Babies in the Office?

baby to work

Washington state agencies are piloting a program allowing employees to bring their children to work, at least until they start becoming mobile.

This from an ABC News story:

The “Infant-at-Work Program Policy,” enacted in June at the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, allows babies ages six weeks to six months, or until they can crawl, to come to work with their parents. First-time mom Erica Stineman, a communications consultant for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, brings her four-month-old daughter, Lydia, into the office three days per week. “It was really exciting to know that I wasn’t going to have to be bringing her to day care after eight weeks of being on maternity leave,” she said. “Having this extra time with her just meant the world to me.”

Unfortunately, this perk isn’t a norm among most U.S. employers.

We asked our nationally representative sample of employers with 50 or more employees: “When does your organization allow employees to bring children to the workplace and personally care for them during their regular work hours?” (Onsite child care was not included.)

The results were surprising:

  • 33% of employees said they are never allowed to bring their children to work.
  • 35% reported they could during emergencies when their other child care arrangements have fallen apart.
  • 34% allowed it during officially approved events such as ”Bring Your Child to Work Day.”
  • 45% said it was allowed occasionally when it will not interfere with work (e.g., an introductory visit shortly after a birth or adoption).
  • And only 14% reported employees could bring kids to work whenever they would like if it does not interfere with work.

Having a kids-at-work policy could have some very valuable benefits. For example, it would allow parents to return to work sooner and practice integrating work and child care from the start. The wrenching shifts from full-time worker to full-time parent to full-time parent/worker would be replaced with a single smooth shift to full-time parent/worker. Women wouldn’t have big holes in their work histories and men wouldn’t have big holes in their fatherhood history. Colleagues would also be able to bond over a wider range of experiences and skill sets with more natural exchanges on how to manage the transition to parenthood than if those domains are kept separated.

Coworkers would also be able to see firsthand that becoming a parent isn’t a vacation, but a whole new set of priorities that live alongside work priorities. It would also lighten the load on coworkers who wouldn’t have to cover lengthy parental leave periods and would also reap some of the stress reducing feelings that come from happy babies. Perhaps some of the resistance to parents in the workplace isn’t really about prioritizing work over life, but a sense of resentment among those who may not be able/willing/ready to have children that are left behind. Being able to participate in the process, even tangentially, and reap some of the benefit from parenting without having to be a parent would be good for everyone.

That said, all powerful combinations have the potential for explosive consequences and this is no different. Leadership would have to buy into a more integrative approach to early child care. The culture needs to view having the employee back sooner and the benefits of the child’s usually positive influence as outweighing the inevitable moments of crankiness. If several extra weeks of employee work is outweighed by a few well-handled disruptions to a meeting, then this isn’t a policy for your workplace.

There would need to be clear rules about what to do when the baby has a fussy moment, needs to be changed or has a cold. For example, a child that cries for more than a minute or two should be taken out of communal areas to a designated space with a door to be soothed while any meetings continue. Not particularly complicated, but like many other aspects of flexibility and work-life integration, it requires more forethought and patience than work-life separation so that the awkward moments are managed smoothly.

Here’s a video of the Good Morning America story on Washington state’s new program:

ABC Latest News | Latest News Videos

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