Job creep is a challenge in most jobs. You start off with a well-defined job description and then slowly, the boundaries of that job description begin to fray. Your boss asks you to do something extra. You think “no big deal”, you’re a pitch-in person and willing to help out. But then a few days or weeks later, your employer asks you to tackle that task again. Or another extra task or two (or three or four). Most times these asks happen so gradually that you don’t fully realize how far off track you’ve gotten until you take a look at your “official” job description. Then you realize the gap between what you’re doing and what you’re supposed to be doing is actually a pretty big deal.
Why Do Employers Push The Boundaries?
Before we jump into what you can do about job creep, let’s look at the parents’ role in this. I’ve talked with countless employers and most of them are clueless about how much of a problem job creep really is. From their perspective their nanny’s declarations of “it’s no problem at all!” are true. They see their nanny happily jump in and do the extra task easily, quickly, and on time. Do they realize they’re asking them to do something that’s not in their job description? Yes and they’re grateful for the help. Do they see it as a problem for their nanny? No, they see it as a small ask and something that the nanny truly doesn’t mind doing. Of course there are some employers who intentionally ignore boundaries but in general, most employers don’t have the villainous motives nannies often assume they do in these situations. The gold nugget here is that most employers react positively when their nanny sets clear and appropriate boundaries. Yes, they will miss the extra help – who wouldn’t? – but they value the relationship more than the tasks.
What’s My Favor Threshold?
Of course just doing a few things outside your job description doesn’t mean you’re staring down job creep. Sometimes a favor is just a favor. So how do you know the difference?
Imagine your boss asks you to change the sheets in the guest room for Grandma’s upcoming visit or go to the grocery store because they didn’t have time to do it over the weekend or stay late because the date night sitter canceled at the last minute. None of those things are required but you’re happy to help out. So with a quick “no problem” you rock through the extra work.
Then a couple of weeks later you’re asked to do another extra task. This time you’re a little bit more reluctant. Yes, you want to help out but you also don’t want this to become a habit. This is the golden moment, the time to decide what your favor threshold is.
Your favor threshold is determined by two questions.
- How many times can I do a task before it stops feeling like a favor and starts feeling like a burden?
- How many favors can I do before I feel taken advantage of?
There’s really not a right or wrong answer here. The right answer for you will depend on many factors including…
the task. Some tasks are actually enjoyable and you truly won’t mind doing them over and over again, even if it’s not part of your official job description. For me no matter how many times my family asked me to walk the dog, I was happy to do it. In fact I often stayed late just so I could get my dog fix in for the night.
your temperament. OK, let’s be honest. Some people are simply more flexible and easy going than others. If you have that type of personality, being asked to do extra things won’t bother you as much as someone who’s less flexible.
your relationship with your employers. A good relationship is all about the give and take. When you have a family that consistently goes out of their way to be appreciative, respectful, and do extra things for you, you’re much more willing to do extra things for them.
overall circumstances. There are times in every relationship, including the nanny / family relationship, when one side gives more than the other. When your boss is under the gun at work, when they’re struggling with a family problem or facing a health crisis, you jump in and help without a thought. Just because it’s the right thing to do.
So what’s a nanny to do when they’re faced with job creep? I have one word for you: boundaries. If you’re feeling anxious, worried, frustrated, annoyed, or disrespected because of job creep, it’s time to speak up.
Before you have the conversation, you have to decide what you want to happen. Usually there’s only two choices. You’re willing to add the task into your job description for a higher hourly wage or a set rate per task. Or you’re not willing to do it at all and want the parents to find an alternative solution for the next time it comes up. If you’re not willing to do it, don’t offer the option and hope they refuse to take you up on it. Stick to finding an alternative solution.
Timing is important here. Imagine mom boss spent the weekend finishing a huge project and didn’t have time to go to the grocery store. As she’s rushing out the door to make the Monday morning meeting, she asks you to go to the store and do the weekly shopping. She’s made you a list. She apologizes for asking you to do this again but she’s just too swamped to get it done before everyone starves. Although family grocery shopping isn’t part of your job description, this isn’t the time to say no. Instead move into positive attitude mode, say “We’ll go this morning.” and get the shopping done. Later on in the week, have the conversation with mom about adding grocery shopping to your job description for a wage increase or finding an alternative solution. Saying no when a parent is under pressure to get the task done doesn’t set the stage for a positive or productive conversation. Saying yes in their time of need and then coming back to the issue when they can really hear you will let them know you’re truly on their side and are focused on a solution.
Start with acknowledging the tough position they’re in then move into the two choices that are available for making sure the situation doesn’t repeat. It would sound something like:
“I understand that it’s really tough to get to the grocery store over the weekend when you’re staring down the deadline for a big work project like you were this weekend. I was happy to do the shopping Monday morning, however, it’s not part of my regular job description so if you feel this may come up again, I’d like to work out an alternative way of making sure it gets done or talk about possibly adding it to my job description and what that will look like.”
If they give push back, circle back around to your broken record statement. (If you haven’t taken one of my communication fundamentals class, I highly recommend it! It will give you the tools you need to navigate this and other tough conversations.)
And a few more suggestions…
Don’t let things snowball. Have the conversation as soon as you reach your favor threshold; way before you become frustrated and resentful. Remember both you and your employer are responsible for the health of your relationship. If they cross your boundaries and you don’t say anything, you’re equally at fault.
Remember that at some point, every nanny does tasks outside of their job description. That’s a real world part of the job. Setting healthy boundaries doesn’t mean there’s no need to be flexible. It simply means you know and respectfully communicate your limits around your flexibility.
Don’t bring your baggage from a previous job into your current job. Just because your last employer took advantage of you, doesn’t mean this one has the same intention. Give your employer the benefit of the doubt and come to the job creep conversation in good faith.
Here’s to happy relationships!