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Saturday, November 1, 2008

bringing babies to work

New York Times blogger Lisa Belkin had an interesting (and, to me, alarming) article a couple of days ago about parents bringing babies to work with them.

I like babies. Especially babies in any outfit with footies. But I flinch when I hear loud conversations in the hallway when I'm trying to focus, so I can't imagine having to work next door to a crying baby or -- almost definitely worse -- adults speaking in baby talk.

And I have to think this is a major productivity drain. Belkin notes:
Companies also specify that parents are still responsible for completing their work and that the babies cannot be substantially disruptive to the work environment, as well as that coworkers can’t play with the babies for long periods and not get their own work done.

... Parents are about 70 to 80 percent as productive with their baby at work. But companies who allow this say it is worth the trade-off, because parents who can bring their babies to work are far more likely to come back to work after they’ve had a baby and far less likely to quit their jobs, resulting in lower turnover costs.
Hmmm. I have no doubt that this is good for the parents who want to try it, but I have to think that it's bad for the rest of us. I'm not buying it. What do you guys think?

32 comments:

Evil HR Lady said...

I have a baby and I work at home, so essentially I have a baby at work. I also have a babysitter who takes care of my baby while I work.

While I am all in favor of babies, I think a company would be wiser to invest in an on site day care center and let mom or dad take breaks down there.

Taco said...

Not to sound like a grumpy mid-30s non-parent man, but it was bad enough yesterday when moms and dads brought their little precious-es to the office for trick or treating. I can't imagine it on a recurring basis.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I tend to agree with Taco -- I understand the occasional need to bring a baby to work during an hour or two emergency child care gap, but on a regular basis it is counterproductive and can be very disruptive. I work in an environment in which we all have our own offices -- with doors -- and it is still a problem because the babies/kids don't and shouldn't be expected to sit quietly...they are kids, afterall.

a. brown said...

I agree with the evil lady. My coworkers occasionally bring their babies around to parade them, which is nice, but it's certainly disruptive because you're obligated to coo at them. If a company really cares about parents, on-site daycare.

Katherine said...

I realize that this might benefit new parents. And I'm not entirely opposed to things that benefit workers. However, this is Yet Another Policy that favors only one class of workers, and creates resentment on behalf of those of us who don't benefit from it - and in fact wind up doing more work because of it.

Colleagues without children already carry a burden in picking up the slack for Drs appointments, school meetings, runny noses, parent-teacher conferences, boo-boos and the other assorted "crises" that require a parent to suddenly pick up and vanish in the middle of the day. We're -already- doing 20-30% more work because we can work after 5, and on weekends (and of COURSE a person with kids couldn't POSSIBLY be expected to do that). Now this proposes we have to pick up ANOTHER 20-30% more work?

No treat here, just tricks.

I'm not the anti-child lobby here - I just expect that if you want equal pay, equal status, and equal authority that you do equal work too. Failing that, I want a spiff for taking on extra work.

HR Maven said...

Here, here katherine.

You can bring your kid to work when I can bring my German shepherd dogs. And my dogs have much better people-sense than most people.

If my dogs don't like you, it's probably for a good reason. I think it would be an asset. ;)

HR Wench said...

I can't "hear" when I'm on the phone with someone if there are other people in the room talking (in a normal voice). If I ever have to go back to a cube (luckily I've had an office for several years) I am TOAST.

Please, leave your babies at home...or work from home or whatevs.

Gingerale said...

Parents should not bring babies to the workplace except for unusual occasions. Unusual, to me, means no more than 6 days a year.

I try not to hold the intrusion against said babies. But it takes discipline, I will say.

Anonymous said...

It's no better in England... where I used to work, the new babies (and siblings) were brought in and very little work got done till they left. Sometimes, Grannies came in to help with the baby wrangling.

The only babies and toddlers I see now are paying my wages!

Just another HR lady... said...

I feel like an ogre, but I would have to fall on the "no" side of this issue, I think it just would be too disruptive both to the day of the employee and to other employees. My job involves having people constantly in my office for assistance, being on the phone, and attending interviews/ meetings. What would I do in all those situations? Ask my co-workers to babysit? Not to mention that I want my focus to be on my job while I'm at work, and I know it wouldn't be if I had to care for my child at the same time. Too many situations that just wouldn't work, at least for me anyway. If a baby slept for the entire 8 hours I was at work, maybe, but I think we all know that babies need attention. :-)

jonathan said...

No, no, & no...
Suppose some crisis develops whilst at work AND child is sick at same time - you would want everyone on board not dishing out the calpol (sorry medicine for kids in the UK)


Customer service issues & professionalism - yeah - I'd really buy something if there were baby crying noises in the background...


anonymous is right - babies are an excuse for downing tools in the UK


Health & safety, insurance - need I drone on?

Aimee said...

I completely agree with the idea that an on-site day care is a much better option than allowing babies in the actual workspace. It keeps the kids occupied and supervised - both of which would be difficult in a cubicle or office. I know plenty of people who work from home with babies and toddlers - but like EHRL, have sitters or nannies to watch the kids during the work day.

Esther said...

