Employers and workers have become more conscious of the need to maintain work-life balance, whether by turning off work mobile devices at home, having more vacation time or working from home.
Yet one possibility of helping that balance, at least for parents, has remained relatively taboo: taking kids into the workplace.
The idea of regularly accommodating kids — even infants — for a certain number of hours each day has until recently been avoided by employers, as the prospect of a co-worker’s kid occupying a cubicle may seem like crossing a line.
This has been true both in offices and in more unusual work environments, like Major League Baseball. In March, Chicago White Sox first baseman Adam LaRoche quit the sport, leaving a $13 million salary on the table after the baseball club told him to dial back the amount of time his 14-year-old son spent with him on the field and in the locker room.
LaRoche’s son, Drake, spent nearly every working baseball day alongside his father, including practices and games, generating feature stories during his time with the Washington Nationals. But this spring the 12-season veteran clashed with the White Sox, which LaRoche said had changed its policy on the issue.
“Obviously, I expressed my displeasure toward this decision to alter the agreement we had reached,” LaRoche wrote in a statement. “I had to make a decision. Do I choose my teammates and my career? Or do I choose my family? The decision was easy.”
Both employees and businesses can benefit from allowing children to spend time at work with their parents, said Carla Moquin, founder and president of the Utah-based Parenting in the Workplace Institute. The problem lies with a lack of preparedness on the employer’s part, which can create tension and lead to a blanket prohibition on kids, she said.
Moquin’s organization helps companies draw up formal strategies to take in kids when necessary, which often means having a spare room available where children can pass the time. Most employees, she said, simply need a place for their kids outside of school hours.
She estimated that hundreds of workplaces permit children but often with unclear guidelines. With rules acceptable to everyone, she said, “The business can support employees at very little cost, and employees can have flexibility and more options to be parents as well as professionals,” she said.
She added that, in many cases, children become part of the workplace community and benefit from seeing what their parents do.
That echoes the message of the recently celebrated Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, which has encouraged some 37 million Americans at 3.5 million workplaces to plan educational activities that give children some sense of professional life.
Of course, the idea of a permanent place for children in workplaces is certainly an escalation of the annual holiday. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be beneficial to both employees and the business, said Mike Griffin, business manager for Tucker Griffin Barnes PC, a law firm in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In the early 1990s, one of the firm’s founding partners decided that when one of his paralegals left on maternity leave, she was needed back as soon as possible.
“She wanted to come back to work and he needed her to come back to work,” Griffin said. The firm has since transformed into one of the biggest success stories of child-friendly workplace attitudes, with 36 babies “raised at the firm,” he said.
Infants up until 6 months can stay with parents in their offices, and older children are welcome on days off from school or outside of school hours, he said. Many of the children, around age 16, end up working part-time for the firm with administrative tasks.
“It’s part of our culture,” he said, saying the firm makes it clear upon hiring anyone that children are often part of the work environment. “Mothers watch them pretty well. They know it’s a good thing bringing a child to work, so they keep an eye on them.”
From a business perspective, it’s a benefit to get an employee back to work while accommodating that person’s needs.
“Management definitely needs to be open to the idea,” Griffin said. “It’s very easy to say we can’t do this because of the liability or practicality of it.”