Bringing your baby to work can be a unique incentive for young parents in the workforce. I brought both my children to work with me from 12 weeks to 6 months old. I was, and continue to work at the North Dakota Department of Commerce out of Bismarck- a state agency focused on attracting, retaining and expanding wealth for North Dakota.
Bringing baby to work was a new challenge for me – but not something unheard of in North Dakota’s government agencies. Babies have been coming to work at Commerce for well over a decade now. For me, it was a trying experience, but a very rewarding one. I remember my first few days being very stressful. Balancing motherhood and being an employee in my little office had me sweating from bouncing him up and down and pacing back and forth trying to get him to nap. Amanda Remynse, also with Commerce, agrees. “I was surprised at how hard it actually was. I had watched other mothers do it and thought ‘I got this’ but I struggled, especially the first week. I could handle all the stuff and equipment and even the daily planning of what to bring to make it through the day, but the organizing yourself to be productive in work and be positive as a new mother, that was hard.”
To outsiders who have never heard of such a thing, they often ask, “How do you get anything done with your baby with you?” There are always concerns about lack of productivity with new parents. From my experience, all new parents are distracted, whether the baby is with them or at day care. Having the baby in the office with me eliminated the anxiety of dropping a newborn off at daycare. I also quickly learned that I had a built-in network of capable coworkers who loved scooping up baby when I needed a bathroom break or to attend an important meeting where I felt the baby might be too distracting.
Fitting baby in
It’s obvious, but crying babies aren’t a good fit for conference calls or meetings. Employers (and coworkers) must be willing to be flexible with new parents. At Commerce, babies can come for their first six months. After six months, babies become much more mobile and active, usually indicating that it is time for them to move to outside daycare. More than 17 babies have graced our office over the past ten years, with both moms and dads participating. Ryan Volk, a new parent at Commerce, recently had his son in our office every morning. “The biggest challenge was making sure the baby was not disrupting someone during their fussy, whining or crying moments.” Everyone in the office needs to be understanding and flexible for this to work. At Commerce, we’re very thankful that everyone here loves babies and is more than happy to put up with some distraction.
This type of initiative creatively helps employees achieve a strong work/life balance and in return Commerce has built itself a committed workforce.
From a financial standpoint, Commerce’s baby to work policy allows employees to hang onto about $4,215 the year after baby is born—that’s half of the average cost of full-time care for an infant in North Dakota, according to Child Care Aware of America. Many companies could also prevent turnover by implementing such a program if it means hanging onto new parents who might be seeking more workplace flexibility once baby is born.
Depending on the role of the employee, a company might have to invest up to 25 percent of a new employee’s salary in the first year, to account for costs of lost productivity, recruitment, training and issuing new benefits.
Is bringing baby to work right for you?
If your workplace doesn’t have a policy in place to bring baby to work and you are interested in trying it out, consider a few things before bringing it up to your supervisor. Is the environment conducive to a sleeping baby? Do you work in an office setting or a busy/active environment? Is there heavy equipment around? How will bringing this baby affect the rest of the team? If I’d been a bus driver, nurse or mechanic, this would never be a feasible option. Do you work in a cubicle? That isn’t a deal breaker. Visit with your supervisor and see if logistically bringing your baby to work is a viable option for you. We have had babies in cubicles over the years – even at our front desk in the lobby.
Creating a baby-friendly atmosphere
I remember creating an excel spreadsheet of everything I thought I’d ever need in the office. My top suggestions would be extra clothes for mom and baby, a noise machine to create some white noise for babe to fall asleep to, a place for babe to sleep, whether that’s a rock ‘n play or bassinette or pack ‘n play – avoid using the car seat at all costs, and of course extra diapers and wipes. I remember setting a rule that if babe blew through more than three outfits or if he/she was just having a bad day and being fussy, we would call it a day and try again the next day. If there is anything you learn from becoming a parent, it’s to go with the flow and that you are no longer in control of your day.
Balancing the schedule
Another common question is, “How do you schedule around baby?” There wasn’t a lot I would do to schedule around the baby. Both of my children were on semi-regular feeding schedules so I’d do my best to try to avoid scheduling meetings during feeding time, but if it happened and baby got hungry, we’d step out of the meeting and return later or reschedule. Everyone was very accommodating to the baby and loved having a baby in the meetings. If it was a meeting with visitors from outside the organization, and I wasn’t quite comfortable with bringing baby to the meeting, I’d ask a coworker to watch him or her for the duration of the meeting. I would also bring baby to meetings outside the office—that was always interesting. People are very surprised to see you bring babies to board meetings or office meetings where babies aren’t typically around. Generally, it was about 99 percent positive experiences with bringing baby around strangers – even conference calls. I’d typically warn them that I had a baby in my office, “So if you hear crying, that’s what it is,” and I’d mute the call. It was harder for me to stay on focus than I think it was for the other folks on the calls.
I remember in one meeting we had with some outside contractors and a handful of Commerce staff, we were in our large conference room having this meeting and they were all so eager to hold my son. He was being passed around the table when he let out a large toot and filled his diaper. The experienced mom holding him quickly flipped him onto his tummy to save her clothes and his, and he ended up blowing out of his diaper and clothes. That got a good laugh from everyone.
Part of a movement
I learned that there’s a movement led by the Parenting in the Workplace Institute, to encourage more parents to take their babies to work. Over the past decade, the group has recorded more than 2,100 babies being brought to more than 200 American organizations, including consulting, law and accounting firms, retail stores, dance studios and government agencies.
The benefits of bringing baby to work, per the institute, are increased employee retention and satisfaction, higher morale, earlier return-to-work after baby’s birth, and a recruiting tool without the liability or costs associated with on-site day care.
The website offers a template policy, which includes consent and waiver language and outlines expectations on when babies graduate from the program (for example, at crawling). It also reminds all parties that an agreement can be terminated if a baby becomes too much of a disruption. More information can be found at www.babiesatwork.com
If your employer isn’t offering this option, consider approaching your supervisor after some research. Diedre Hillman was the first employee at the Center for Technology and Business in Bismarck to bring her newborn. She said, “Do it! If it’s an option, try it. If it doesn’t work out, use a backup plan, but don’t be scared. It was worth it and less stressful for us as far as starting her in daycare too early, saved us money and allowed me to bond with her regardless of breastfeeding or not.”
Times are changing and work and family are no longer mutually exclusive. Smart employers are learning that if they want to retain the best employees, they must be flexible and adaptable to the needs of their employees.