Wed, Jan 07, 2009 - Page 9 News List

Babies invade the workplace

The idea took off about 15 years ago, but in the past two years an increasing number of businesses has allowed employees to bring their babies to work and made the environment more hospitable for them

By Abby Ellin  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Several years ago, Joyce DeLucca became pregnant at the same time she was building her new company, Kingsland Capital Management, an investment boutique in Manhattan. Her employees wondered: Was she going to take a maternity leave during this crucial period?

She did not. Instead, DeLucca decided to bring her newborn to the office with her. She set up an enclosed playroom adjacent to her office, where Layla, now three-and-a-half years old, could play, along with a baby sitter.

Layla is still coming to the office.

“If I have a break I can stand up and walk into her room,” said DeLucca, who is 42 and works 12-hour days. “She knows her way around the office and sometimes she’ll visit me on the trading desk. But it’s not like she comes with me to meetings. If I put my finger to my lips, she knows to be quiet.”

Layla’s sister Ariana, who is seven months old, now comes to the office, too.

More companies are allowing women — and some men, too — to bring their babies to work. The advantages are clear: The women don’t lose money by taking maternity leave. They can breastfeed conveniently. And they can bond with the baby rather than worry that he or she will develop a closer connection with a nanny or a daycare provider.

Of course, disadvantages are clear, too. The needs and noises of babies have the potential to be highly disruptive and to stir resentment among coworkers.

Susan Seitel, president of WFC Resources, a workplace consulting firm in Minneapolis, put it this way: “The business of business is business. I think it’s a little distracting to have children at the office.”

Critics also say that both child and job could lose out because the parent can’t be 100 percent devoted to either one.

DeLucca’s firm has about two dozen workers and she says they are welcome to bring in their children as well; about five have done so for brief periods. Her employees like having children around, she said: “I have not heard anyone react other than enthusiastically.”

The Parenting in the Workplace Institute, a nonprofit group that started in June 2006, has a database of 117 baby-friendly companies of all sizes, among them retail stores, banks, law firms and state agencies.

“This has been going on for 15 years in a limited fashion, but in the last two years it’s really taken off,” said Carla Moquin, the founder of the Parenting in the Workplace Institute, who lives in Framingham, Massachusetts.

“It’s partly economic concern,” Moquin said, because there are many more women in the workplace. “Also, the Family and Medical Leave Act requires companies to give new mothers three months off. Even though it’s unpaid, it’s hard on businesses for an employee to be gone. That, combined with the fact that more people are seeing this as a viable idea, has inspired companies and mothers to work something out.”

The most successful programs, Moquin said, are ones in which companies have written policies — to designate another employee as an alternate caregiver in case the parent is temporarily unavailable; to specify areas for breastfeeding or changing diapers; and to spell out the ages when children are allowed in the office. Usually, babies are allowed up until six to eight months, or before they start to crawl.

Even women who advocate bringing babies to the office say it can be rough.

“It’s far better for me to have my child at home. It’s hard to be your best work person and your best mom because you’re doing both things at one time,” said Denise McVey, president of S3, a 25-person advertising agency in Boonton, New Kersey, who brought her son to the office for his first eight months.

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