Even as the economy forces some organizations to cut benefits, it’s prompting others to add one: allowing parents to bring their babies to work.
In just two years, the number of organizations with a babies-at-work benefit has more than doubled to 130, says Carla Moquin, founder and president of the Salt Lake City-based Parenting in the Workplace Institute.
She expects the practice to become common as more parents struggle to pay for infant day care.
Baby fear factor
Small to midsize organizations are more likely to welcome newborns than large companies. It’s easier for them to try it out with one baby to see how it goes without going through a drawn-out policy debate first.
And once they start it, few stop.
“There’s this huge disconnect between what happens and what people expect will happen,” says Moquin. She estimates that nearly all of the employers that try out a babies-at-work benefit initially fear it will create a workplace full of distracting, screaming babies. They try it out anyway to keep a valued employee from quitting—and find it works.
In fact, most firms accept babies only until they can crawl, says Moquin. And even in a firm with thousands of employees, only a few will have babies at the same time, so there’s never a huge number of infants around.
“The key is setting it up correctly so potential problems are avoided,” says Moquin, who advises managers to start small and to create a formal policy full of “safety valves.” Her organization offers a free template for such a policy at www.parentingatwork.org.
Here are 10 keys to success:
1. Write a detailed policy and stick to it, like any other employee benefit. Spell out guidelines for getting work done, keeping the baby from disturbing co-workers, where diapers will be changed and other details.
2. Get buy-in from the top of the organization. The program is more likely to succeed if the top managers support it.
3. Make a plan before the baby arrives. Work out things like where the baby’s crib will be and whether the parent needs to temporarily move to a private office. Have the parent detail a plan to make sure the work gets done.
4. Give the parent some leeway for the first few days. Bosses and co-workers should be patient while everyone adjusts to having an infant in the next cubicle.
5. Keep the cooing to a minimum. Distracted parents and baby-besotted co-workers need to get their work done, even though they might prefer to play. Managers must be willing to insist that people get back to work if they’re spending too much time with the baby.
6. Make the baby the priority. Allowing parents to drop everything to tend to their babies’ needs will help everyone else stay focused on work and prevent fussiness from developing into distress.
7. Designate a few “baby-free” zones. Not every employee will want to work near a baby. Respect requests from employees who ask to be moved to an alternative work space until the baby leaves the program.
8. Officially designate alternate care providers who agree to step in if the parent is called away to a meeting, has to participate in a conference call or visits the restroom. Limit the amount of time the parent may rely on an alternate.
9. Try it out before committing to it. If it doesn’t work out with one baby, you might not want to allow any others. Moquin says all of the organizations on her list that began with a pilot program wound up keeping a babies-at-work benefit.
10. Reserve the right to stop. It’s possible that a chronically fussy baby could prove too much of a distraction. In that case, HR and the manager might need to bar the parent from bringing in the baby.
Case study: Babies at Badger—how one company does it
Badger, a family-owned manufacturer of moisturizers and other skin-care products, treats its babies-at-work program like any other employee benefit: It has clear, written guidelines.
The Gilsum, N.H., company has allowed five babies at work so far. HR and team leaders review requests from parents on a case-by-case basis. They reserve the right to turn down requests for safety reasons or because the parent works closely with other employees.
Several other common-sense rules guide Badger’s program:
- A baby is welcome at work only through the age of six months, or until he or she begins to crawl.
- The parent takes a 20% pay cut, as execs estimate the baby will demand about two hours of mom or dad’s time each day. The parent may make up the hours by working from home.
- The parent designates two volunteers among co-workers to briefly take over child care duties when the parent goes to meetings or takes phone calls.
- Babies stay with the parent or one of the substitutes all times.
- The parent is responsible for the baby’s care, safety and diaper storage and disposal. Parents are also in charge of keeping the baby from distracting co-workers, and for meeting the usual work standards and deadlines.
- HR and the team leader meet with the parent immediately if anyone complains about the baby.
- Badger reserves the right to end the arrangement if the conflict cannot be resolved.
The organization’s owners have said the benefits of the new program outweigh the concerns.
Among the other 129 employers we found that have babies-at-work programs: management consultancy The Ken Blanchard Companies (32 babies to date); the Schools Financial Credit Union (39 babies); and various Kansas state government agencies (257 babies).