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.
Conceptually, 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”?