Bringing Up Baby -- at Work

working momYou've just had a baby. Six foggy, hormonal, exhausting weeks of adjusting to being a parent fly by -- then you wake up (did you ever go to sleep?) and find it's time to return to work. Your body is still recovering, you're finally getting into the rhythm of breastfeeding and that little bundle of chaos is just beginning to smile.

But you put on your brave face, drop baby at day care and head to the office. You're both crying. You wish there was a better solution.

Bring the baby to work

For some workers, there is. Kate Donaho, group creative director at T3 (The Think Tank), an advertising agency with offices in Austin, New York and San Fransisco, was able to delay the painful decision of sending her daughter to day care by bringing her to work. Her employer's "T3 and Under" program allows parents to bring babies to work with them until children are 9 months old or mobile. "This made the transition back to work much easier for me," she says. Both her daughter, now 6, and her 9-month-old son have gone through it.

The program was started in 1995 by T-3's president and CEO, Gay Gaddis, during a company growth spurt. Rather than lose key workers who were starting families, Gaddis found that allowing new parents to bring their babies to work retained employees and helped them find a balance between working and parenting. "I was fortunate to be able to be both a mother and a career woman, but I wish I had been able to participate in a program like T3 and Under to serve as a support system when I was facing that challenge," Gaddis said. "I wanted to... provide that opportunity to my employees." T-3 has since had more than 55 children (including two sets of twins), 30 moms and 10 dads go through the program.

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A growing trend

While bringing your baby to work isn't the norm, it's also not unheard of. According to The Babies At Work Institute -- a non-profit advocacy group that provides resources and planning guides for implementing babies-at-work programs -- there are at least 141 companies utilizing a Babies At Work program, and more than 1,550 babies have accompanied a parent to their job. Some employers on the list seem like an obvious fit, like Nature's Child, a retail store in Charlottesville, Va., offering wholesome products for natural parenting. They are small, with only five employees, and have had four babies come to the workplace. Others are more surprising, like the National Association of Insurance Commissioners in Kansas City, Mo. They have 500 employees and have welcomed 75 babies into their office space.

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Benefits to employer and employee

The Institute's founder, Carla Moquin, says benefits to both companies and workers have been proven consistently: Parents experience a smoother and sometimes earlier return to work, can save on child-care costs and are able to maintain their financial stability and careers. Employers get better employee retention, improved office morale, enhanced teamwork, and increased loyalty and goodwill from employees, clients and customers. T-3's Gaddis says the company's appreciation of the work-life balance has resulted in more loyal and productive employees, and Donaho agrees, noting that "beyond the simple benefits of the program, it shows great support and acknowledgment that employees should be able to lead rich lives. To work for a company that will make that kind of investment in their employees is really special."

Caring for baby while doing your job

So how, exactly, does all this work? Moquin says employers often have concerns about the practicality of bringing an infant into a business environment. What if the baby cries? What if other employees are distracted? What if the parent can't focus? But she believes preparation and establishing clear expectations address or prevent these problems. Specifying ground rules -- that work still must be completed by parents and coworkers, or that disruptive babies will be asked to leave the program -- and thinking through the details -- like designating alternate caregivers and establishing "baby-free zones" -- allows programs to succeed.

At Zutano, a children's clothing company in Cabot, Vt., those preparations and ground rules include moving the parent to a private office big enough to hold a crib and the expectation that you will care for the baby and keep your work going. Michael Belenky, the company's president, thinks "there's a myth that babies are really fussy" and has found that even when multiple babies are in the office, it's generally so quiet you might not even know it. Besides, as any parent can tell you, in the first few months of life, babies sleep... a lot. Between eating and napping, their waking hours are generally few. When they are awake, coworkers can expect to see babies in their portable cribs in mom's office, on dad's lap in his cube, strapped in to the baby carrier at a meeting and parked in an ExerSaucer for a conference call.

And contrary to the babies bothering other employees, Moquin has said anecdotal evidence suggests morale improves in offices with babies. As people come to visit the baby and get to know each other socially, they may wind up working more closely together, too. An added benefit: The intermittent attention from coworkers can actually help socialize the baby, leading to happier dispositions in the long run.

Cost/benefit analysis

What does this workplace parenting cost? Not much. The expense to employers of implementing the program is low. And in a down economy, providing a program that allows babies at work enables companies to provide a valued benefit to employees without spending a lot of money. Surprisingly, only about 5 percent of companies scale back employee salaries when they start bringing baby to work, Moquin says. "Businesses have discovered that the long-term... productivity of the parent outweighs any diminished minute-to-minute productivity while the baby is coming to work. Parents are very motivated to be able to continue to bring their babies to work, so they work hard to ensure their work still gets done," she said. Therefore, companies don't really have a reason to reduce salaries.

Gaddis of T-3 recognizes that bringing babies to work may not be for every employer. But Moquin believes the program can be successful in a variety of work environments. Her books 'Babies At Work: Bringing New Life to the Workplace' and 'How To Start A Babies At Work Program' offer solid advice on how to establish a program. Bringing your newborn to work may seem like a crazy solution for those frenzied first months of parenting, but for parents and employers genuinely interested in striking a work/life balance, it might just be perfect.

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