Only used a reputable nanny recruitment agency!

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When she decided to get back to work after her maternity leave, Afsari Karol had not expected that finding a nanny for her son would be an uphill task.

Having heard horror stories about domestic help stealing or murdering employers, the Saki Naka resident approached a registered agency in Mulund that promised a background check and an assurance that they would find a replacement if the maid quit within a year.

“The agency made tall claims about their services. I realised that they were frauds as soon as I paid a commission of Rs 5,000. Several weeks and numerous phone calls later, they sent me someone who left within a month. Now, six months, later I still am waiting for a replacement,” said Karol, who works as a quality control officer at a pharmaceutical company in Vikhroli.

For an increasing number of working parents with young children and no support network in the city, finding reliable domestic help is only getting harder. There is also a risk of being conned by fraudulent agencies and individuals.

“I thought approaching a manpower consultancy would be a better idea than hiring a maid through word-of-mouth. But I was wrong,” lamented Sion resident Yusuf Munshi, who contacted three different agencies across the city but was duped every time.

“One of the agencies said the maids don’t want to work for people of a certain community while another kept me on hold for nearly a year, after which they expected me to pay more money if I wanted to continue with their non-existent services,” complained the BPO employee, who has a young daughter, a working wife and an ailing mother at home. In the end, none of the agencies could find a maid for Munshi and they refused to refund the money he had paid as commission.

Agencies that claim to provide full-time housemaids, nannies or nurses have mushroomed across Mumbai in the last few years. They demand anything between Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 for their services that include recruiting, training, counselling and doing background checks on the domestic help. Disgruntled customers all over the city reveal that though the agencies promise several things, none of them fulfil their obligations. Some are even known to change telephone numbers and shut shop after collecting commission from unsuspecting clients.

“It’s not easy finding and recruiting unskilled labour. There are costs of running an office. Sometimes, we end up not delivering what we promise. But we try our best to match the domestic help with the requirements of the employer,” admitted Kinnari Shah, an executive of a Kandivali-based agency.

Setting nanny ground rules

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What are ground rules?

According to one dictionary definition, ground rules are ‘basic principles’. It is important to identify and agree these principles as soon as your nanny starts working for you.

Unlike most other employees, your nanny will be working in your home, probably while you are out of it. Therefore you need to be able to communicate openly and freely about how you can make the relationship a productive and happy one. This means making your views clear on issues like smoking, visitors and confidentiality. If you set ground rules in the early days, you will both know where you stand and what is expected.

Mother of three Rosemarie says, ‘I have learned over time that the earlier you say what is important to you, the better. Start at the interview by asking what the nanny would do about discipline, or how they would leave the house at the end of the day. Look for someone whose views coincide with yours.’

Should the agreed ground rules be included in our writtencontract?

It makes sense to include everything that is important to the smooth working of your arrangement in the contract. However, you can agree them verbally.

Rosemarie, who has had nannies for the past four years, says, ‘At first I didn’t think it was important to include ground rules in the contract, but now I do. Another way to do it would be to prepare some written guidance notes for your nanny.’

I want to talk to my nanny about ground rules, but I’m concerned that they might take offense.

While you might be talking about quite personal topics, remember that if you don’t talk about them, and there is a problem, it can be even more awkward. It depends on you and the nanny — although mainly you at this stage, as you are the employer and should say clearly what you think is important. Of course, you should also listen to your nanny and find out their views.

Many parents and nannies cover these areas:

• Visitors:
Don’t be surprised if your nanny wants to have friends over during the day. They are likely to have a nanny circle and they might take turns visiting each other’s houses. But what if it is a boyfriend or girlfriend who is in the kitchen having a cup of coffee when you get home early from work one day?

Rosemarie comments, ‘Think about how you want your house kept, too. It depends on you — you need to be realistic about people coming round, but make it clear that your house has to be cleaned up afterwards.’

Discuss what is or is not acceptable as far as visiting is concerned. If you have a live-in nanny you will also need to think about overnight visitors and any rules relating to them.

• Use of the telephone:
Often a contentious one, this, though potentially less of an issue now that cell phones are more prevalent. Most nannies are likely to have a cell phone, which reduces the issue of expense. However, you may still be concerned about your nanny receiving frequent personal calls while on duty.

Over-enthusiastic use of the telephone may also mean the possibility of your children being left to their own devices.

You you will need to decide what is acceptable. Some families feel that only essential phone calls should be made during working hours.

• Confidentiality and privacy:
Being a nanny means being a trusted individual, who has access to all sorts of personal information about you and your family. Your nanny has to know that any information they pick up, or overhear, as a result of being part of the household, should not go any further. Though it’s unlikely that many nannies will make try to make a bestseller about your personal habits, you should be able to feel that your private life can stay that way.

Having said that, make sure that you don’t put temptation in their way. Your personal correspondence should not be left lying around, nor should bank statements or credit card bills.

• Discipline:
It is vital to a happy working relationship that you and your nanny have similar views on managing children’s behaviour. No nanny should resort to smacking or physically punishing a child in any way. There are many other methods of keeping control. You should discuss a behaviour management strategy upon which you are both agreed.

• Out of bounds areas or objects:
This will affect you more if you have a live-in nanny, but even with a live-out nanny, you may want to make certain parts of the house out of bounds, limiting the daily wear and tear to certain rooms only.

Most employers will expect their bedroom to be private, and there may be some household items (such as stereo systems or personal computers) that they do not want to be used without being asked.

• Use of car:
Most nannies are able to drive and sometimes they have their own car. You will need to discuss a mileage allowance if you expect them to use their own car to transport your children. You should also ensure that proper insurance protection is in place.

Some employers provide a car for the nanny to drive. Discuss when you are happy for it to be used. For example, would you restrict it to official tasks or could it also be used ‘off-duty’.

• Honesty:
Anyone who works around children does have to be beyond reproach. A nanny who is prepared to lie about why they were late for work, or why they did not have a reference from a previous employer, could be lying about other things, too.

• Smoking:
Most parents are clear that they do not want anybody smoking either in their house or near their baby. It is a health risk and it makes clothes smell. A tolerant few will let the nanny smoke outdoors when the children, say, are asleep. Again, your views on smoking should be clear from the outset, and this should include whether you want them to take your baby or child anywhere with a smoky atmosphere.

That’s my side of the bargain sorted. But what about my nanny?

Don’t forget that for this to work, you must think about the things that are important to your nanny. Ask them to say what they want from you. They may come up with some of the following:

• to pay them on time

• to respect their professionalism and judgement

• to stick to the hours that you agreed originally

• to give regular salary reviews

• not to take advantage

How can I make the ground rules work?

One good way to do this is to have pre-arranged times to sit down and talk. Many successful nanny/family set-ups hold monthly meetings, especially at the beginning of a new job, when you can talk about anything that is worrying you before it becomes a problem.