May 9, 2010
The perks -- and challenges -- of caring for a baby on the clock
Special to NWjobs
Kim Radtke takes her son to work each Friday at the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington. (Lora Shinn)
Kim Radtke, 43, breastfeeds while composing e-mails at her desk. Radtke, a program manager at the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington, brings her 4-month-old son, Kerson, to work every Friday and occasionally on Wednesdays. A cream-colored infant chair rests next to her paper-covered desk, while a playmat and a basket of toys settle on the floor.
Radtke and Kerson are part of a growing trend. As of last month, 140 companies in the United States allowed babies in the workplace, according to the Parenting in the Workplace Institute, which maintains a database of baby-at-work employers. In 2005, only seven companies were on the list.
“Even in a tough economy, employers still need to retain valuable employees,” says Institute President Carla Moquin. Allowing parents to bring a baby to work is a low-cost, high-reward benefit, Moquin says. Parents return to work faster after birth, pay less for child care and miss fewer days.
The Parenting in the Workplace Institute, which helps businesses set up baby-friendly workplaces, has these tips for businesses toying with the idea:
Create a formal written policy (including legal waiver forms) with rules and expectations for parents and co-workers.
Set up the program as a pilot program.
Be flexible and expect a brief transition period when a new baby comes to work.
Designate a separate area, such as an empty office or conference room, for a parent to take a baby if the baby cries for more than a few seconds.
“My office understands the needs of working families,” Radtke says. “One of those needs is work-life balance. The administration totally recognizes that to have happy employees, you need to offer flexibility.”
Not everyone is cooing over babies in the workplace. Employer and co-worker concerns include disruptive noise, liability concerns, lack of productivity, and negative client or customer perceptions. But many formerly skeptical and hostile employees become “enthusiastic supporters” if a structured program is instituted, Moquin says.
Pregnancy Aid of Snohomish County, the National CASA Association, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and Legal Voice are among the baby-friendly workplaces in the Puget Sound area. Most of these organizations have structured programs with guidelines, such as limiting visits to the first six months, waiving liability for injuries, mediating co-worker complaints and requiring the parent to be the primary caregiver — co-workers aren’t free baby sitters.
Legal Voice, a Seattle-based legal firm focused on women’s rights, tweaked its rules based on feedback and observations. For example, infants are no longer allowed on Mondays. Whenever a baby was at the company’s Monday staff meetings, few paid attention to the agenda, says Lisa Stone, executive director at Legal Voice.
Disruption isn’t what working moms want. “Parents are paranoid about disturbing their co-workers,” says Stone.
“I don’t want him to be a distraction,” Radtke says of Kerson. But it’s difficult to dissuade her co-workers from coming into her office to say hi and hold him.
Central Co-Op’s Madison Market, Wild Roots Salon in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood and Childish Things, a consignment store in Loyal Heights, don’t have office environments, but they’ve allowed babies.
“These programs work just as well in non-office environments, as long as the company sets up the policy carefully,” Moquin says.
At Central Co-Op, cashiers can ring up customers while “wearing” a baby in a carrier. If cashiers need to breastfeed or change a diaper, it’s no problem to ask for assistance.
“We employ the same process as if you were feeling uncomfortable or needed to go to the bathroom,” says Caple Melton, Central Co-Op’s marketing and educational outreach coordinator.
Asantewa Antobam remembers how hard it was for her to juggle family, work and day care in the 1960s and 1970s. She is an executive assistant to the CEO at the National CASA Association, where six babies have come into the office in the past nine years.
“I’m so glad I lived so long to be able to see this in an office,” Antobam says. “It is an amazing cultural shift.”
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