Day care's new frontier: Your baby at your desk

At the T3 advertising firm in Austin, employees have a saying: It takes an agency to raise a child.

The $261 million company, whose clients include Marriott International, Microsoft and J.C. Penney, lets a new parent bring his or her baby to work — every day — until the child is old enough to crawl.

Almost 50 babies have spent their infancy in the office beside their mothers or fathers, who generally tote in baby swings and playpens to set up makeshift nurseries. Some parents even take infants to meetings in BabyBjörn strap-on carriers.

It's not as unusual as it may sound. More than 80 companies across the nation allow babies in the workplace, according to Parenting in the Workplace Institute in Framingham, Mass., which says that number is likely to be low. It's an extreme — and controversial — example of how employers are seeking more ways to help workers strike a balance between work and the rest of their lives.

The number of companies allowing children at work on an occasional basis climbed to 29% last year, up from 22% in 2006, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Productivity specialists are raising eyebrows at the practice, saying it could amount to favoritism for parents and rankle co-workers who don't want to put up with a baby gurgling — or worse — in the next cubicle.

"Those without children often come to resent the perception of coddled working parents," says Tory Johnson, CEO of Women For Hire, a New York-based professional recruitment services firm.

Some parents who've brought babies to work acknowledge that it doesn't always work without a hitch.

Francine Gemperle, 33, a designer and researcher in Pittsburgh, took her son Milo to work every day for six weeks after her six-week maternity leave.

"He did not sleep all the time and had to be walked around," she says. "This is not for everybody. Not every baby can do it. You couldn't do it with a colicky baby."

But the practice — a big step beyond the day care centers that began popping up in workplaces more than 20 years ago — continues to grow. Employers allowing workers to bring babies to work each day include retail companies, insurance firms, law offices and credit unions. In such arrangements, parents typically keep their children at their desks.

At T3, new parents are offered private offices. The babies are allowed to come to work daily until they are mobile, usually around 9 months old.

The perk isn't just for working mothers: 10 fathers at T3 have participated. Toys that one parent used often are passed to other new moms and dads returning to work with their babies, company spokeswoman Courtney Layton says.

"It's been fun," she says. "You can't be in a bad mood when there is a baby there."

Allie Hewlett, 33, a benefits administrator at T3, brings her 7-month-old daughter, Scout, to the office most days.

Bringing Scout in, she says, helped alleviate the anguish over leaving the girl in day care, which Hewlett plans to do when Scout becomes more mobile.

Hewlett had been sharing an office with co-workers but moved to a private office now that Scout accompanies her to work. Along with her briefcase, Hewlett brought a Pack 'n Play, an Exersaucer, a bouncy swing and other baby paraphernalia that she set up beside her desk.

"Scout is so well-adjusted, and people come over all the time to play with her. They jump at the chance to watch Scout if I have a phone call," Hewlett says.

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