For many, the idea of becoming a parent in and of itself is daunting. The questions and stresses – everything from what diapers and car seats to get to what doctor to choose – seems never ending.
Before my first daughter was born, I spent a great deal of time weighing the pros and cons of being a stay-at-home mom or returning to work and trusting a stranger to care for our newest and most precious family member. The thought of leaving my new baby in the care of a stranger terrified me more than the thought of sleepless nights or endless diaper changes.
I made the most of the 12-week maternity leave my then-employer allowed, spending my time forming a bond with my child.
|Left: Southwest Region Communications Manager Kimberly Pincheira and son Zander support WSU and our communications team. Right: Planning specialist Chelsey Martin and son Hendric hard at work in our Vancouver office.|
But sooner than I would've liked I returned to work, leaving our baby with her new daycare provider, who was great. But for many parents, it's a cruel game of "would you rather." Would you rather spend time with your new baby, at home, un-paid? Or would you rather spend the day at work because you have bills to pay and a baby to provide for?
That's why our agency's year-old "Infant at Work" program is such a fantastic perk.
What is the "Infant at Work" program?
The Infant at Work program allows some employees to bring their babies to work when they're six weeks old until the infant turns six months old, or they become mobile. The baby has to be in an office-type setting. Our Incident Response Team, for example, can't bring the baby along while they patrol the highways. The type of work, location and safety has to be taken into account when determining eligibility.
What's the point?
The program is designed to provide a modern, flexible work environment and allows employees the chance to continue working rather than taking an extended leave, or leaving their baby with family or daycare. It promotes a positive work/life balance, allowing the parent to continue bonding with their child while also allowing them to get important work done.
So what's in it for WSDOT?
This isn't a one-sided deal. The Infant at Work program allows the employee to return to work sooner, increases employee retention and lowers turnover costs while improving employee loyalty and morale. Giving the baby consistent access to breastfeeding has also shown to have health benefits, lowering health care costs.
|Left: Emily Glad keeps working as our Toll Division Communications Manager while son Anders supervises. Right: Ferries worker Tim Wiess is able to get work done while daughter Grace naps.|
What happens if the baby cries, or if the baby is sick?
Babies get sick. Babies cry. There's no getting around that. Maintaining a healthy and productive work environment was a primary consideration in developing this program.
If the infant becomes sick, is disruptive for a prolonged period of time, causes a distraction in the work place, or prevents the parent from accomplishing work, the parent must take the infant home or to a backup daycare provider. While having a baby at work can be great, it can't be at the detriment of co-workers.
We've reconfigured already existing areas of our offices into safe, quiet spaces for parents to take their baby for them to calm down. These offices are equipped with a computer to allow the parent to continue working without interrupting co-workers.
Having worked around some parents who brought their babies to work, I can vouch for the fact that the program works. My coworkers who have brought their child to work are clearly happier, and the babies are happy. I haven't found it to be distracting and it allows the employees to be productive while feeling valued and appreciated. It's a program I wish I could've taken advantage of when my children were that age and I'm happy for my colleagues and their babies who will have this opportunity to form those important bonds while also remaining producting employees.