In the seasons of the Au Pair year, there often comes a time after The Honeymoon and All Systems Go, but before On the Way Out, when some au pairs hit The Minimum Viable Performance.
(Sometimes, though not always, this is paired with The Slough of
Not Giving a Shit Not Caring Anymore.)
During The Minimum Viable Performance phase, your au pair stops trying to improve, stops trying to grown, stops taking pride in her or his work, stops even keeping up the appearance of doing a good job, and only does just enough that you don’t send her/him into rematch.
The Minimum Viable Performance period is a dangerous time for host parents– we aren’t sure what to do, and we are often tempted to settle for less than what we’d hoped.
What can you do when your au pair stops doing a good job?
Host parents usually take one of two paths to respond to the MVP. They either (1) start picking up all the slack themselves, or (2) they start working on the performance issues of the au pair.
Pick up the Slack
If you start by picking up the slack yourself, or by lowering your standards, you usually build up a huge amount of resentment. Then, you erupt at an inappropriate moment, getting pissed at your au pair, and feeling so resentful that it’s hard to repair the relationship. And, on the way to this eruption, you’re probably grumped to your partner and all your friends. This is not a great way to go.
Work on Performance Issues
The other path takes steps to address the au pair’s performance.
First, Host Parents respond to the Minimum Viable Performance by treating the performance issue as though it stems from the au pair not knowing what s/he is supposed to do. Often, s/he and the HP’s describe this as ‘forgetting’ what’s expected.
What we do: HPs remind the au pair, retrain the au pair, leave lists of things that need to get done, and so on. They take a logical, information-based approach to the problem.
This seems to be a fair way to go, since it is technically possible that s/he forgot or doesn’t know. And, sometimes simply making it clear that the performance isn’t up to par and that you have noticed will embarrass the au pair into doing a better job. Plus, when in doubt, it works best to assume that your au pair wants to do a good job and wants to be appreciated.
When this doesn’t work, some Host Parents shift to focus on the emotions that they think might be behind the au pair’s behavior.
Host parents try to diagnose the MVP as something that stems from not being appreciated, having ‘short timers’ syndrome’, being distracted by their social life, and so on.
What we do: Host parents have a heart-to-heart talk about the poor performance, and try to draw the au pair out. They focus on (emotional) motivations like taking pride in her or his work or doing a good job as a role model for the kids. They appeal to the au pair’s highest personal expectations, and sometimes they can get the au pair back on track.
There are additional steps to take next, but I’m going to leave it up to you readers to unfold these in your comments, below.
And, to help you out, here are not one but two examples of Host parents with this issue: Newbie Host Mom and Host Mom of Lazy AP...
From Newbie Host Mom:
I’ve been a reader of AuPairMom for a while and I am a first time host mom to a 21 yr old. She’s been here almost 5 months now and for the most part it’s going well, at least in terms of everyone getting along.
My question, I guess, is how to deal with her increasing laziness. When she first arrived she was very into the job, gung-ho, and would do things that she has let slide now. For example, the kids beds and their rooms. She used to make them nice and neat and make sure the rooms were tidied up. Or be up promptly at 7AM to help me get them ready for school.
Now, I see the bedsheets thrown sloppily together (i.e. today she didn’t notice there were no sheets on my younger son’s bed due to a mid-night accident, and did not replace the sheets, but merely put the spread back over a mattress pad).
She gets up at 7:15-7:20ish, goes gets lunches ready and doesn’t bother to come upstairs to help me get them ready any more. Many times I’ll find her dishes all around the house (cups, plates, etc.) from her meals not put away in the dishwasher. She minimally cleans up after them after they eat (i.e. crumbs and food everywhere), and doesn’t put a real effort into my son’s lunchbox like she used to. I have to remind her a lot to do things or put things away, or the like. It’s tiring.
Often I will find her watching a lot of TV, surfing the web, Netflix or shows streaming from her laptop. My children state that sometimes when they are downstairs playing, she’ll accompany them down there, and be with them, but spend the time on her laptop and not be interacting with them. A few months ago, I did confront her because she was letting them go down there and then spending the time upstairs on her computer. I asked her to not use the computer during working time, and so, according to my 6 year old, she now takes her laptop with her down there. The router is out in the open, and I’m not sure how to lock it down during the day.
She does a lot of playdates with other German au pairs, and their children. Particularly with my younger son during the time before she picks up the older son. From what I gather, the kids play while the two au pairs chat (one time they were playing in the yard while the au pairs watched from the deck). I’ve watched her when she is at the playground with my children (from afar) and she sits down at a bench while my children run around and play. I am disappointed that she doesn’t interact as much with my children.
I guess I’ve seen a slide in effort and more and more laziness and lack of caring in taking care of stuff. I’m not sure how to approach it. I’ve asked her to do certain things, and she does fix those certain things LITERALLY. She doesn’t make the jump connection to related issues.
I really don’t want to rematch with her, but I would like some times to try to get the spark back / reduce the laziness. Perhaps she feels things can slide…or perhaps I need to speak up more. I do say things when I know she’s supposed to do things and doesn’t or correct things, but perhaps I should be doing more. She has mentioned that she loves it here and how great it is, and how she’s thinking of extending, but more and more, I’m thinking of not extending with her.
From Host Mom of Lazy AP:
Our au pair just gets lazier and lazier.
She no longer cleans up the playroom or puts the kids laundry away. I think she thinks that clothes and toys put themselves on shelves and in drawers?
She has complained that she doesn’t like how I talk with her when I bring up her tasks, but honestly I’m pretty annoyed. She also tells me she thinks that the children should be responsible for cleaning their rooms and putting their laundry away. This is fine, but someone has to take responsibility for letting it done. That should be her and not me.
There are many other things she’s not doing, including not washing her dishes, cooking only the most simple meals for the kids, and letting them watch too much tv. What should I do to get her to care? Is there anything that works?