Is The Workplace The New Babies R Us?
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Parents with newborns often face a stressful situation when it comes to work. For new mothers in particular, returning to work can mean a tough decision about leaving a new baby in day care, or with friends or family. Now, a small but growing number of companies are allowing, even encouraging, parents to bring their babies to work.
Anthony Brooks reports.
ANTHONY BROOKS: The W.S. Badger Company operates out of a 100-year-old, white, clapboard house in Gilson, New Hampshire, producing a variety of organic skin balms, chapstick and soap.
This is our machine that fills our tins. The hot wax and essential oils come in from those pipes up there.
BROOKS: Badger was founded in 1995 by a carpenter named Bill Whyte and his wife, Katie Schwerin. Today, it has about 40 employees and sells some 35 products around the world. Jay Smeltz is the company's coordinator of human resources.
Mr. JAY SMELTZ (Coordinator of Human Resources, W.S. Badger Company): The owners have always felt like we want to be a family friendly company, and we started thinking about what that meant. And one of the mothers came to Bill and Katie and said, can I bring my baby to work? And from there, the idea just grew.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BROOKS: So now, along with the daily employee lunches - on this day, Borscht salad and homemade biscuits - the company allows new parents who work in the administrative offices to bring their babies to work.
(Soundbite of baby cooing)
Ms. JESSICA PERINUNZI(ph) (Sales Manager, W.S. Badger Company): You think so? Yes. Oh, you want that? Oh, yeah.
BROOKS: Six-month-old Lucia Perinunzi has a huge smile, and tiny hands that reach for the microphone.
Ms. PERINUNZI: Going to make domr good noises. Yeah? You got stories?
(Soundbite of baby cooing)
BROOKS: The Badger Company allows babies up to 6 months old in the workplace. Lucia is the only Badger baby left right now, but she used to be one of three, according to her mother, Jessica Perinunzi, a sales manager here, and her co-worker Gina White(ph).
Ms. PERINUNZI: Sometimes when the babies were very young, they would - one would start to cry and that would almost set off a chain reaction. And it was very funny because we would just get one baby to settle down and then the other one - they'd start, and we'd just all start to laugh because there was nothing we could do.
Ms. GINA WHITE: It was - if you couldn't find the pacifier, it was out of control, so.
BROOKS: But Jessica Perinunzi says scenes like this were rare, and she says the benefits of having her baby at work outweigh the challenges.
Ms. PERINUNZI: Oh, it's been fantastic. That really helped ease the anxiety of coming back to work, made the whole leaving my child nervousness and tension just disappear. So, this time was my easiest transition back into the workplace of my three children.
Ms. CARLA MOQUIN (Legal Secretary, Founder, Parenting in the Workplace Institute): One of the big benefits that companies have found is that parents return to work a lot earlier than they otherwise would, voluntarily.
BROOKS: This is Carla Moquin, a legal secretary and mother, and founder of the Parenting in the Workplace Institute in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Ms. MOQUIN: Because they can have a paycheck, they have a social network, and they stay with their baby. It tends to lead to lower turnover, much higher morale. In many societies and for, you know, for most of human history, work and family are not separated the way they are in our society.
BROOKS: According to the U.S. Census, about a quarter of mothers quit their jobs after having their first baby. Advocates say encouraging babies in the workplace can reduce that kind of disruption. Which isn't to say this can work everywhere. Construction sites and factories are obviously unsuitable for babies.
And Greta deJong, editor and publisher of Catalyst magazine in Salt Lake City, has allowed six babies in her office over the past 20 years, and says she has mixed feelings about the experiment.
Ms. GRETA DEJONG (Editor, Publisher, Catalyst Magazine): It was a delightful experience. It was a pleasurable experience, which is not to say that it made for a very efficient or productive work experience.
BROOKS: And she's not sure if she'd do it again. After all, fussy babies and poopy diapers hardly improve a company's bottom line. But proponents say the key to success is a clear company policy.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BROOKS: At W.S. Badger, that means a parent works a slightly reduced schedule, and she must have a co-worker willing to take charge of the baby if things get busy.
Ms. WHITE: When we're having a bad day, we all go say, I need a baby.
BROOKS: That's Gina White, who works in sales at Badger. She's taken charge of Jessica Perinunzi's baby, Lucia, and says the company's policy helps everyone.
Ms. WHITE: We used to have just dogs; now we have babies and dogs. So, you know, depending on the mood you're in, if you need to go for a walk, you borrow a dog. If you need to just laugh and smile at somebody, you borrow a baby, right? Yeah.
BROOKS: Only about 140 companies across the U.S. allow babies in the workplace, so it's still a tiny number. But absent widely available and affordable child care, it wouldn't be surprising to see that number increase.
For NPR News, I'm Anthony Brooks.