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Companies make room for baby

Despite distractions, they offer this unusual benefit to retain workers.

By Amy FarnsworthCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 15, 2008

Naptime: Jenny Guevarra tends to her baby daughter at Valley Credit Union in San Jose, Calif. It is one of more than 100 workplaces that let employees care for babies in the office.

Tony Avelar/Special to the Christian Science Monitor

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Between processing loans and checking e-mails, Jenny Guevarra stops to feed her baby daughter Liana Jasmine, cooing in a playpen next to her cubicle. Liana Jasmine is the second baby she has cared for while working at Valley Credit Union in San Jose, Calif. For Ms. Guevarra, the no-cost alternative sure beats daycare.

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"I really am hesitant to put either of my kids in daycare because it's scary to leave them with someone else besides yourself or [your] husband. Having her here with me, I know what she's doing," she says in a telephone interview.

Between 2001 to 2003, approximately 25 percent of women left the workforce after having their first baby, according to US Census Bureau statistics released this year. Whenever expectant mothers leave the workplace, employers must scramble to fill their positions or redistribute their workloads to existing staff.

But for an estimated 104 US workplaces, the solution has been to bring the baby to work. Valley Credit Union has hosted 54 babies since its program began a decade ago. Currently, the office is hosting three babies with five more on the way.

"For us, it has defined our culture and allowed us to find some great ways to help our staff balance life and work for their benefit as well as ours," says Debbie Sallen, the company's vice president of human resources. "With the babies in the workplace program, the parents come back sooner; they work even harder when they have babies because they are appreciative."

More employers take notice

Parenting-in-the-workplace programs have been around for at least 30 years, according to Mary Secret, an associate professor in the social work department at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, who has completed two studies on the subject. She notes that while there has been more discussion among employers about these programs, she is uncertain whether that reflects an increasing trend in this type of childcare.

One website, babiesatwork.org, lists companies that give employees the option of bringing babies to work. It also provides guidelines for employers who may want to use such a program.

"I think because people are more exposed to the idea, they are more willing to consider it and see the ways this can work" says the website's creator, Carla Moquin, who is also president of the Parenting in the Workplace Institute in Framingham, Mass.

The programs have allowed mothers to return to work sooner, Ms. Moquin notes, something that benefits employers. "

Smaller businesses can't afford expensive paid maternity leave," she says. "And the employer doesn't have to hire temps or worry about mistakes." The baby programs, she says, "lead to higher loyalty, higher retention, higher morale" in the organizations.

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