Don’t Evaluate Your Au Pair’s Performance

by cv harquail on October 5, 2016

Occasionally I get emails from Host Parents wondering about “performance reviews” for au pairs.  

These emails ask whether anyone has a form they might share that helps parents evaluate Au Pairs on their performance of specific tasks.  Or, they ask if we have a feedback tracking system, where parents can set goals for au pairs’ performance and then score the Au Pair — maybe on a one-to-five star rating.

3474758856_9c99fa61f8_mConceptually, these questions make sense. We all know that paying attention to expectations, being clear about expectations, and giving folks feedback about how they are currently doing can motivate them to do better.  Positive feedback and recognition can even feel like a reward for good work and good effort.

Many of us are also managers outside the home, and we’ve been trained to give performance feedback and to see performance evaluation as a sensible, rational approach to getting good work done.

But often, when someone mentions “performance reviews” of au pairs, I get uncomfortable.  I don’t believe that Au Pairs “need” “performance reviews” per se.

Let me explain.

If an au pair were “only” an employee in your household, I’d have no qualms about a ‘performance review’.  After all, employees “perform”. They get the job done well, or they don’t. Employees are managed so that their work meets standards, and employees are paid for all the work that they perform.

But in very important ways, Au Pairs are not just employees.  The term “Employee” only captures a portion of what an Au Pair is within a host family, and even then “employee” captures this part of the role awkwardly.   As people who are paid to do work, Au Pairs are “employees”. But Au Pairs are so. much. more than employees.

As care givers, people who offer care to people we love, Au Pairs provide valuable help that is not quantifiable and not easy to “evaluate”. Caregivers provide valuable help that we can’t begin to remunerate– namely, the kind of caring care, emotional warmth, spirit of friendship, and familial concern that they offer our children and even sometimes us parents.  Evaluating Au Pairs as employees who are caregivers requires a whole additional set of evaluative criteria. Not to mention, evaluative skill.

Beyond this, Au Pairs are more than employees. They are also extended family members, members of our households, and exchange “students” involved in a home stay-type of cultural exchange.  We don’t have performance evaluation processes, much less criteria, for evaluating how well someone’s doing in roles that even we parents can’t easily label.

Who knows how to evaluate how well someone’s doing as “kindof like my niece”?  Or as a “roommate and cultural ambassador”? Or as “my kid’s really tall best friend”?

You can begin to see the conundrum. Traditional performance management tools don’t accommodate these additional roles.

Au Pairs are also socially, culturally, and emotionally interdependent with us and our families.  Conventional performance management approaches and philosophies (e.g., Theory X and Theory Y; “Key Performance Indicators”) don’t recognize the complexity of this broader interdependence.  That means that, when we try to put together “performance review” systems, we can’t just revise what we used at work and bring it on home.

I’m not suggesting that we avoid giving Au Pairs a sense of how they are doing and how they might improve on concrete tasks.

I am suggesting that we have to think bigger and differently about our expectations, where we can and should evaluate performance, and where we should focus on offering affirmation and encouragement.

Nearing the end of my rant, let me mention that tomorrow’s post will be about what families already do or would like to do about guiding au pairs’ performance on the job part of au pairing.   Here, let me ask you —

How do you balance the “managing the employee” part with the “supporting the growing adult, extended family member, cultural ambassador living under your roof”?

How do you think about your responsibilities as an employer and also as a role model, adult advisor, or “auntie”?

Image: San Jose Library, “Second Place Winner” on Flickr



TexasHM October 6, 2016 at 10:30 am

100% agreed with you CV. I tend to hear this more from families that have employer/employee relationships with their APs and I guess as long as the AP wants that same type of relationship then something like this would ruffle fewer feathers in that household but as you said, even with nannies – how many have performance reviews for all the reasons mentioned above?

I vehemently disagree with this in households that use the family member pitch. Just like you would never give your mother a performance review on how she is doing as a grandmother it wouldn’t be appropriate for your AP either. As CV framed how do you quantify helping cleanup after a kid carsick episode when she is not working but tagging along on a family trip? The hugs and kisses and tears and laughs? Not to be overly sentimental but we screen for and are explicit that we are looking for lifelong relationships with our APs and we only want someone that feels the same and is willing to invest 200% like we do – emotionally, financially, physically, etc.

Clear expectations and feedback are critical in hosting – don’t get me wrong. But a performance review is not the appropriate vehicle for feedback in hosting IMO. Give feedback (both positive and negative) regularly, honestly and with grace and your APs will not only appreciate it (knowing if they are meeting expectations or not does wonders for their stress level) but in my experience, will happily try to meet your expectations without cattle prodding if delivered well and if they feel like you believe they can do it and are invested in them/their success. We stress that our AP is a part of the parenting team and critical to the success of our household. They, more than anyone else, have the opportunity to impact our household and we articulate that and try to make sure they feel valued.

cv harquail October 6, 2016 at 2:52 pm

“Give feedback (both positive and negative) regularly, honestly and with grace and your APs will not only appreciate it”

I love this TxHM!!

HRHM October 6, 2016 at 11:11 am

I think the key to our success has been the frequent (sometimes daily!) “check-in” conversation. We make it clear in matching that AP should expect to stop for 10-15 minutes every day and just let us know how things went that day, anything going on in the next day or so, anything that needs our attention (papers to sign, a check for picture day, needs more lunch money, etc) and also to keep us up to date on her plans (if she’ll be gone all weekend camping, if she needs off early next Tuesday to go to a concert). In addition, in the beginning, we have one evening a week where the kids are not present and we sit down for an hour for a more structured discussion of upcoming events, things we need her to do differently, things she’d like changed, holiday and vacation planning, etc.

