Michele Brown checks on her son, Noah, during naptime every afternoon. She also peeks in on him midmorning and just before lunch. When he goes out to play, she waves goodbye. And she doesn't have to race out of the office at 5:30 to pick him up. No, Brown's not a freelancer or a part-timer or a telecommuter. She's director of broadcasting at Guerra DeBerry Coody, a full-service marketing firm based in San Antonio that provides a rare treat to its employees: on-site childcare.
Just after Brown joined the firm in 1996, partner Tess Coody gave birth to her first child, Aidan. Within a year or so, several other staffers had children and started asking about telecommuting and time off for well-baby visits. That prompted Coody to look into setting up a childcare facility right in the office. "We were always family focused," she says, "and we wanted to create a work environment that championed that ethic." In addition to creating a warm and fuzzy atmosphere, Coody says, the perk also helps attract and retain star performers. Turnover, she says, is almost nonexistent: The nine-year-old firm, which boasts 50 employees, loses only about one a year. Brown, who writes and produces videos and handles accounts for Procter & Gamble and Citigroup, says she's had offers but can't imagine leaving her job: "What we have here is truly special."
Still, few companies have jumped on the bandwagon. Just 3% of businesses with fewer than 100 employees provide childcare in the office, according to a survey of 580 companies conducted in 2003 by the Society for Human Resource Management. While daycare programs are often thought to make the most sense for large corporations, they may be a smart idea for smaller companies, too. "Fast-growing businesses that expect their employees to work long hours have to make that humanly possible," notes Nancy Ahlrichs Raichart, president of EOC Strategies, an HR consultancy that helps companies recruit and retain staffers. "If they have Generation X or Generation Y employees, or are trying to attract them, this is a perfect magnet."
Of course, on-site daycare programs aren't easy to set up. Today, there are companies, like Positive Beginnings in San Antonio, that will do the work. But, back in the mid-1990s, it was all up to Coody and her staff. They attended classes to learn about legal requirements, spent a year and a half looking for a caregiver, and allocated 1,500 square feet of office space for the center. Today, six caregivers handle 15 infants, toddlers, and preschoolers on the third floor of Guerra DeBerry Coody's new headquarters, located in a renovated Civil War-era building in downtown San Antonio. Between snacks, naps, and lessons, the children play on a roof-deck playground that is outfitted with swing sets, tricycles, a playhouse, and a mini basketball court. Employees drop off their kids around 8 a.m. and can pick them up as late as 6:30 p.m. Every May, the preschoolers don white graduation caps and gowns and parade down an office hall to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance."
Best of all, parents pay just $300 a month per child, compared with the $425 to $600 they'd shell out for traditional daycare in San Antonio. Guerra DeBerry Coody ponies up about three times that amount, which last year translated into roughly $162,000, a fraction of the company's $10.2 million in annual revenue. But to Brown, the perk is priceless: "It brought a really good environment to the office," she says. "There's a quality of life here that no other place can offer me."
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