It takes many sections and soloists to make the orchestra of a productive office. There's a smattering of jangly telephones, the burbled bass of the water cooler, the shrill percussion of fingers on keyboards, and perhaps the constant thrum of fluorescent lighting. But what place does a squalling newborn have in the cubicle chorus? Plenty, according to some entrepreneurs.
In 2005, Carla Moquin stumbled across a credit union in California that allowed babies in the workplace and she was intrigued. After further research, she founded the Salt Lake City, Utah-based non-profit Parenting in the Workplace Institute as a resource for companies looking to start similar programs. As of January 2009 she had confirmed 70 companies with in-house childcare programs--where the parents care for the children--and to date she has confirmed more than 125. Still the practice is far from common.
"There are two reasons this hasn't taken off on a large scale. The first one is people don't know that it can work so they don't even try it. The second thing is even if they want to try it they don't know how," Moquin explains. With all of the early companies she spoke to, "there was tremendous skepticism prior to implementation, but once the program was implemented, as long as it was structured, it was successful."
Companies that start a babies in the workplace program today have the benefit of the collected wisdom on Moquin's site, babiesatwork.org, but in 1995 Gay Gaddis, CEO of T3, an Austin-based advertising agency built such a program from scratch, out of necessity.
"An interesting situation presented itself. I had four key women in the organization that became pregnant within just a few months of each other," Gaddis says. "If they decided not to come back for any reason then we would have some holes in the organization."
It's no surprise that "the whole office became enamored with these babies," but perhaps more surprising is the fact that the work-life balance was not thrown out of whack. Gaddis observed that parents who took advantage of the program, which has just accepted its 55th baby, were grateful for the opportunity and consequently diligent about making up any time spent changing diapers to get their work done.
"The whole program is designed to be a segue, really," Gaddis says. "We're not a licensed day care." Once the children reach nine months of age or start to become mobile the parents need to make other arrangements, but so far no one has protested.
Though everything has gone smoothly for Gaddis, this type of program poses some legal concerns. If a baby is injured in the workplace the employer could be liable. That's why Moquin says companies have found it invaluable to draw up detailed policies and contracts before implementing these programs.
In 2006, Maya Design a consultancy in Pittsburgh experimented with allowing one of their designers Francine Gemperle to bring her six-week-old son Milo to work. The program has since hosted seven more babies including Gemperle's second child Veronica. Speaking to the legal implications of the program Terry Pronko, the director of human resources says, "We weren't nearly as concerned as our attorney was."
The attorney worked with Pronko to draw up a carefully-drafted policy and a release of liability form that parents sign. In the release, parents agree not to sue if their children get sick or injured in the office and the liability policy outlines a slew of rules including: the parents need to provide all baby paraphenalia such as cribs, diapers, etc.; parents can't bring in infants with a temperature of 100 degrees or higher; and the fact that parents need to address all the babies' needs, including excessive crying and noise. So far, Pronko adds, "Knock on wood, we've had no problems at all."
The average company that Moquin has spoken to has 25 to 50 employees but she says, in her experience, these programs work equally well for businesses large and small. "It's so beneficial for businesses to offer this because it makes it much less likely that the parent is going to quit, which is a big issue. And it costs the company almost nothing, which is a big difference from on-site childcare, which we completely support, but it's hard for a lot of businesses to do that financially."