Infants at Work
From the Crib to the Cube
You just had a baby. Or perhaps you're just about to. What happens after maternity leave? For most working mothers, the choices are:
But a growing number of companies offer a fourth choice: bring baby to work with you. Renee D. was pregnant when she interviewed for a job as a graphic designer with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners in Kansas City, Missouri. The association's childcare policy, allowing her to care for her baby at her workstation, was a key factor in her decision to accept the position. At eight weeks, Sydney spends most of her time asleep in her snuggly, curled up against Renee, hard at work on the computer.
"I cleaned out a drawer for her to have her own things in," Renee remembers, thinking back to the first time she brought eight-week-old Sydney to work. "She has her bouncy seat, stroller, and port-a-crib all here in my cube."
How It Works
Here's how the Association's "Infants in the Workplace" policy operates:
Policy Brings Mothers Back Sooner
The policy was instituted three years ago in response to a tight labor market, says the National Association of Insurance Commissioners CEO Cathy Weatherford.
"We were starting to battle the loss of folks," she recalls. The policy has helped with employee retention, and Weatherfor says the trend is that mothers return to work earlier from maternity leave. To date, 13 parents have taken advantage of the policy. In 2001, a husband and wife both employed by the association will share the responsibility for their newborn, each one taking a childcare "shift" during the workday.
"It allows a parent to bring a child along for the first six months and not be torn," Weatherford believes. "The parents feel a great sense of loyalty. If this employer supported me, I'm going to support my employer in return."
A Band-Aid, Not a Cure
But some work-family and early childhood experts wonder if such policies don't intensify the work-family conflict for new parents.
"It is very hard to take care of a baby and work at the same time," believes Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. "It makes the pull very up-close and personal."
Galinsky sees the initiatives as more of an "accommodation" for new parents than a systematic approach to the problem of finding child care. While it is certainly a less costly option than extended paid leave or on-site child care, there is no sign of a surge in the number of companies offering bring-baby-to-work plans. Galinsky notes that surveys repeatedly show new parents want more than the standard twelve weeks' unpaid leave, and suggests that some form of "wage replacement," allowing parents to remain home with their babies, is preferable to bringing them to work daily.
Infants as Afterthoughts
Ann Easterbrook, chairwoman of the Eliot Pearson Department of Early Childhood Education at Tufts University, is not convinced that such seemingly family-friendly policies make sense for infants.
"This puts the infant as an afterthought," she argues. "A very young infant needs to be a centerpiece, to have someone attuned to their very subtle cues and communications."
New mom Renee D. begs to differ with the doubters.
"If I were a stay-at-home mom, I'd still have stuff to do away from the baby, like laundry or taking care of other kids. At home Sydney would never have me all to herself because of her two-year-old sister. So I think having her here is better."
An Extended "Work" Family
Weatherford argues that babies end up with "three dozen aunts and uncles," and believes the policy "softens" the workplace, making it a happier environment for all employees. There has been no resentment from other employees without children, she says.
Renee notes that three male colleagues have volunteered to be back-up babysitters, in addition to several others already officially designated under the policy.
"With my first child I missed all the milestones because she went to day care," she muses. "But with Sydney, she'll go through them right here with me up until six months. Then I'm going to cry when she has to leave."
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