needed. Even for things that you might think are obvious and common sense, remember that their common sense may be completely different from yours.
  • Encourage the nanny to follow your way. I believe if you treat your nanny well, they will be thankful and, as a result, take better care of your family. Do not forget that nannies have feelings too. Not only can they help you with your kids, but they may have things to teach your kids too.
  • Prepare and sign the work agreement after you are matched with your chosen nanny, to level expectations as much as possible and to avoid any disappointments. If there are concerns, it should be discussed.
  • Pay the nanny a fair salary. This also means paying overtime for extra hours or nights, even for live-in nannies, and continuing to pay fulltime nannies even when the employer is away on home-leave. The same applies for part-time helpers. It is also customary to give the nanny a bonus, usually worth one-month salary, after one year of working with you. If you feel you cannot afford the full salary that your nanny is worth, you could consider letting her take another part-time job.
Article reposted with permission from BAMBI – Bangkok Mothers & Babies International.

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