I have kids, and as much as I miss them during the day I would not want to be bringing them to work with me on a regular basis. I would definitely not be able to do any work.

It's much more helpful to have a workplace culture, which I am fortunate to have now, where the rare times that there is a need to leave to deal with a family situation I am free to do so. (And so are people with situations not related to children.)

HR Godess said...

I agree with all the comments and especially hr maven. Policies should equally benefit all employees. Just because I don't have kids, doesn't mean I should have to work twice as hard to compensate for those who do. I am always sympathetic to those who have an emergency with their child or a sick kid but in addition to them having to leave early, they come back to work and talk about whatever happened ad nauseum, hence not working. It gets to be a little much.

Boss Lady said...

I want to chime in here an alternate view.

Instead of saying "well those of us without kids pickup the slack for those with" why can't it be acceptable for those of us without kids to reasonably leave at 5 if we need it or use flex-time or whatever? Yeah we don't have kids but many of us do have other responsibilites outside of work, pets, extended family we care for, etc.

I believe it was Lisa Belkin who had a really great article a while back discussing how flex-time needs to be available for all employees and not just something you use because your kid has a recital, and I think there is a similar argument in here somewhere about making the workplace more "life" friendly (whatever life is to you, kids, your german shepherd or charity work you do or whatever) in general for all.

Anonymous said...

Boss Lady - while I wish your alternative view worked in real life, it rarely does. As a non-parent with a close knit family, regardless of my responsibilities, nothing ever takes precedence over a parent's need.

The idea of a child in the office is completely inappropriate and unprofessional. Perhaps I'm just biased towards parents, but it's like the parent at the nice restaurant who ignores their screaming child because they're cute (btw, they're not cute). I would absolutely lose it if there was a screaming child in my office.

I'd like to bring my dog into work. May I? No, someone's allergic so that's the end of the story. Well, I'm allergic to children and the idea that a parent can do their work AND babysit is ludicris.

Anonymous said...

I am a mother, and try really hard to keep work away from home, but sometimes I have to work late in the evenings and on the weekends, just like those without kids. So I don't think I do any less work than non-parents.

However, the only time I ever work (in the office or at home) with my kids, is in an emergency. I think it's totally inappropriate to bring kids to the office. They’re bored and need attention that I can’t give them when I’m working.

And this is a very timely post since I just had to talk to a young woman who returned from maternity leave today with her baby in tow. She claims the baby won't use the bottle yet. Perhaps because it was so hard on me both times I had to do it; but I managed to leave my children and express milk at work, I just don't have a lot of sympathy for not planning ahead.

So, my vote is no, kids do not belong in the office setting, unless you work for an office where everyone is a parent and they are all allowed to bring their children.

almostgotit said...

Baby at work worked for me!

I did it, I did it, and I'm GLAD.

For a while. I brought my babe to my part-time job from age 3-6 months only (from the time I returned after his birth until he became mobile, thus needing more attention, at which point I left him home with Dad.)

No way did I cause my colleagues more work then, or later when (very much at my own expense and bother) I occasionally needed to take time off to do doctor apts, etc. -- I always made it all up on my own time, thank you very much commentor-Katherine & co.

During that 3 month window, I was just as productive as any time before or after. I could breastfeed and use a keyboard AT THE SAME TIME! No one cried -- when babe needed me, I was right there to shut him up. With a boob. In my own private office. So no one could be offended that my child, you know, ATE.

When he wasn't nursing, he was sleeping, or lying on the floor next to me watching me. Quietly.

The problem with "rules" is there are (almost) always exceptions. The problem with generalizations (e.g., "all working mothers are useless breeders who mooch off the rest of us non-mother-types") is that they are *always* chauvinistic.

I say... take it an employee at a time. If the "solution" doesn't work, change the solution. An employer certainly has the right to say "this ain't working... sorry!"

That's my take, and I'm stickin' to it! :)

Rachel - I Hate HR said...

I think if a woman is in an office type job and breastfeeding she should be allowed to bring the child in up to the age of one. Only if she's breastfeeding though.

Wally Bock said...

I can't see any way that a baby at work wouldn't be disruptive. But I have another question that I don't think has been asked: Is it good for the baby to be in a workplace during the workday?

TAD said...

I don't think it's a good idea for employees to bring babies to work. One employee's baby had his two month checkup right after she started back from maternity leave. I told her to bring him with her that day to help her save leave time.

The times her 2 1/2 year old and now this baby have come to the office in a pinch have not been very productive. I don't think I'm going to make that suggestion again.

Kathy said...

I can't imagine that being a happy solution for mom, baby, or coworkers. Telecommuting seems like a better solution in general. I've linked the NYT article - with a reference to your blog, which is one of my favorites - over on the Commute Zero blog - http://commutezero.com/default.htm. Thanks for the pointer!

The Office Newb said...

Does anyone ever notice that parents who bring their kids into the office never bring anything to entertain them?

What is up with that?

I would be bored and act up too if I had to spend 8 hours in a place with nothing to do. Crayons and a piece of paper would definitely help pass the time.

Anonymous said...

