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Nannies, governess, butlers, housekeepers, drivers…How to find the right household staff
For many families, one of the most stressful and difficult things they have to organise for their children (apart from getting them into the right schools of course) is likely to be their care . How do you get the right nanny, mother’s help or au pair to fit your requirements depending on your needs and your budget? And as children get older, families often start looking for a different type of household staff and move to a governess and housekeeper. There are households that employ more than one or two staff and which cannot run effectively without a larger number of staff. Households are as different as people and finding the right staff for the right household is a continuing challenge. So how do agencies go about it?
I still remember to this day, trying to find the ideal maternity nurse/nanny for the twins I was expecting. I knew I was going to go back to work relatively quickly and that my husband was not going to be at home much so it was critical for me to have someone I could rely on completely and who would not leave me in a mess by quitting a few weeks later. And yet, I was also looking for someone who would not mind me wanting to take an active part in my children’s upbringing and who would not constantly tell me what to do or not to do but would take on board my wishes and guide me rather than direct me. Because of course as with all mothers-to-be, I had read all the books and having done so, I thought of myself as a bit of an expert. I knew what the best way of bringing up children was, having not had any previously or looked after any children other than my nephews and nieces for a few hours here and there. Little did I know!
My darling husband also wanted to be involved in the recruiting, because as he so rightly pointed out at the time, he was going to have to live with the person we would employ. This was my first encounter with nanny agencies and this was also when I discovered that nanny agencies were not all alike and that some were infinitely better than others. Why would you ask? Don't agencies simply have to source people with the right qualifications and good references? This is without doubt top of the list but it is not that basic. If this was the case, then anyone could easily put an ad in the Lady magazine and wait for the phone to ring. Plus, do you want to have to labour through dozens of applicants CVs, interview them and then also check their references by calling all their previous employers?
By the time I started my search for Mary Poppins, I was already in my 7th month of pregnancy and finding it difficult to get around. I called a number of nanny agencies. Only one offered to come to meet me at home which I thought was very caring.
I realised later that the agency home visit had a purpose, she wanted to see our home to understand better how we lived, see the accommodation for the nanny and check the nursery. She was in effect trying to match a nanny to our needs. This is where you start understanding the differences between an agency that takes time to listen in order to offer a bespoke service to their clients and one that provides a standardised service because it believes that people are all cut from the same cloth.
For David Searl, a family consultant at Nanny and Butler, there is no doubt that “understanding customers and offering a bespoke service is what sets their agency apart. It is very important to build a rapport by understanding clients’ lives, build an understanding of the way they live” he explained.
Our Mary Poppins was called Ann-Margaret, she was just the nicest person my babies could hope for: she talked to them continuously and sang all day long. Furthermore, she was a no nonsense sort of girl and she did not mind living in with us or going on holiday to some strange places. She fitted in very quickly despite the fact that she was having to spend a large part of her day in doors with the babies because by the time both babies were dressed and ready to go for a stroll in the park, it was already time for their next feed.
28 years on, one of my nieces is just about to have a little girl and she asked me to help her recruit her first nanny so I started looking again at nanny agencies and wondered if things had changed much in all that time. I came across Nanny and Butler, probably one of the top nanny agencies in the world. I wanted to understand from them how things had changed over the last 28 years. Did people still have the same needs and how did they fulfil the needs of their clients?
Strangely enough, I discovered that although the basic requirements are still very similar, agencies had to adapt to a changing environment. People for instance move around the world a lot more and as they move more, they need staff that can follow them, that are at least bi-lingual if not tri-lingual and busy people need more staff to look not only after their children but also after them and their house. It is not uncommon for instance, to find that parents are both out working and need a nanny, a housekeeper and a personal assistant. They may have a chauffeur, staff on board their yacht or their plane. Does it sound like Downton Abbey well almost, some families may not have any children but they need a number of staff to take care of all their needs and this is when they rely on agencies such as Nanny and Butler.
“It is not only about finding the best qualified people and being good at what they do, it is also about the relationship they are going to build with the family” as David Searl pointed out.
“The more information we get about our clients, the better the match. (…) We try to meet all our clients but unfortunately, not all clients have the time to meet us. We often have to deal with PAs or another member of staff. (…) We always offer to meet our clients and even if they chose not to meet us, they know it is on the table.”
“There are times when it is more tricky to find the right candidate because the language combination that the client asks for is unusual but we have so far never been unable to find the right person. Recently, we placed a governess who spoke 4 languages: Mandarin, Spanish, English and German.” This type of person does not come cheap at around £1200 net per week. And sometime even more depending on qualification and number of years of experience.
In one of my friends’ cases, the nanny they needed had to love dogs because she owned two very large dogs who were also a little too friendly. Because both parents worked, entertained and had a busy social life, the right candidate had to be extremely flexible and prepared to do long hours for the right kind of perks: car, mobile phone, gym membership, foreign holidays… she also had to be able to work in a team because they employed a housekeeper/cook and a cleaner, a PA, a chauffeur and a handyman as well as a fulltime gardener. With the size of their estate, this was a prerequisite. It is also worth noting that this was only for one the houses they owned. As time went by, nannies were replaced by governesses with a wide range of skills.
In our case, we moved from nannies to au-pairs and to housekeepers/cook. Rosie, our housekeeper has been with us for 14 years and she is really part of our family. Our life would simply not be the same without her.
A study carried recently, indicated that household staff earned on average:
|Housekeeper||£12 per hour|
|Head Housekeeper||£35k to £40k per year|
|Cleaner||£400 per week full time|
|Food Preparation and Service||Average Salary|
|Chef||£180 per day|
|Private Chef||£40,000 per year|
|Cook||£20 to £25 per hour|
|Caterer||£10.00 per hour|
|Personal Care||Average Salary|
|Caregiver||£500 per week|
|Household Manager||£700 per week|
|Fitness Trainer||£70.00 per hour|
|Other Popular Jobs||Average Salary|
|Babysitter/Nanny||£12 per hour|
|House Manager||£50k per year|
|Personal Assistant||£28k per year|
|Maternity Nurse||£140 per day|
|Project Manager||£45,000 per year|