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

"With no guidelines or structure, it didn't work for some companies. Babies cried for long periods," says Carla Moquin at Parenting in the Workplace Institute. "There were no clear expectations from the beginning."

Steve Abernethy, CEO of San Francisco-based SquareTrade, a provider of warranties for consumer electronics, says he couldn't imagine babies on the job.

"It would be a very difficult distraction. It wouldn't work. We have a completely open floor plan," Abernethy says. "We have plenty of people with kids, but … I think it would be very difficult for the parent and people around them."

Many companies balk at the concept of babies at work full time. At Ernst & Young accounting firm, parents can get subsidized, backup child care in their homes.

"It's for the good of the child," says Sandra Turner, director of the company's employee assistance program. "It's better for them and for the parent."

Employers who allow babies in the workplace say it's a way to retain valued workers.

"Four women got pregnant within a couple of months of each other, and they were in fairly senior roles," says Gay Gaddis, president and founder of T3, which has 250 employees. "I thought, 'What if they don't come back?' Now the babies are here, in internal meetings and being fed on meeting tables. It does a lot for morale."

She admits there were hurdles. "My attorney was, like, 'You're not a licensed day care,' " Gaddis says.

'Our attorneys shuddered'

When the first baby was allowed at Maya, spokeswoman Terry Pronko says, an e-mail was sent to alert all employees, and the new parent had to sign a release form. "Our attorneys shuddered," Pronko says.

Employees who bring kids to work must use their own baby equipment and log the hours worked. Workers aren't paid for the time spent caring for their infant on the job.

During the first 18 months of Maya's baby-friendly policy, the company has had four infants in the office, a modern building with an open layout. In the next nine months, the company is expecting four more.

Maya employee Maryl Curran Widdows, 35, a senior program manager, took her infant daughter, Elinor, to client meetings.

"I did it when it was appropriate and checked first," Widdows says. "I'd wear her in a carrier, and stand and make her happy. She was quiet and didn't interrupt."

She had feared Elinor would be disruptive because of the open design but says it worked well. Elinor, now 20 months, went to the office almost daily for three months. During breaks from work, Widdows would take her daughter in a stroller to the nearby park.

'It's good for morale'

Dallas-based CDG, a human resources software consulting company with 20 workers, allows babies at work until they are about 6 months old.

"It's allowed and encouraged," says CEO Deborah Driskill. "If there is a meeting, another employee will watch the baby or it will be brought to the meeting. It's good for morale."

One consultant brought her baby to work for seven months before the child died unexpectedly (not in the office) from an undiagnosed heart condition. "We gave her the gift of having that time with her baby," Driskill says.

What about the impact on the child? Karissa Thacker, a management psychologist in New York, says, "Space is important, as is having projects to occupy children. Without appropriate attention and care to the environment, the child is more likely to act bad."

At George Watts & Son, a retailer in Milwaukee, the CEO's office has been set up with a crib, rocking chair and a playpen.

"Being in a retail environment is fabulous for the babies," says CEO Sue Thome-John, who brought her 2-year-old son to work until he was 9 months.

"There are lights, beautiful objects and always being around people. My desk is on the retail floor, and I'd put him in an infant chair, and he could just watch the customers."

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