Sunday, December 19, 2010

Babysitting Blues

  Of the skills that I possess, coordination and scheduling are not my strongest. I'm an idea man, not a detail person.
  So when I set up a 'happy hour' at our house for my neighbors and their kids, then had a bright last-minute idea to hire a babysitter to watch the kids, I didn't realize I was setting myself up for disaster.

  Happy Hour was great. Some disorganization, but overall a success. The problem was with the sitter.
  Not that there was a problem with her job performance, specifically, but in the communication for compensating her.
  Originally, I figured that she would work from 5:30 until 8 or 9, the typical time for kids to go to bed. 10 at the latest. I offered her $5 flat rate per kid, expecting up to 12 kids, or $60. Her usual rate for us is $10 per hour.
  After helping to finish a couple bottles of wine, my judgment was not as strong as it usually would be and some kids were up later than usual and suddenly it was 11. I figured I would give her an extra $20 for the extra time, making $80.
  The next day I sent her a text message thanking her and hoping that the extra $20 was a reasonable addition to agreed upon rate. It wasn't.
  She thought that the rate was $5 per hour per kid, which could have added up to around $300. When I handed her $80, she was more than disappointed (I could practically feel her shaking with anger and tears through the response text message.) When I read that she was expecting to make $300, I was shocked.
  Here's what went wrong. The job was set up via text message. Once she agreed, or at least said that she was available for the job, I should have called her to create a plan. First of all, we would have found that the rate was not acceptable to her right away and could have negotiated a fair price. Second, we could have gone over what was expected.
  Our contentions: she did not sit for every child who showed up. There were two or three kids around one year old who were with their parents the whole time, not under her supervision. She should not be compensated for that. Next, not all of the kids were there at the same time. They arrived and left at widely varying times. Based on when the kids under her supervision came and left, if her rate was $5 per kid per hour, it would have added up to $175. To respond to her point that she watched the kids so that we could have adult time, it was not as if the babysitter handled the kids 100% once under her care. The parents fed the kids, dealt with the occasional problem, and I changed Toodles's diaper and put her to bed when it was time.
  Expecting one sitter to handle 12 kids ages 2 - 9 years old (or even the 8 that was the max at once) would be unreasonable, another reason why getting the full rate would not be what I consider equitable compensation. When we pay her $10 per hour, or $5 per child, we leave the house and she has 100% responsibility for them. If we had left her with all of the kids, then such compensation would have been warranted. In this case, her responsibility was supervising the kids who were in the basement, most of which involved watching Toy Story 2.
  To circle back, all of this would have been avoided if I had called her and discussed, to some detail, about what she should expect her responsibilities to be. She would have known that there would be a great deal of parent involvement. Other problems would have been avoided if I would have dismissed her at 10 or earlier. Finally, having her so late, I probably should have given her more like $100.
  So she's feeling taken and embarrassed that she misread my compensation offer (which read, "flat rate of $5 per kid") and I'm feeling bad that she's so upset and that I probably shorted her.
  While I wouldn't say that she's the world's most amazing babysitter, doing balloon animals and art projects, in the couple of times that we've used her, she's punctual and the kids are comfortable with her. Frankly, for $10 per hour (a low rate around here,) that's as much as we should expect. As one of the parents at the party pointed out today, for $300 we could have hired a professional kid party person, like a musician, balloon artist, or the like. (And she also said that, for $300, she would have gladly undertaken the responsibility.)
  So I'm going to talk to her tomorrow and see if I can't make the situation better by offering her another $40 to make $120 for the night. The plan is to help her see the gross exaggeration of her math, but not make it her fault. I will also help her understand the difference in expectations when she's getting her full rate ($5 per kid per hour) versus a rate in this type of circumstance. And finally I'll make the suggestion that we have voice confirmation (i.e. a phone conversation) of any job set up via text or email.
  Ugh. And I thought my hangover sucked.

1 comment:

  1. Never text, its like sending an email.. Hearing a voice is easier and more understandable... For the amt. of kids she was supposedly watching, I have to agree w/her.. I wouldn't want to watch 11 and only get $80 out of it... Even tho she literally did not watch all of them, she still had the responsibility of it...Not taking sides, just being logical. Ask your mom or another female if they would work for that amount and see if they would agree... times have changed, kids aren't as easy to watch nowadays.