Increasingly, Companies Are OK With Babies At Work

When attorney Becky McElduff went back to work after a 3-month maternity leave, she had a few extra things to bring for her first day back at the office. A pack-and-play. A stroller. A diaper bag. And, the user of all that gear: her 12-week old daughter, Audrey. Becky’s employer, Kansas-city based National Association of Insurance Commissioners, is one of a growing number of companies that allow new moms and dads to bring their babies to work.

To clarify, we’re not talking about an employer having a daycare facility or provider in its offices. These are programs in which you simply bring your infant with you and plop him on your lap or in a swing by your desk while you work. Or at least try to. As hard as it is to believe, companies who’ve tried this swear by its effectiveness.

“I’ve seen a huge cultural shift in how people are perceiving this topic,” said Carla Moquin, founder of babiesatwork.org, a website that has a directory of 171 baby-inclusive organizations. Exact numbers on how many total companies do this are hard to come by; many employers don’t promote it. Moquin said that her template policy for starting your own babies-at-work program has been downloaded at least 3,000 times. She has personally helped more than 25 companies establish programs, including a British taxi-cab company that is the subject of an upcoming BBC documentary Babies in the Office.

Necessity is the Mother of All Invention

Desperation led Michael and Uli Belenky, husband and wife co-founders of baby clothing company Zutano, to pilot their own program about 8 years ago. Given the company’s lean staff and remote location in Cabot, Vermont (making it hard to find replacement talent), they couldn’t afford to lose their production manager Denise when she announced she was having a baby. “We said ‘bring your son to work, let’s try it,’” said Mr. Belenky. After all, during the company’s early years he’d worked with his own baby in a sling on his back.

Since the Denise experiment, more than 20 babies have graduated from Zutano’s program, which allows new parents to bring baby for the first 12 months. You’re provided with a maternity office that has room for a crib—and the flexibility, privacy, and understanding that you’ll make it work somehow. One year there were five babies among their staff of 20. “You’d think it would be a noisy disaster, but it’s a myth that babies are always crying,” Mr. Belenky said.

Managing a fussy baby at work

Still, new parents need to plan for the inevitable. Vicki Kuskowski, a graphic designer at Zutano, just wrapped up her stint bringing her baby Otis to work. “If he was especially fussy, sometimes I would just sit him on my lap and show him pictures of babies on the computer for a design I was working on,” she said. Only once did she/Otis have a major meltdown (“We left early that day”). It also helped that if he spit up or had a poop blowout, there was a convenient stash of Zutano’s baby clothing samples nearby. While he napped, she worked with laser-like focus.

As a mom who works from home, I’m still a bit skeptical of how much actual work one could do in this situation. My baby Jake is generally a quiet, happy baby—except in those moments when I actually schedule him to be. I remember when he was nine-weeks-old, I frantically drove around the Target parking lot to ensure he’d be asleep during an important work call. Naturally, he woke up as soon as we got home. I hired a babysitter the next day.

McElduff  dealt with such unpredictability by scheduling more desk work than in-person meetings during her baby-at-work period. Her workplace also required she have two willing, back-up coworker “caregivers” that could jump in if a work situation demanded her presence.

The business case for babies at work

“As a business—dollars- and cents-wise— it hasn’t cost us anything to have this program,” said Mr. Belenky. “It’s one benefit we’ve been able to hold onto regardless of the economy.” The programs serve as great recruitment and retention tools. Liability risks can be offset by insurance and skipping the benefit for employees that, say, work on forklifts. Though a new mom with a baby on her hip isn’t exactly working at full throttle, she’s at least present—and likely to stick around. Said Belenky, “The productivity we see—even if it’s not 100 percent—is more than if [the parent] had to take a year off or juggle managing a daycare provider from afar.”

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    • http://www.theworldofbabies.co.uk/

      In order for companies to be seen as, the best place to work, then they are going to need to be more family friendly in all aspects of life. There are many professions that can have babies in their work place, particularly office environments, but still companies can do more and should do more. they should do this or they will miss out on a great chunk of the working population.

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    • Nikki

      I WOULD NOT be ok with babies at work. I doubt anybody would get work done and I would resent being asked to baby sit.

    • blip

      … umm, no: given the present state of the economy and the unemployment rate in the United States, companies would not “miss out on a great chunk of the working population.” Quite the contrary. Said population should be thankful it has any kind of job at all; it can leave its crying, drooling, fussing, dribble-diapered offspring well out of the workplace. The office should not be a daycare.

    • Missing the Point

      The “anti” posters are missing the hidden point.

      This is the tip of the emerging iceberg, and with a little care and feeding by the usual liberal crew will blossom into a fetid women’s rights issue. Namely, how not allowing babies at work is a form of discrimination in favor of men, who don’t have this particular baggage.

      Mark the date. Mark my words. Wait and see. It’s rare one gets to see the initial tip.

    • leslie

      What a crock! With this economy and everyone seemingly out of work, companies are NOT missing out on anything! I would NEVER work in a company that allowed babies or children at the office. What a distraction! I liked when the author mentioned Vicki tending to her child, then when they napped she worked with “laser-like focus”. Mother’s are ALWAYS on point and listening to their children, I am a Mother of 5, I know! Throw this article and babiesatwork.org IN THE TRASH!

    • Miss_Hannigan

      Are you insane?

    • myrna minkoff

      This is a ridiculous idea, and the reason many women are not taken seriously in the workplace. Sorry, but it’s true. An office is a place of business, and babies have no place there; that’s why daycares were invented. There is no way a parent can give their full concentration to the job while Junior is in the office, and I’m certain everyone will be required to make way for the baby. I can see it now: if I don’t stop to coo over Susie’s baby, and Mary’s baby, and Debbie’s baby, I will be the meanie who “hates” kids, when really I just want to do my work and not be bothered playing peek-a-boo. Sounds great.

      This seems an ill-thought out idea. Take the rule that Mom needs 2 coworkers to babysit; my question is, who is going to do the coworker’s work when they are forced to babysit? Will they be denied vacations off at the same time because one of them HAS to be onhand to watch a kid that isn’t even theirs? Will they get overtime? Why should Mommy’s coworkers have to deal with a crying baby when they are trying to work? Let’s be honest -having a child is a choice, and with that choice comes sacrifice; if that means putting Junior in daycare or being a stay-at-home mother for a few years, then so be it. If you cannot afford either perhaps you should rethink the choice to reproduce. Having a baby is a choice, not a right, just like having a job.

      Why should the entire office be forced to partake in one person’s life choice? What happens when the babies start to crawl, and put things in their mouths -will the office have to babyproof everything as well? An office full of kids going through the “terrible twos” and having screeching tantrums should be a productive place to work. If I were a client and came into an office like that for a meeting I would take my business elsewhere. And how many moms would be allowed to bring their kids to work – 2? 4? All of them?

      So many questions and no answers.

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