Working moms

Crib note: Babies in the office -- dream come true or worst nightmare?

July 19, 2012 at 10:50 AM ET

For many new moms, the thought of returning to work after an all-too-short maternity leave is traumatizing. But, what if you didn’t have to drop your new baby off at grandma's or day care while you went back to work? No, not because you just won the lottery (though wouldn’t that be nice…). No, what if your employer welcomed babies and small children at the office?

That’s the case for one group of office workers in the U.K. Addison Lee is a busy and highly profitable (worth of £200 million, or around $313 million) minicab company. While this is no mom-and-pop organization, it does see itself as a family company, and as such, told moms and pops that every day was "bring your child to work day" for a one-month trial period. The company welcomed not just babies and toddlers into the office; it also welcomed BBC cameras in as well, to document the experiment.

We’re not talking about an on-site daycare. Oh no, parents at this busy call center were on the phone arranging for cab pick-ups while their babies teethed on the phone lines. These folks were attempting to be full-time parents and full-time workers, all at once.

"As far as concentration went I soon realised that you have to be able to multi-task," Shellon Beckford, one of the call center moms who participated in the experiment, wrote on a BBC blog. (The documentary isn't available in the U.S., but you can read more about it on the BBC site and in this article in The Telegraph newspaper.) "Both baby's routine as well as scheduling your day can be adjusted so that you get the bulk of your work done while they are napping," Beckford said.

The experiment seems especially noteworthy at a call center -- young kids are notorious for acting up as soon as they see their parents are on the phone. But the employees weren't in it alone, as each was assigned a “buddy” to help out if a kid started crying while the parent was in the middle of something that couldn’t wait.

The company’s managing director expressed hope that allowing employees to bring babies to work would boost morale and increase loyalty. Loyal employees save companies a lot of money in recruitment and training costs, so there are benefits to employers as well.

"Having Mahdka with me in the office meant that I saved £943 (about $1,480) a month on childcare and even more valuably I was with her every day watching her grow and develop, something I would definitely have missed out on if she was at the nursery (day care) every day," Beckford wrote.

Yes, if your employer is saving you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a month on childcare expenses, you’re probably going to feel friendlier to them. But, will your sanity be intact? Or will you be too frazzled from trying to be everything to everyone at the same time to even remember your own name?

Judith Woods, writing for The Telegraph, confesses that just watching the documentary stressed her out:

"But maybe that was due to flashbacks from my own days spent trying to work from home when my daughter was too tiny to put in nursery but not tiny enough to sleep through important phone calls. I used to be ashamed of the fact that, once or twice, I resorted to steeling myself and closing the door on her sobs, pretending to the concerned caller that, no, I could not hear a crying baby."

It did work for the good folks at Addison Lee. While there was some lost productivity, most thought that the gains of long-term loyalty were worth it. And what about the co-workers who saw their office space turned into a playground? Most seemed to get on board. The Telegraph notes that one of the biggest skeptics, a "macho sales manager," almost smiles as he watches a teammate singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” with one of the office toddlers. At the end of the one-month trial, the company decided to make the "bring your baby to work" policy permanent: babies under one can stay at the desk with their parents, while older children can go to an on-site day care, which is being built.

Have you tried working (from home or in an office) while watching your baby or toddler? How'd it go? If you work in an office, would you welcome a baby-friendly policy?

Dana Macario is a TODAY Moms contributor and Seattle mom to two young kids.

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