Our best outcomes have been with APs who took these communication opportunities seriously and used them for a two way discussion often. The couple who just shrugged, said nothing and then raced out the door ASAP were the hardest to connect with and we never really knew what they were thinking, if they were happy and if they needed anything from us. They also didn’t seem to care what we were thinking, if we were happy and if we needed anything from them . Very disheartening.

AuPair in the Netherlands October 6, 2016 at 10:35 pm

One of my good friends here (in the Netherlands) was given a performance review by her host family. The policy here tends to be that families and aupairs have monthly meetings to discuss any problems and changes and weekly mini meetings to discuss the schedule and plan for the week. The performance review was seen as awkward unnecessary and offensive by both the agency (who sent an email to the host family about it) and my aupair friend. My friends host family had originally said they were looking for a family relationship with the aupair but with the performance review and many things that happened later it showed my friend that that was not the case and they are in rematch right now. If there is a problem with the aupair a better way in my opinion is to discuss it with your aupair face to face what is the problems and how you believe it could be fixed.

HMA October 7, 2016 at 9:36 am

Well, nothing like starting a conversation with a completely biased point of view. There is probably a time and a place for everything.

I hear the concerns about it being too formal and I haven’t used one because of those concerns as well. I can see it being used positively though, to kind of say “Hey I recognize that you are working really hard here.” (And yes there are other ways to accomplish the same thing) There are performance review templates on au pair websites as well as Nanny websites.

It would be really interesting to hear what the agencies have to say about it. Really, a performance review is just a tool to provide feedback and it probably depends on how you use it.

Having said that, I think if you have a really sweet au pair that blends in well with your family and really is playing that “big sister” role, a performance review may not the right tool for you. On the flip side, I don’t think that all au pairs are like that.

I had an au pair that was very “By the book.” She honestly wanted to be treated like an “employee” and I think in that situation I could have seen myself using some kind of review process and she most likely would have appreciated it. I did not choose to do one mostly because of some of the same concerns mentioned but looking back, I kind of wished I had used one. I think the advantage in that particular situation was that it could have provided clearer feedback for her and maybe even opened up the conversation.

I see the concern about being too rigid and I think that is a valid point especially if you are dealing with the “family member” type. It may just be a matter of “does the situation warrant it”? Maybe ask yourself will this improve or hurt the relationship?

I would be interested to hear if there are any success stories out there?

As far as other things we use, we do use the weekly meeting and this worked fairly well. Regardless, I think a “touch base” point is valuable. One of the reasons that I schedule a time is so I can make it “kid free” which is hard to come by in my home.

I try to focus on 3 principals: Be Safe, Be Loving and Try Hard. This is the expectation for everyone not just the au pair.

cv harquail October 7, 2016 at 5:34 pm

Every point of view is biased, by definition.

TexasHM October 8, 2016 at 9:23 am

CV has her own opinion just like everyone else that shares here and just like you shared a contrasting opinion I don’t think it’s going to stop anyone from posting or having their own opinion.

As far as agencies are concerned I have been present or spoken with LCs from APIA and CCAP and both said absolutely not in regards to performance reviews. They also both recommended weekly check in meetings instead and that’s what we do as well until the relationship and AP are well established.

Performance reviews stress and frustrate many employees so I just think there’s a better way – IMHO. We have had reset conversations with written feedback and action items and we did also tell them all the things they were doing great but it was more conversational and focused on giving them a clear path to fixing a couple specific things vs telling them they are an 8/10 in affection toward the kids and 7/10 on relationship with HPs and 9/10 on giving HPs their personal space and 4/10 on folding kids laundry. :).

HMA October 7, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Right, but as a moderator you could have opened the question up for a discussion in a more objective way.

Mimi October 7, 2016 at 10:46 pm

Aupairmom isn’t a forum, it’s a blog which usually includes personal observations and opinions which are inherently biased. The owner of a blog controls the content and the discussion, but allows questions and comments from the “audience.” Objectivity (which can be very subjective IMO) is not a hallmark trait of blogs.

As an aside, differing viewpoints are always welcomed here but are typically better received when they don’t include individually directed criticisms or snide remarks.

cvh October 7, 2016 at 10:59 pm

I didn’t mean to seen snippy in my reply to you, HMA , and as Mimi notes, the way that blogs work is the author gets to lead with her pov. Also, by being dramatic in a headline, a post captures people’s attention. I find that when I offer only one measured, all sides considered post after another, folks get bored. Ymmv.

HMA October 8, 2016 at 2:43 pm

All I am saying is that this post was started in a way that was strongly worded in one direction. I am not saying “don’t”, “can’t” or that the author is not entitled to do that. I am saying that unfortunately we will probably never get to see if there is another side to this issue. I would doubt after all this anyone with an alternate point of view will come forward. I believe the point of this blog is to share ideas among host families but maybe that is a mistake on my part.

Mimi October 18, 2016 at 10:43 pm

What you consider to be a performance review is going to vary widely. A review is going to be a key component of improvement or development for anyone regardless of field or profession. The problem is that most people do it wrong. :) Traditional performance management tools don’t work in even traditional work settings most times because a good performance review system is about an ongoing conversation, not a one time evaluation. It should be more about managing performance and not just pointing out problems.

Although we treat our APs as family members, we absolutely give them what could be considered performance reviews. We have regular and ongoing conversations with our APs about how they are doing and how specific situations have been handled (or could have been handled differently). We know what their goals are for their year here and check in with them to see how they are doing in reaching them. They know what our goals are for our children and them and we tell them how they are doing and what needs to be adjusted.

Part of the what we try to give back to our APs is life experience for the future and that goes beyond just evaluating them. For us it’s about coaching them today for the skills they need for our HH and mentoring them for what they do with them beyond their time with us.

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