I have brought my children to work on occasion when I was in a bind. In hindsight - I apologize to my coworkers. I recently went to my dentist and she had her baby in the office. Apparently, the baby is there all day every day. It would cry - and everything would be put on hold. Not to mention that with 3 of my own, I really wasn't wanting to hear a crying babe when laying in the dentist chair. Isn't the experience at the dentist unpleasant enough to begin with? Not professional in my opinion.

Rebecca said...

taco, katherine, just another HR lady -- do NOT apologize for your views. You are asking for equal treatment for all employees and a working environment in which you can get things done. This is EXACTLY what you deserve as an employee, there is NOTHING wrong with asking for it, and thinking this way does NOT make you "grumpy" or "an ogre." Don't let militant parents convince you otherwise.

boss lady -- I love your idea, but I think we've all got higher chances of winning the Powerball than ever seeing that happen...

Anonymous said...

"I could type and breastfeed at the same time!" Are you kidding me? There were a whole slew of four letter words that flew through my mind when I read that ignorant statement. This is why employers are supposed to give lactating mothers a private room to breastfeed. I had a coworker use my office once to express milk. When I went back in, I found she had spilled some of her breast milk on my desk...and didn't clean it up. She was completely oblivious that while it was "natural" to breastfeed, that it was still a bodily function. I can pee and talk on the phone at the same time. Do I do that? No, it's inappropriate. To be completely honest, if I walked by a coworker and they were breastfeeding at their computer (whether they had an office with a door ajar or a cube), I think I'd file a formal complaint. I think the reason there are such biases between parents and those without children is because it seems parents sometimes lose touch with uhm, reality. I'm a woman, and was breastfed, and plan on breastfeeding, but it's something I plan on doing in PRIVATE. Just like peeing.

almostgotit said...

But, see, I really COULD type (70+ wpm, yessir!) and breastfeed at the same time. Maybe the person who has yet to try it might admit to a little ignorance, here? (though the four-letter words I inspired do sound intriguing..)

I'm sorry the woman didn't clean up her breastmilk in your office... she should have. But as a body function, breastfeeding isn't like peeing. It's more like eating. Actually, it IS eating. Which doesn't excuse leaving a mess, but as a mess it's really more like "crumbs" than "pee."

Over-the-top blog comments are so much fun. I am going to enjoy thinking of myself as a "militant parent" now for the rest of the day!

Anonymous said...

Almost got it - this is the over the top author. I didn't suggest that you were unable to type and breast feed at the same time. What I suggested is that it was not appropriate to do at your desk while typing and that it is a very personal thing that should be kept personal.

Ironically, the not-yet parent knows a bit more about breast milk than the "militant parent." Breast milk actually, is nothing like crumbs. Because it is a bodily fluid, it also carries a whole host of personal things...from DNA to potential viruses. I am not ignorant on the subject by any means...I've worked on policies to make it easier for lactating mothers to express milk in the workplace and I have no problem with doing it appropriately. The idea of someone having a breast out in the work place (even if covered by a baby and blanket) is a can of worms I'd rather not open. Joe the sexist jerk walks by and makes a comment...the posibilities for a mess are endless. I don't have a problem with someone breastfeeding, or expressing milk on company time...but I do have a problem with behaviors that leave my company vulnerable to problems. Open breastfeeding and bringing children to work under the assumption that it doesn't affect productivity shows exactly that.

The Career Encourager said...

No kids in the office for so very many reasons. I have 2 children. I am crazy about them. I have turned my career upside down the past decade so I can be with them as much as possible. I have taken them to work on several occasions over the past decade adn I have to say that each time I have wished I didn't have to do it. When I am at work, I want to focus and WORK so that when I am with the kids I can enjoy them. Coincidentally, my kids want to focus on being kids and not have to come to the office and be quasi-grownups. My thinking is that kids deserve the full attention of the adult who is responsible for them at any given time - not half-baked "umm hmmms" and "shhhhs." That's why I hired a kid focused sitter to play imaginary games andd do art projects with them while I worked, and then when I came home I could focus on them. They were happier and so was I.

Krupo said...

Ironic twist I heard about: one woman does the bring baby to work thing.

After a while she gets a nanny.

Now she brings the nanny AND the baby to work.

Seriously.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who says that people with children dont do as much work as everyone else obviously doesnt have kids. No I dont want to bring my children to work, but that certainly doesnt mean Im not as productive as everyone else. Yes I might have to take a day off, or leave early occasionaly, but everyday when I get off work I have another job to do. SO A PARENTS WORK IS A NON STOP 24/7 JOB. SO "KATHERINE" CAN GET OVER HER SELF ABSORBED NONSENSE. You couldnt do our job! Oh yeah and...most parents HAVE to work on weekend just to make ends meet. You on the other hand get all your money to yourself! Right now Im weighing out, bills, rent, food diapers, formula, clothes,etc. for the kids and myself.

Lani said...

"Anyone who says that people with children dont do as much work as everyone else..." they are referring to work AT WORK!

Katherine and co only want equal pay for equal work (done AT WORK!). If they're picking up the slack for other people (parents or not), then they should be compensated or at least recognised for that!