PARENTS

Bring Baby To The Office? Would You, If You Could?

16/07/2012 17:50 | Updated 22 May 2015
Bring baby to the office? You must be bonkersCall centre agent Zara Okera and her daughter Aleena Pic: Dragonfly

Anyone who has tried working from home while caring for a baby knows it is a juggle at best, and a tightrope-walk doomed to disaster at worst.

Babies don't care about deadlines and the need to have sticky-goo-free computer keys. Babies only care about sticking things in their mouths, up their noses and into other places that are a danger to both themselves and society.

So if it's difficult combining a job and childcare at home, how would a parent fare if they took their baby to work with them?

For a few years now, many US companies have been following a pioneering idea that bringing your baby to work is not just good for you, the baby and the company, but also for society.

It hasn't quite caught on in Britain's offices yet – we like our fag/coffee/water cooler/time-on-Twitter breaks too much – but could it?

Bring baby to the office? You must be bonkersSales administrator Maria Partridge and her daughter Tanisha Pic: Dragonfly

Well, see for yourself. The brave employees of Britain's largest mini-cab company Addison Lee agreed to not only take their babies to work with them for a social experiment – they also agreed to have a fly-on-the-wall camera crew follow them to add to their stress.

The results are to be screened in a two-part documentary, starting on BBC2 on Monday (16 July), called Babies In The Office.

Bring baby to the office? You must be bonkersCall centre agent Shellon Beckford and her daughter Madhika

Instead of putting their mites in a crèche or a nursery, parents of nine babies are challenged to work with them right next to their desks.

The premise is simple: With childcare costs in Britain going through the roof, we parents dream of saving money and (allegedly) spending more time with our kids.

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To make that a reality though, each must successfully juggle caring for their baby with the rigours of their day job, from the call centre to customer service and sales to accounts, according to the publicity blurb.

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It adds: "Babies and business sound like a recipe for chaos - but are babies a formula for success?"

You'll have to tune in to find out, but one organisation that champions the practice is in no doubt that this is a good thing for everyone.

The American-based Parenting in the Workplace Institute says: "We believe that infants and older children are far more capable of being successfully integrated into many workplaces than is commonly believed."

In the States, more than 170 companies have successful babies-at-work programmes, with tots accompanying their parents until up to eight months old, or until they start to crawl.

P.I.W argues that the benefits are multi-fold: "In the workplace, babies overwhelmingly tend to be mellow and highly content.

"Within structured programs, a workplace environment contains keys to thriving, happy babies: parental closeness, social interaction, physical contact, highly response care and high rates of breastfeeding.

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Happy babies in the workplace lower stress levels and create feelings of camaraderie and community among co-workers.

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"Structured babies-at-work programs provide extensive benefits to business:

• earlier return to work;

• improve loyalty and retention;

• increase teamwork and co-operation;

• attract skilled employees; increase moral and productivity;

• lower health costs; attract new customers.

"Babies whose needs are met quickly and appropriately, and whose needs for social stimulation and emotional support are met, are more likely to grow into secure, independent children and adults – and are far easier to take to work," says P.I.W.

Thankfully, we seem rather more realistic, less idealistic in the UK – but we're still willing to give it a go, and for very practical reasons.

Last year, the Daycare Trust charity launched a consultation into how difficult it was to find the right flexible and affordable childcare because of fears that higher costs were making more mothers think twice about going back to their jobs.

One firm – Officebroker.com in Tamworth, Staffordshire - was so anxious not to lose valued staff that it tried allowing babies and toddlers into the office on trial days, while their parents worked.

Its managing director, Jim Venables, said: ''We find it difficult to replace mothers who are taking maternity leave, as well as those who choose not to come back to work.

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It's a real problem for us and I am sure for thousands of other companies across the UK.

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So looking into alternatives or ways to support parents is always high on our agenda."

The trial had some fairly predictable outcomes:

• Headphone, mouse mats and telephone wires were coated with dribble at the end of the day;

• Office equipment became teething toys; and

• Colleagues became babysitters.

Telesales consultant Rachel Lapins, mum of then nine-month-old Grace, concluded: "I don't think I would want to bring her in every day, but as an emergency solution, if there was a childcare crisis, it would be great to have the office as an option.''

And Dean Ridsill, another sales consultant, who took his one-year-old Harry to the office, said: ''He was crawling around everywhere, trying to pull down wires, while I was trying to have conversations on the phone.

"My colleagues helped out, and it was good for team-building I suppose, but he won't be coming in again."

Bring baby to the office? You must be bonkersDragonfly

The company said it might continue to allow younger babies in for odd days to help parents stay in touch during their maternity or paternity leave. But it was unlikely to be taken up as a long-term childcare solution.

Sarah Mulley, from the Institute of Public Policy Research, who has just had a baby, told BBC Breakfast this week: "It's great if some people can make it work but I always think it's likely to be a minority.

"What's more important is that we have a system of universal childcare so that people don't have to make these difficult decisions."

And outspoken former contestant of The Apprentice, Katie Hopkins, a mother of three, added: "Babies are not like simpering Labradors that sit under your desk and drool. It wouldn't be fun.

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It's very easy to see this from the perspective of the mother who gets to bring her baby to work, not from the perspective of the people sitting next to her while the baby is screaming its head off.

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"Or the client on the other end of the phone who thinks they've just phoned a crèche.

"It goes back to needing a way of childcare that works for both parties, but bringing the child to work may put the mother and baby first but it doesn't put the business first.

"It's going to really affect people's performance, not just those who bring babies to work, but those around them.

"I think there is a period of time when anyone who has a child has to make some tough decisions.

"If they decide to go to work it's not my employer's problem that I have decided to have a baby. It is my problem.

"People have to make these tough decisions and they can't put them on the Government or the employer asking 'Can I bring my baby to work?'."

She concluded: "Our state is running at a massive deficit. If people can't sort out their childcare, there are plenty of others that can." Would you take your baby to work if you could?

Have you ever, other than the usual show-off session while on maternity leave?

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