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Sitters / Au Pairs in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria - Sitters4U Babysitting, House sitting and Au Pair services. - Maintaining a good relationship with your employer

Maintaining a good relationship with your employer

Complaints on either side of any relationship are inevitable. No matter how much you love the children and family you work for, and no matter how much this is returned misunderstandings and difficulties can arise. The questions we are aiming to answer with this article, is, how  can you assist to avoid them when they do occur and what to do about the ones that arise despite everyone's best efforts.

The first thing you have to understand is that a lot of effort has gone into finding you, meeting you and most importantly taking the calculated risk to hire you. This is not an ordinary job. As an au pair, you are involved in a personal capacity with your employer’s life and most precious asset, their children. The trust required from the parents, to leave their children with you is immense and as vast as an endless canyon and will always be fragile and prone to crumble easily. Ensuring you contribute positively is the key to trust for both parties.

What are the issues?

Through this article we aim to look at the following information:

  • Communication
  • Common Disputes
  • Suggestions


Effective and clear communication is the number one method to avoid or reduce complaints. Good communication with your employer needs to start before you have even started. The first step once you have obtained a position, before you start, you must begin your relationship with a written contract. A contract is the point of initiation of discussion with your new employer. It allows you and your employer to engage in a conversation relating to what your employer expects from you and also provides you with a written reference as to your responsibilities as the families au pair. Both you and your new employer now need to review the contents of this contract, and it is important to let the employer know at this initial phase if you have an issue with anything. Asking questions and finding out why the employer feels a particular point is important or required, or why a certain issue has been withheld from the contract is a good way to get an issue sorted out before it bacomes a problem. It is always imperative to cover this. Things to cover in this initial meeting include; your duties, e.g. lifting , homework, meal plans ( what is allowed, what isn’t, in what amounts), routines, pick up times, schedules, activities the employer wants you to perform daily, how to handle discipline issues, areas of the home the children are allowed into, those they are not, the progress the  employer wishes to see in their child ( they are after all paying you double or triple the cost it takes to put their children into aftercare or a playgroup), if any TV or electronic entertainment is allowed, how much, etc.

At this initial phase it is also very important to establish good verbal communication with your new client. Take the time to get to know each other a bit more before jumping straight into the job. Get to know the clients feelings about privacy and time as well. Doing so creates an air of openness and adds to continued healthy communication with each other.

Over the course of your employment there may be a few problems that arrive that are easily resolved in nothing but a few minutes. Serious misunderstandings, which are usually due to a miscommunication of some sort, can also come up though and this is were it gets difficult. If you or your employer, is in any way upset or angry it is imperative to try and arrange a time to talk, away from the children and when both parties have had time to ‘cool off’.  Doing so can really make the outcome positive  the visa-versa scenario can also apply.

If your employer is upset and seems angry, perhaps try saying something along the lines of, ‘I know you are not happy about this issue right now. It is bothering me too. Can we perhaps schedule a time to talk about it this evening or arrange a time for a chat later when I have completed my duties for this afternoon?' Emphasizing the fact that you want to deal with the issue in a calm and relaxed manner and that you are also experiencing the need to chat about the problem will definitely help in contributing to a reasonable outcome.

Often once you and your employer are sitting down, firstly your employer may raise concerns not even related to the real issue at hand and may even work themselves up by doing so. A meaningful discussion involving the actual problem may take a lot of time and energy to accomplish. Being honest at this point is crucial. Listen to everything the angry party is saying first. Do not respond to non issues. Acknowledge them, yes, but let the person talk before saying anything as this may save time in the end and you will understand the real problem a bit better. Honesty, at this point is crucial for both the au pair and the employer. Both parties need to be as upfront as possible about their true concerns as possible. Taking the guess work out of determining the real issue is imperative.

Common Disputes

There are a number of complaints that come up time and again. Knowing these and trying to avoid them from becoming an issue in the first place is definitely to your benefit.

