I’ve worked as a nanny in several places and have seen that the industry norms vary depending on the location. One area of difference is the typical process of how a nanny and family choose one another. In some areas, after interviewing and any reference/background checks, one nanny is offered the role, accepts the role, and starts working with the family. In other areas, families will ask one or more nannies to work ‘trial shifts’ where they spend a day or more working before the family decides whether to offer them the job.
The idea behind doing trial days (as I understand it) is to test out whether the nanny and family are a good match for one another, whether the nanny is capable of and happy to do the job, and possibly to compare the work of one nanny with another. I can see why people think this is a sensible step, and acknowledge it could be helpful in certain circumstances… After all, it’s only when nannies and families work together for a while that they’ll see how things will go. Trial shifts, in theory, allow more time together than just an interview.
But you know what I think? I think trialling/testing out a nanny before offering them the job is an awful idea!! In my experience, trial days rarely give much indication of what a typical working relationship would be like. Most of these that I did, I left hating the experience, and I never felt like I made a quality impression. A day where a nanny is on trial is not a day like any other. The pressure the nanny can feel, the fact that everything is new – not only the tasks and environment, but the relationships, the way parents can feel torn between enticing the nanny with unrealistic displays or testing the nanny by throwing them into the deep end to see how they’ll cope… it can be a recipe for disaster! It could end up being a real trial by fire that leaves one or both parties feeling burned.
It’s really important for children to spend time getting to know their new nanny, but as an experienced nanny, I’ll tell you – I never expect much from children when I first meet them, especially if their parents or other caregivers are around. I assume that if a young child has a choice between their known and trusted caregiver and a stranger, they’re going to go with the known person for the big things. When they do transition to a new nanny, it can take some time to build the connection and routine to help them feel comfortable. I do not see the benefit in forcing or rushing this, and prefer to move at the child’s pace. Having a potential new nanny (or multiple nannies!) come in, whether the child understands why they are there or not, can be disruptive for the children and can cause unnecessary stress on them and the nanny.
Children are also unpredictable, and all sorts of things can impact their mood and actions. It could be something completely unrelated to the visiting nanny that determines whether a child is happy and settled, or whether they are cranky and acting out. Seeing how the nanny deals with a child who is struggling could be a good thing to see, but again since the visiting nanny hasn’t established a relationship with the child, I don’t think it’s a great indication of the nanny’s skills or ability to respond appropriately to a child.
When it comes to the parents and the nanny, let’s assume they want to make a good impression on one another. Parents might be tempted to make the home tidier than usual, or have meals set up and ready to go, or alter the routine of what they typically do during the day. Nannies might go into a day of work with top level energy (especially if they haven’t been working every day), or go overboard with activities and resources brought from home, or be so eager to please that they say yes to everything. What happens if that nanny is then hired for the role and everyone learns that the way they presented on the trial day is not the everyday reality? You might say that’s to be expected, but then I’m not sure I see the point of having that trial day as a way of testing things out.
So what do I think people should do instead of trials? Should they just interview a nanny, choose a nanny, and have them sign a contract to start while hoping for the best? Not exactly… I believe in a substantial interview process (which might be one or more interviews, at least one where the nanny meets the children) where parents and nannies discuss everything from experience to personalities, daily duties to childcare philosophies. Then I think speaking to the references (and reading letters of recommendation) can be more effective than a trial day for finding out a lot of things. Is the nanny reliable, caring, trustworthy, helpful? Do they respond appropriately to the children, do they plan and facilitate activities, do they form positive relationships with the children and the parents? Parents can even provide their potential new nanny with a previous employee’s details to speak as a family reference. After this, then working out a formal job offer and work agreement, I think it’s appropriate to begin working together.
As a nanny who values the joy I have in my work, I’d hate to feel trapped in a role that didn’t turn out to be the right fit, so I recommend having a ‘probationary period’ where there is little or no notice needed for either party to decide it’s not working out. Depending on the job, for me the timeframes have ranged from 0-7 days notice for the first 1-3 months of the job (usually we know within a week or so). Doing this, you have your trial with a low risk period and an ‘easy out’, but without the pressure and disruption of testing each other before deciding whether to work together. A nanny working in a family’s home is such a personal situation, that the initial process of getting to know one another should aim to be thorough enough so you feel comfortable moving into a work agreement. The nitty gritty details of whether a nanny can perform the duties and whether the expectations of a family are suitable? That can all generally be determined before working together. Whether it’s the right personality fit for spending all that time together, and whether you’re able to work together to meet everyone’s needs? That is something that will more likely be confirmed after a few weeks rather than a day or two.