Carla Moquin is the founder of the Parenting in the Workplace Institute, a nonprofit whose mission is to show leadership in companies of all sizes that programs designed to bring babies to work can be a win-win for companies and employees. In this interview she discusses how this has worked without fail for every company that’s created, with leadership’s buy-in, formal policies.

You have become a go-to expert in the media when articles are written about bringing children into the workplace. How did your interest in this begin, and what led you to found the Parenting in the Workplace Institute?
With my two children, I had to return to work when they were both four weeks old. When I stumbled upon an article in 2005 about Schools Financial Credit Union in California, which allows employees to bring babies to work, it really resonated with me.

I was looking to write freelance articles on this subject and so I called this credit union and they were just gushing about the benefits for their business from having done this. They mentioned another credit union with a similar program, Valley Credit Union, and I called them and they said they saw essentially the same benefits, and they said this independent of the first credit union.

I did some more research and found a number of other companies that were finding success doing this. Then in 2007, I designed the Babies in the Workplace website to get the information that I had at the time out to the public.

I founded the Institute in December of 2007 because there was no organization promoting this concept as a viable option. I want to empower organizations to set these programs up in a sustainable way.

In the companies you’ve identified as having used these programs successfully for a long time, what do folks tell you about what makes them work?
They say it works because they set up policies, and that’s really critical. I have found a few companies that stopped doing it because it wasn’t successful. But in all of those companies there were no written or even informal policies or guidelines. So people didn’t know what the expectations were and mistakes happened or people abused the opportunity.

In all of the companies that we’ve discovered that have some kind of formal understanding, even if it’s not written – that babies cannot be disruptive, that parents are still responsible for completing their work, that coworkers are also responsible for their work and can’t spend all day playing with the babies – it’s worked.

The benefits of this to the business are substantial:

  • These programs encourage employees to return to work earlier. I’ve talked to many mothers and fathers at these companies who really enjoy being able to return to work while still being with their babies. This helps the company because they don’t have to worry about down time, temp workers, or having someone substitute and not be familiar with the work.
  • It helps with the separation that happens between parent and child. Instead of it happening after the first four weeks, or maybe up to three months, it happens typically six to eight months after the baby’s birth or when she’s crawling, whichever comes first. This gives parents more time to ease back in to their job responsibilities, which can reduce absenteeism.
  • Morale has been shown to skyrocket. People visit with each other for a few minutes over the baby who might not otherwise do so. Managers tell me that an unintended benefit is increased teamwork and cooperation among employees, which has increased productivity.
  • Lower sick days and illness rates, for both child and parent.
  • Parents tend to be more loyal to the company.
  • It also helps attract customers. In organizations in which the babies are in public, it engenders tremendous loyalty. In the retail environment, it actually brings customers in more frequently because they get to know those babies, just like the coworkers do.

How do the companies on your list overcome the criticism from employees who either don’t have kids – and think the parent employees are being favored – or who do, but think they would be disruptive in a workplace environment?
One of the most critical things is having top-level support of these concepts. Often a useful tool is to present it as a pilot or trial because that helps people understand that if it doesn’t work, it can be easily killed – it’s not a permanent practice.

We’ve also seen that once the baby comes, overall people’s perspectives change 180 degrees. They usually don’t want to see the program disappear because they’ve seen firsthand how much it transforms the workplace.

For the few people who are truly uncomfortable being around babies, what we recommend, and what a number of companies do, is to create “baby-free zones.” The typical example is a woman who is trying to have a baby herself but hasn’t been able to. In these situations companies have asked if either this woman or the baby’s mother (or father) can have their workstation temporarily moved so that she’s not around this baby day after day. This has worked well, but it’s rare that people feel the need to request this accommodation.

And there are a lot of workplace policies that already favor families – maternity leave; health insurance costs differentially affect single people vs. families. There are lots of things in the business world that differentially affect different groups of people, and I see this as no different from any of those because the business is doing this for business reasons.

Parenting in the Workplace Institute recently launched the Great Babies-at-Work Challenge. Click here for more information.