Office Babies: Yes or No? – Birds on the Blog

Office Babies: Yes or No?

It’s a dilemma facing every working parent: do you take time out of your career to focus on bringing up your baby or do you fork out for childcare?  While for many it’s still an either/or decision, some forward-thinking companies, such as Addison Lee are offering new Mums and Dads a third option, and that’s taking your little ones to the office.

They ran this as a pilot scheme. Now, you might be thinking this was probably a disaster, but in fact, the scheme was so successful, they made it permanent.

Furthermore, this is not the only scheme of its kind. In the US alone, 170 of these bring your baby to work schemes exist (this is arguably more necessary in the States, as some states lack mandated maternity and paternity leave). This demonstrated that a handful of workplaces are taking baby steps in the right direction to suit today’s increasingly common family unit whereby both parents work full-time.

So, could it be the answer to the childcare conundrum, or is filling an office with infants a very, very bad idea?

The Downsides

Let’s get the negatives out the way first.

There can be no doubt that babies are a great distraction, whether they’re your own or someone else’s.  No parent can turn a blind eye or deaf ear to an unhappy baby, and if they’re not demanding your attention there’s always the temptation to simply coo over how well-behaved and adorable they’re being.  Some workplaces giving parents the option to bring their baby to work have tried out allocating a substitute carer, allowing Mum or Dad to focus on their meeting or that all-important deadline.

While that sounds like an ideal solution, it raises the question of how willing other workers would be to pick up the slack or whether they’d feel forced into the role.  It would be very hard for someone to say ‘no’ to acting as a free babysitting service if the tot they’re looking after belongs to their boss…

It’s not just the noise and distraction employers would have to worry about either.  As any Mum or Dad will tell you, babies generate mess.  Lots of it.  Let a pack of toddlers loose with the crayons and you could end up with a very big cleaning bill and some very stressed members of staff.  That in turn leads to the thorny issue of how far you can go towards disciplining someone else’s child if the parents are otherwise engaged.

Slow workshop registrationsFinally, babies are a legal liability.  Some employers would see it as enough of a responsibility looking after adults in the workplace, without the constant fear that a small, accident-prone little person might do themselves some damage.  Injuries to children could result in an epic blame game and litigation, with company reputations and jobs on the line should anything go wrong.

The Upsides

On a more positive note, however, allowing babies into the workplace could dramatically improve staff retention.  A survey carried out by The National Childbirth Trust found that one in ten new Mums would not be returning to work once their babies were born, with a further 9% saying they were seriously considering not going back.  The cost of childcare and not wanting to miss out on those early years of their child’s life were the main reasons parents gave for putting their careers on hold, and given the time and cost involved in recruiting a replacement, most employers would be open to anything which might help them keep new parents in their jobs.

Being unwillingly parted from their little ones can elicit all manner of emotions in new Mums and Dads – not being there for them can make the 9-5 feel like one long guilt-trip, lowering a parent’s morale, making them more stressed and perhaps even leaving them feeling resentful towards their employers.  If bringing baby to work was an option, parents wouldn’t feel cheated out of missing all those important early milestones and wouldn’t be in a state of constant anxiety about their baby’s well-being.

There’s also the fact that any workplace creche scheme can only help improve gender equality.  It’s true to say that the majority of childcare duties still fall to mothers, with many taking career breaks or stopping work altogether while the kids are small.  Issues such as the lack of women in senior roles and the gender pay gap are perpetuated by mothers taking more time out, but if baby-friendly companies give the option of bringing small children to work, then there’s more scope for Mums and Dads to split the caring and breadwinning a little more evenly.

There are positives and negatives to office babies, but with the cost of childcare skyrocketing and employers taking a long, hard look at gender equality, it seems likely that more companies will start to seriously consider such schemes as an option.  It may not be a silver bullet for the childcare dilemma, but bringing baby to work might become an option for many more Mums and Dads in the future.

Lizzie Exton writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in finding candidates their perfect internship. To browse our graduate jobs, visit our website.

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