You’ve Heard of Bringing Your Work Home With You, But What About Bringing Your Baby to Work? – Parenting in the Workplace as a Childcare and Work-Life Strategy
Parenting in the Workplace is the term used to describe one of the many arrangements whereby a parent cares for his/her child in his/her work space while doing his/her job. This can be done on a regular or occasional basis, with infants to older children. The benefits can be many – no out of pocket childcare expenses, no concerns about inadequate childcare providers, no childcare pick/up drop off time pressures, no emergency childcare panics, and an opportunity to be with one’s child even during work hours, to name a few.
To learn more about this less recognized work-life strategy, Vicki Harrison of the Flex Frontier spoke with Carla Moquin of the Parenting in the Workplace Institute, a non-profit that assists employees and organizations with the proposal and implementation of formal, written programs that create clear guidelines and expectations and create sustainable parenting-at-work programs.
1) When caring for an infant it can be hard to find the time to shower or complete a simple household task, how can professionals realistically get their work done while simultaneously caring for their child?
When a parent is trying to work at home, they are typically the only person available to care for and entertain their baby. But when a baby is brought to work, others in the workplace find themselves bonding with and becoming invested in the child’s well-being, and they will visit, play with, and assist with caring for the baby. This creates a community of support for the parent and baby. Babies crave social contact and are drawn to human faces from the moment of birth, and these programs provide babies with a rich social environment that keeps them engaged and happy—which enables their parents to effectively complete their work at the same time.
2) What does Parenting in the Workplace look like in application?
A baby sleeping or playing in a portable crib in the parent’s office, an older child building blocks on the floor, or a school-age child doing homework or playing on a tablet while the employee works at his or her computer are all examples of how this looks in a workplace setting. These are the same types of activities that children engage in at home while parents may be on the phone, doing chores, or working in a home office. And this practice is already in place informally when there is a school holiday or illness and a parent brings a child to work on an emergency basis. But there are also dozens of companies who are embracing this as an acceptable work-life practice for their employees.
3) What is the impact on the companies that support Parenting in the Workplace?
Progressive employers recognize that problems with child care, particularly those due to lack of back-up care, increase employee absenteeism and tardiness, which can impede the productivity of employees and increase turnover rates, resulting in expensive recruitment and training costs.
We have seen a trend in baby-inclusive companies in that they become more open to other family-supportive policies and concepts (such as building an on-site child care center) after seeing the benefits that come from enabling parents to keep their babies close. Companies often start with a baby program because it costs very little to set up a program. Once they see firsthand that these employees can be dedicated parents and dedicated workers at the same time, they are then more likely to consider things like telecommuting, job-sharing, and flexible schedules. This is likely also related to the fact that management personnel themselves become attached to the children who come to work, and so helping these children becomes something that is personally important to them.
4) To which types of professions or workplaces does this practice best lend itself?
The only limitation that we have seen for these programs is the physical safety of the babies. Baby-inclusive organizations range from 3 to 3,000 employees and include offices, cubicles, and open-space environments. They include law firms, credit unions, government agencies, libraries, schools, consulting firms, dance studios, and retail stores. The programs tend to be easier to implement in organizations in which the culture is already focused on task completion instead of simple face time, because parents do need to adjust their routine in order to successfully work while also attending to their baby’s needs.
5) What is some of the research supporting this concept?
Dr. Mary Secret’s 2005 study published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science concluded that Parenting in the Workplace practices have enough promise as work-life strategies and back up child care options to be routinely included in the menu of child care options recognized and studied by policymakers, practitioners, researchers, and others who are responding to the rapid work and family transformations in today’s postindustrial society.
6) What would you recommend to someone interested in pursing parenting in the workplace?
We provide persuasive and educational materials for download at BabiesAtWork.org, as well as a free template policy in Microsoft Word that can be customized to the needs of an organization. We recommend that employees focus on the benefits to their organization in their pitch for a new program and propose that the organization set up a pilot for several weeks (but with a formal structure) so that management personnel don’t feel locked in. Organizations are far more likely to be willing to consider a pilot program than to set up a permanent policy before they know whether the program will work. Once the first baby begins coming to work within a structured program, however, support for continuing the program and keeping babies in the workplace is highly likely to skyrocket.
For more information, visit BabiesAtWork.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (801) 897-8702. The Parenting in the Workplace Institute’s sister organization, Babies in Business Solutions (BabiesInBusiness.com), offers in-depth assistance with the proposal and implementation of new babies-at-work programs.