Parental complaints:

  • Not supervising the children at all times.
  • Not giving the employer sufficient notice of illness or time you may wish to take off.
  • Not giving the child enough to eat, or allowing foods the parents consider as a “no, no”, or feeding the child too much.
  • Allowing too much television time ( generally parents are not paying you to let the children sit in front of a screen).
  • Being inconsistent with discipline, changing rules etc.
  • Using harsh discipline and not remaining within the boundaries or guidelines set by the employer. (Click here to read our article on positive discipline).
  • Failure to report changes in availability.
  • Reporting late for duty or picking the children up late.

To be fair in our article “Maintaining a good relationship with your Au pair” we covered the following issues that often arise for au pairs:

  • Employers arriving home late.
  • Late payment of wages or salary.
  • Leaving the home in a mess and expecting the au pair to clean up.
  • Expecting the au pair to be available for babysitting any time.
  • Being inconsistent with the au pair with regard to discipline and being unsupportive in this regard.
  • Adding extra duties which are not in the contract without thorough discussion or agreement.
  • Talking about the au pair in front of the children.
  • Expectation that the au pair will never be sick.

From these lists it is plain to see that most of these complaints are a result of the parents or au pair not sticking to their end of the bargain in terms of the contract. Some are simply disagreements and some are deal breakers (i.e. not supervising the child at all times or using harsh discipline).

When determining what should be done about the situation, it is important for both parties to carefully analyze the problem before deciding how to proceed.


We can now see 2 types of complaints arising:

  • Contractual disputes
  • Personal disputes

Contractual disputes

If you or your employer feels a particular contractual obligation has been violated, first check your contract. Sometimes your memory will play tricks on you. Sometimes you will be wrong, however occasionally you may be right.  If this is the case, pointing out the issue in a non offensive manner (remember that if you are only realizing an issue for the first time, the other person probably is too) could end the disagreement.

Occasionally though, it doesn't. For some parents and au pairs not even a written contract has an effect, however it is very important to note that within this relationship, this document is your bible and you need to follow it to the ‘T’. If your client stands up to their rights or visa versa and the outcome is sour, it may not work out. In this case you may find your client terminates the employment relationship or that you may want to. This is the extreme of choices but it does happen, so, for both parties, doing what ever you can to avoid this situation is imperative. Bending a rule sometimes may also stop this event in its tracks, however in order for this to happen both parties need to be agreeable, open to listening and negotiation (again here is an example of how important establishing open communication with your client from the ‘get-go’ is key).

Personal disputes

Many times within a relationship between an au pair and employer disagreements have nothing to with contractual duties. Sometimes it simply comes down to the au pair and the parents having different views on children and their development or personality clashes.  Before reading further it is important to note that the employer is the person that makes the rules with regard to their children's upbringing. His or her view in this case is the one that matters. Unless the disagreement is so strong that terminating the relationship is the only answer, you need to think about respect and compromise. Before even mentioning your opinion on something, decide on a middle ground that may be acceptable. It is then up to you and the parents whether maintaining the relationship is worth the compromise.

Sometimes you may be lucky and you will find that the problem has resulted from a simple misinterpretation. Most of the time these personal issues will have arisen from either the parents or au pair not asking the questions that were important to ask during the interview process, or not being honest on some or other point (view our guideline for interviews for parents by clicking here or click here to view our interview guidelines for au pairs ), if you find yourself being dishonest about something in an interview, you are far more likely to end up back where you started, looking for another job. Never promise what you cannot give and be honest about anything a client asks you from the word go, know what is important for you to ask and don’t be afraid to discuss any queries you have before starting a position, it could save you a lot of time, effort and issues in the long run.

In conclusion, I take a few words from our earlier mentioned article on ‘maintaining a good relationship with your au pair ’. Any relationship takes nurturing and caring, whether with your friends, work colleges and especially your family. The relationship with your employer deserves the same treatment, if not more so. You are there too help your employer’s children reach their full potential in life. You will find that by following these simple guidelines not only will your behaviour be reciprocated, but you will never be disappointed. Realise that it is only very occasionally that a client will be completely satisfied with your performance throughout your relationship. A difference of opinion is mostly unavoidable at sometime during your employment. The only way to have a long lasting relationship is to talk openly, often and to only give constructive criticism once you have a few suggestions on how to resolve the issue. Always stick to your contract, as mentioned earlier this is the bible for your relationship but you should be flexible and you and your employer need to trust each other in order for a compromise to be successful.

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