Like most customers, I want to believe that the company selling me things has my best interest in mind. I should know better– after all, I’ve taught in business schools for over 15 years. But still, I hope that even when a company exists to make money they believe that they also exist to serve their customers.
This is why it irks me when I hear about Au Pair Agencies doing a bad job and treating their customers — host parents and au pairs – poorly.
There are several ways that Au Pair Agencies let Host Parents (and au pairs) down… but perhaps the one way that upsets me the most in when agencies reward Au Pairs who lack commitment.
Au Pairs who lack commitment are those who want to rematch because the Au Pairs:
- Don’t like the host family’s location
- Don’t like their accommodations
- Don’t want to work hard
- Don’t want to put effort into making a good relationship
[Au Pairs like these should not really have made it through the application (and interview) processes anyway, but that’s a different story.]
Au Pairs who lack commitment create great problems for Host Families, who match with them, orient them, welcome them into their homes, and so on, only to have the au pair announce that things ‘just aren’t working out’ and she wants to go somewhere else– after only a few weeks in the program.
When this happens, agencies should do three things —
- Agencies should make the au pair keep her basic commitment to the host family by having the au pair remain with the family for a full 4 weeks of the ‘adjustment period’,
- Agencies should create significant ‘disincentives’ — such as revoking the Au Pair’s completion payment, or requiring a commitment payment (in escrow) that the Au Pair gets back once she makes a ‘good faith’ effort to make it work.
- Agencies should send home au pairs who show themselves to be unwilling to make an effort.
Instead, what do agencies (sometimes, often) do? They help the au pair find another placement– one that the au pair prefers. And, agencies often do this more than once, for the same au pair. Au Pairs know that they will not be penalized by the agency. And, they know they get help rematching with another family. So, au pairs who lack commitment share tips on how to ‘explain’ why they must rematch, and encourage each other to rematch.
[Of course, au pairs in legitimately bad matches need peer support and agency support. Again, that’s another situation.]
I get that it is in the agencies’ short-term financial interest to just rematch the au pair– they have spent a lot of money screening her, training her, and bringing her to the USA. There are host families who need immediate au pairs, and if these host families will take an in-country au pair for rematch, the agencies’ investment is not wasted. The agencies don’t lose money, and the new host family may get a decent au pair.
In the meantime, what happens to the host family? They lose their initial financial and emotional investment in the au pair, they must re-do all of the time and energy-expensive matching process, and retrain another au pair– after cobbling together some kind of back up coverage.
Worse, the abandoned host family has to help their host kids cope with the experience of having an au pair ‘just leave’.
Here’s one mom’s story:
Hi there! Thank you for creating the AuPairMom website. It is a fantastic resource!! Now I need some advice . . . We have been a host family for 3 years. We currently have a 4 year old daughter and a 2 year old son. Both my husband and I work full time, but our au pairs only work Mon, Tues, 1/2 day Weds and Fri with very occasional weekends. My mom has the children the other 1/2 day Weds and Thurs to ensure that we fall well below the 45 hour mark. [note: this looks like a cushy job to me! cv]
Our first au pair was fabulous, and deemed us the best host family ever. Unfortunately, she had to go back home after her first year for school purposes. Our second au pair was very nice, and stayed with us for 2 years, during which she got married to a boy from our area and technically “moved in with him” while continuing to be our “au pair”. But hey, we are flexible, so we worked with that.
We are in rematch with our third au pair, S. It is a terribly frustrating situation, because S. decided to leave us after only 3 weeks. All she would say is “that it was not a good fit” and we “did not have good chemistry”. We talked with, emailed with, and met with our counselor and corporate for our agency, S. herself, had a 3 way meeting with our counselor, etc.
Bottom line for us, we believe that S. did not like our area, and wanted to be somewhere warmer/more exciting/etc. with a family where her only responsibility was to play with the children occasionally while enjoying her paid vacation in the US.
I was frustrated, but assured that our agency would immediately send her back to Germany. However, instead, our agency is allowing her to try and rematch!!
I am floored. I can’t believe they would allow this behavior, and I hate that she not only may do this to another family, but that because our agency is empowering her, it may lead other girls to hop families until they find the perfect “fit”/ location.
Because of this, I am thinking about leaving the program and going to a more traditional nanny. I hate that, because we love the international aspect of this program, the cultural exchange, exposing our children to different cultures, etc. However, this situation is VERY HARD on our children, who just lost their au pair of 2 years and now lost another in just a few weeks that I’m not sure I’m willing to take the risk again.
Do you have any advice? Thanks!!!
Image: Day eight: Pretty eyes from Inquisitive Oliver