Friday, August 5, 2011

Bringing Baby to Work (From a Coworker’s Perspective)

By: Jennifer Goldbronn

As our readers are aware, the Human Lactation Center is definitely a baby-friendly workplace. How could we not be when we do research about babies! In the past, we've provided information about deciding if bringing baby to work is right for you and tips to make it work, both focusing on the parent’s perspective. In this post, I’ll focus on the perspective of coworkers, describing my experience when Jen B brought her new baby to work. Charlotte, born last December, started coming to work with Jen B when she was about 8 weeks old and only recently stopped coming in, at about 7 months old. Here are some of the ups and downs we've shared over the past 7 months.

As Baby Behavior experts who’ve conducted dozens of infant behavior trainings over the past year, we were excited to get our daily baby “fix” and enthusiastically looking forward to interacting with Charlotte and watching her cues and other behaviors. After all, my daughter just turned 4, so my personal experience spending all day with a baby was a faded memory.  

We learned a lot from Charlotte. Sure, she tested our patience at times, but ultimately, she reminded us why we do what we do (teach parents to understand their babies’ behavior). Babies are amazingly smart and adept at communicating their needs. Charlotte made it clear when she wanted to play or when she was tired and needed a break from all of us. She also was great at letting Jen know when she had had enough of being at the office!  When she first smiled at us, she melted our hearts, and when she first rolled over at work, we were almost as excited as Jen was. Babies have this amazing drive to connect with all of their caregivers.

The Real World
We also realize that our workplace may be quite different than others. Some organizations are not as family-friendly, and even if your immediate coworkers have approved your bringing your baby to work, other people in neighboring cubicles or offices may not agree. Charlotte was definitely starting to get more active around 6 months and she was losing patience with being confined to her play pen (even for just a few minutes), and putting her on the ground was just not safe anymore. Trying to balance Charlotte’s needs and respect for her coworkers while getting her work done, Jen B started bringing Charlotte into the office for shorter periods, working the rest of the time at home. One day we were informed that when Charlotte cried, it was interfering with a sound-sensitive study being conducted in a neighboring office.  With Charlotte’s ever increasing mobility and the possibility that she was negatively affecting others’ work, it was clear that bringing her to the office wasn’t working anymore.

It’s true: babies can be disruptive and parents are still responsible for getting their work done. Babies use cues, including crying, to tell parents what they need, and sometimes that communication can be pretty noisy! Parents need to be sensitive to how this can affect other coworkers. Coworkers or supervisors may agree to the arrangement at first and then change their minds if they feel like productivity is affected too much. The Parenting in the Workplace Institute currently studies programs where mothers are allowed to bring their babies to work. They note that, in general, babies come to work until about 6 to 8 months of age, or until they are crawling. After that, safety and liability issues grow and it’s more challenging to get work done while you chase an older, mobile baby.  Realizing that you probably won’t get as much work done with your baby present, some organizations offer a reduced schedule or reduced pay while parents bring their babies to work.

Written policies can be helpful to protect both parents and coworkers. The important thing is to try to anticipate and address potential issues ahead of time. Some companies set up rules as to where babies will be fed or changed, where diapers will be disposed of (who wants a stinky office!), and where parents will take their babies when there is prolonged crying.  Several companies also have parents designate 1 or 2 coworkers in advance to be “helpers” and watch the baby for short periods if the parent needs to take care of something solo. (In our office, we all were designated “helpers”!)

In the end, Charlotte taught us a lot, and she was cared for by a small group of moms who really cared about her and getting their work done.  Have you been in a workplace where a baby was brought in? Share your experience with us!

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