Carla Moquin set up the Parenting in the Workplace Institute in 2007 when she discovered that 70 companies around the United States had babies in the workplace programmes, but most believed that they were the only ones.
Having had to return to full-time employment when each of her daughters was less than five weeks old, Carla recognised the need for a central resource for companies to access best practices, and easy-to-use guidelines, to encourage them to implement a similar programme.
There are currently more than 200 companies in the U.S., across 30 different industries, successfully running babies in the workplace programmes. These organisations have hosted more than 2,100 babies to date.
But how does it work in practice and has there been any impact on productivity or employee engagement? The Daily Slog speaks to Carla about how companies are making it work, and the pay off for both employers and parents.
In general, how does the programme work?
Most baby-inclusive organisations allow babies up to 6 months of age, or when the baby begins to crawl (become mobile). Some companies allow babies up to about 8 months of age or crawling. The organisations we assist and track allow parents to bring their babies to work every day as part of their regular work routine and care for the babies in their typical work area.
Parents tend to be so grateful for the opportunity to keep their babies with them that they become very loyal to the organisation that made this effort to take care of their family.
Companies have a variety of rules accompanying these programmes depending on their particular culture or layout. The standard ones are that the babies cannot be disruptive to the work environment and that parents and coworkers still need to get their work done.
The babies who come to work within these programmes tend to have their needs met quickly (because their parents want to ensure that they can continue participating in the program, so they respond to the babies’ early sounds of distress), so they tend to be far happier and quieter than people expect.
Coworkers find themselves bonding with these happy children and offering to watch or play with them for brief periods, which creates a community of care and support for both the babies and their parents.
Companies anticipate that parents will be about 80% as productive with a baby as they would be otherwise, but the long-term increases in employee retention, morale, loyalty, and other factors far outweigh a few months of potentially lower productivity by a parent
What has the feedback been from companies you have worked with – has there been any impact on productivity?
Minute-to-minute productivity does tend to go down for parents who bring a baby to work, but participating parents make up for this by being more efficient when the baby is distracted or sleeping, and by altering their schedule as needed to get work done.
Parents tend to be so grateful for the opportunity to keep their babies with them that they become very loyal to the organisation and want to take care of an employer that made this effort to take care of their family.
Some companies make it clear that they anticipate that parents will be about 80% as productive with a baby as they would be otherwise, but the organisations feel that the long-term increases in employee retention, morale, teamwork, long-term efficiency, loyalty, and other factors far outweigh a few months of potentially lower productivity by a parent. Parents are far more likely to return to work after a baby’s birth if they have the option to keep their baby with them.
Women who can participate in a baby programme no longer need to worry or feel guilty if they miss the intellectual stimulation of their jobs several weeks after their baby is born; they can just return to work and bring their baby with them.
What is the impact on co-workers?
Most coworkers find that they love having the babies around and will visit them periodically to play with or cuddle them. Employees in these organizations routinely talk about how they’ll visit a baby if they’re having a bad day, and that being around babies makes them feel better. The babies-at-work programme often becomes an integral part of the culture of these workplaces.
What are the benefits for parents?
Baby programs help women to more easily balance their often-competing roles. The feminist movement was a revolution in women’s beliefs and opportunities in our society; it helped large numbers of women feel empowered to enter the workforce and pursue active professional careers. But many women feel as though there is something wrong with them whether they choose to stay home with their children or they choose to postpone having children (or don’t have them at all) and instead focus on directly contributing in the economic world.
Also, many mothers have no financial alternative but to work outside the home and they often feel highly conflicted about being away from their babies so much. Taking babies to work bridges these divisions. Women who can participate in a baby programme no longer need to worry or feel guilty if they miss the intellectual stimulation of their jobs several weeks after their baby is born; they can just return to work and bring their baby with them.
Here’s how the programme has worked out for some of its participants.
“Some of my direct reports thought I was off my rocker when I said I wanted to do this. But I asked them to be helpful and to give it a try—and if it didn’t work, we’d let it go. Some of the biggest naysayers became some of the biggest champions when they found that, from just giving a little bit, we were retaining important staff members who were big contributors to the business. It has been a very, very positive program for our workplace.”
Cathy Weatherford, National Association of Insurance Commissioners
“A company-wide meeting was held to discuss this new policy. One of the newer employees, a younger man who worked for the new mom, was clearly upset. He said to Sally, who was leading the meeting, “What am I supposed to think? There’s my boss with a baby in her arms.” He seemed to expect Sally to be equally appalled and say something like, “You’re right—oh my, what were we thinking?” Instead, she looked at him and calmly replied, “And soooo, what?” The employee couldn’t respond—he couldn’t actually think of a logical reason why the happy baby shouldn’t be there except that it was something he had never seen before.”
Sally Rynne, Founder of Health Newsletters Direct
“One baby was pretty fussy for the first week, and we thought we would have a problem. But he became socialized, and there were lots of people around and cooing at him. For the next week and from then on, he was absolutely fine. I think being in the workplace helps babies become better adjusted. It was a huge thing I noticed— being around lots of people makes babies happy.”
Wendy Zanotelli, UNCLE Credit Union
“One of the things mothers worry about most when they are pregnant is what they will do when they have to go back to work. Knowing my babies could come with me took stress off—there wasn’t a fear of the unknown. There were days when I would have stuff to get done and the baby needed more attention that day. It was a little bit stressful, but there are lots of women around here who welcomed the chance to walk around with a baby for a bit. I wasn’t alone—there were any number of people that had time to babysit for a bit.”
“Infant child care, in particular, is the most difficult to find and the most costly. Because parents can bring their babies with them for the first six months of the infant’s life, it’s a tremendous emotional and financial benefit to them.”
Deann Tiede, Kansas Insurance Department