In an effort to meet employee demand and attract top talent, workplace benefits have continued to broaden. Flex schedules, ping-pong, pets in the office—you name it, someone’s probably trying it.
But for many new parents in America, childcare benefits are the highest priority and still the most difficult to find. Stockpiled PTO and sick days go by quickly, and even those with paid parental leave still may feel they must put a child into childcare sooner than they would like.
Being away from a baby for hours at a time, as well as managing the burden of day care costs, has a significant impact on families. According to 2018 research by the Maryland Family Network, the median family income in Baltimore County is $86,700 and day care for two children in Baltimore County costs an estimated $20,200 per year. That’s nearly 25% of income spent on childcare. Other studies showed that in many states, childcare costs more than a college education.
Many families opt for one parent to stay home until the child is older, but this is often as much a financial sacrifice as day care—if not more. This causes problems for employers too. Finding people to fill positions while parents are out of the workplace can be an HR headache, backlog projects, and slow overall efficiency.
A Third Option
However, as benefits continue to flex, Infant-at-Work programs are on the rise. According to Parenting in the Workplace Institute (PIWI), more than 200 workplaces across the United States are now implementing Infant at Work programs.
PIWI is an organization dedicated to convincing companies to let employees bring babies to work. The institute has proven that letting new parents sport a baby carrier at the office has a positive impact on efficiency, teamwork and office morale, improves recruitment efforts and helps moms and dads get back to their desks quicker.
Beth Shelton is the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa and a mom herself. For Beth, implementing an Infant-at-Work program was less about helping employees save on day care costs, and more about showing employees they are valued.
“With the Infant-at-Work program, we’re supporting parents in their transition back to work, and creating a space where having children and advancing your career can happen simultaneously,” she explained.
The benefit provides obvious perks for parents, but it poses challenges as well. Despite the benefit’s increasing popularity, babies-at-work programs are generally met with skepticism. The biggest concern is disruption to the work environment since babies can cry… a lot.
But the founder of PIWI, Carla Moquin, says that with correct expectations and implementation, doubtful employers and workers become believers.
“The policy results in parents being very responsive to meeting their babies’ needs at the first sounds of distress,” Moquin noted. “Babies are much happier, calmer and quieter than expected, and then coworkers and managers find themselves bonding with the baby.”
Moquin has seen workplace morale actually improve, as colleagues contribute to “the village” mentality. Employees generally consider the new baby a part of their community and are willing to help out, as new parents are essentially now working two full-time jobs.
If you’re thinking of offering an Infant-at-Work program at your company, the following bullet points provide specific recommendations by employers:
- Pilot the program first for three to four weeks. This gives employees a chance to experience the dynamic before it’s set in stone. In many cases, the program is successful and becomes permanent.
- Set an age for eligibility. PIWI recommends accepting children up to 6 months, but some companies allow children until they are crawling. Others do not have a cutoff.
- Clearly communicate when the child will be in the office, so everyone is aware of the schedule.
- Identify a few backup employees to provide support if needed.
- Understand it’s an adjustment. It can take a while and the first week is usually the hardest.
Something to Consider
The program doesn’t work for every organization and it doesn’t work for every family. Business owners will have to think about all of the ramifications if they wish to consider. Some jobs require too much accomodation, some parents are unable to manage the balance of attention and not all babies enjoy the social stimulation of office-life.
Still, like many other unique benefits, it’s something to contemplate as a tough talent market has employers pulling all strings. For many employees, just having the option can communicate a company’s thoughtful care and investment.