NextGen Know-How: Why I fired our family au pair

Effective leaders must learn when to give feedback, when to coach and when to let employees go.

In August, our family welcomed an au pair from Italy who was supposed to be with us for a year. With a busy household of three young kids, my husband and I were hopeful this was the answer to our struggle of navigating sports practices and games, work travel and two businesses. Having an extra set of hands would reduce some of the stress of managing five different schedules.

Within two weeks of her arrival, our ideal vision of a life with our au pair had faded to the reality of additional stress, disappointment and unfulfilled expectations. A week into her stay, we gave our au pair some candid and supportive feedback about how she could engage better with the kids, and we resolved to give her additional driving lessons because her driving skills were much lower than we had expected. A week later, during her fifth driving lesson with my husband, he had to grab the wheel to avoid a catastrophic accident. We realized we could never trust her to drive our kids, which was one of our main goals of the program. We sat down with her and our local consultant from the au pair company and respectfully shared the news that we weren’t a good fit for each other. She was upset and disappointed, as were we, but we felt confident in our decision. It would have been easy to avoid the difficult conversation by convincing ourselves that she was a nice girl and we should try to make it work, but the bottom line was that she was not a good fit for our needs. Dragging it out for another two months would have been stressful and unpleasant for her and for us.

Although most people were supportive and understood our decision, we were criticized by a few who thought we should have given her more time to adjust. However, we felt strongly that the issue was not the adjustment period; her fundamental skill level was not a match for our needs. Being a nice person didn’t make her effective at the job.


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