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January 22, 2010 | Volume 4 | Number 1
January 22, 2010
By Anna Erickson, PhD, Director Consulting Services, Questar Data Systems
In more than 15 years as an Industrial and Organizational Psychologist, I have worked with some innovative companies. I have seen how the best employers engage their workforce, foster innovation, and build customer loyalty. I know firsthand how improving options for flexibility can increase employee commitment and productivity. I have seen some truly leading edge policies. But I must admit – hearing about this one piqued my curiosity.
When I learned about the Babies At Work program at Clockwork Active Media Systems (winner of Minnesota’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award), I was intrigued. Now when I say “Babies At Work,” I’m not talking about an onsite daycare center. I’ve seen plenty of those. Clockwork’s Babies At Work program is a formal policy allowing parents to keep their babies right there with them – in their workspace – while they work. A policy which Clockwork has implemented with resounding success.
Click here to watch a slideshow of more babies at work.
I talked with the program’s mastermind and participating mom, Meghan Wilker, to find out more. “Clockwork has always been an employer that makes sure employees have what they need to be successful. If employees are here, but distracted, they’re not fully engaged or productive. A parent who is feeling guilty about leaving a child or worried about a daycare situation, is really not working at 100%.”
Lest you think it’s a program for working moms, think again. Clockwork has actually had more dads than moms take advantage of the program. And according to Wilker, the program’s positive impact reaches beyond its participants by creating a more upbeat work atmosphere throughout the office. “Spirits just lift when there’s a baby around. It’s hard not to smile at kids. People stop, smile, chat, play with the baby. It adds a lot of energy to the workplace.”
Clockwork is not alone in offering this benefit. In fact, there are websites dedicated to helping companies set up babies at work policies (e.g., www.babiesatwork.org). And apparently there are a growing number of organizations that have decided to implement similar practices.
To make the program successful, Clockwork decided it was important to formalize the program. By laying down some ground rules, they provided a framework to maximize the likelihood of success. Here are a few of the stipulations.
So what’s the benefit to the company? The Babies at Work website notes a number of positive outcomes for employers including:
Although the website is better at presenting the logic for these benefits than hard data, I suspect that the program does produce organizational as well as employee benefits. The key would be in the ways that it reduces work family conflict. Work family conflict is a type of role conflict that happens when the demands of one role (work or family) interferes with the demands of the other role (work or family). Research has shown that this type of role conflict can have negative implications for family, job, and life satisfaction. The impact of role conflict seems to be reciprocal in nature: causing negative outcomes in the workplace and the family. Research has linked this type of conflict to absenteeism, turnover, and job performance. Work-family conflict can even impact physical and mental health.
It seems pretty clear that a program like this would help to alleviate at least some of the work-family conflict that arises for new parents. By letting employees merge their work and family roles, conflict is reduced. Parents and babies have time to transition back to work and into daycare arrangements gradually. And I must admit – I totally buy into the idea that the presence of babies would liven up the work environment. I love kids. What better stress relief than to play with a baby on your coffee break.
Photo Credit: Sharyn Morrow www.sharynshoots.com
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