Nine years ago, when CEO Robert Cowan started American Teleconferencing Services (ATS), he and most of his coworkers were still footloose and fancy-free. On Fridays after work, they usually went out for a drink together. Ah, youth! Now most of them hurry home to their families. But Cowan didn't want to lose those social moments or the benefits they brought. That's why he instituted the ATS Kid's Club.

One day each month about 20 employees bring in their children after work for games and activities at the $8-million company's Overland Park, Kans., offices. There may be animals to pet, a visit from Mother Goose, or a hayride. At some events other employees and neighborhood baby-sitters mind the kids while the parents socialize. Cowan says the secrets to the club's success are to make it really fun for the kids, to occupy them so their parents can talk, "and to take tons of photos for the scrapbooks."

"The program makes it easier for employees to share ideas, comments, and criticism," Cowan says. "It also ties the bond between the workplace and the home." ATS has doubled its staff in the past year; the Kid's Club program helps weave new employees into the fabric of company life.

Parties are just one aspect of the Kid's Club. ATS also mails out a bimonthly newsletter of jokes, recipes, and games; distributes company sweatshirts; and sends cards on children's birthdays. (That goes for the kids of out-of-state employees, too.) And new parents receive a $100 gift certificate for Baby Gap clothing. Total Kid's Club outlays, parties included: just $12,000 annually.

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