We know about "Take Your Daughter/Son to Work" days, but what if you could take your infant to work every day? That is what is happening at the Illinois Educators' Credit Union here in Springfield, and many companies across the U.S. have implemented a program known as Infant at Work. According to the Parenting in Workplace Institute, which researches and provides resources for the implementation of formal infant to work programs, 200 businesses across the U.S. offered the program prior to COVID. However, since the pandemic, tracking the number still in existence has been difficult.
In Washington, the State Department of Health plus 19 other state agencies offer the program, as does the Kansas State Department of Agriculture and other Kansas agencies. The Illinois Department of Public Health previously offered the program until COVID-19 hit.
The IECU, with a staff of 25, has had three employees participate, two women and one man. The Washington State Department of Health, a much larger employer, has had 107 participating employees.
The program is set up for a working parent to bring an infant to work (usually age 6 weeks to 6 months). In most cases, the employee must find another employee who will agree to provide back-up care for the infant for short periods of time, such as during meetings or restroom breaks for the parent.
Rules are established for storage of diapers and supplies and appropriate areas for diaper changing and breastfeeding. Some companies provide training in infant first aid.
The benefits for the employer, the employee and the child have been positive. In fact, no one interviewed could identify any negative. Studies show that during the first six months of life the strongest bonding occurs, so more time spent with the parents leads to better overall health both physically and mentally for the child and the parent. The infant at work program has shown to lead to higher rates of breastfeeding, which results in healthier children. The infants receive increased physical contact and social interaction with the parent as well as coworkers.
Employers have benefited from higher employee morale, increased employee retention and increased teamwork. In fact, the program is often seen as a recruitment tool when seeking new employees. Employees are absent less often to take children to doctor appointments.
For the employee, the program reduces day care costs and stress from daily logistics of travel/day care.
Jared Joslin participated in the program at IECU. "It was awesome, and it helped in several ways," he says. "Finding day care is difficult; my wife stayed home three months and then I had the opportunity to bond with my son for the next three months. We saved money on day care and had time to find a good place for him."
Raechel Sims, public information officer for the Washington Department of Health, says, "When we first implemented the program, we weren't sure if it would be successful and anticipated receiving concerns from co-workers; however, one of our biggest overall surprises was the general success of the program and realizing that co-workers came to appreciate having infants in the workplace."
Jody Dabrowski, the CEO of the IECU, adds, "Other employees feel joy in seeing a baby; it brings a sense of calming. There's nothing like seeing a baby in your weekly staff meeting as they grow week by week."
Joslin shares, "My co-workers loved having my son around. They would come into the office and hang out with him for a while; they stepped in when I needed to meet with a client. Now, they are asking when my wife and I will have our next child."
Kelsey Senn, the HR Director with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, says, "We want to be family-based and show the importance of the interaction and bonding period for both the parent and child."
It's important for the employer to recognize and embrace the benefits of the program, according to Dabrowski. "If a new parent/employee stays home, the employer gets 0% productivity; if the employee takes a child to day care, it is estimated the employer gets 80% productivity since often the employee has to leave for doctor appointments or stay home with a sick child. With the infant at work, the productivity may drop to 70%. To me, that's OK," she says. "I want the employee to save money on day care and have the important time to bond with a child. And the difference of less than an hour of productivity a day is made up in a happier and more dedicated employee. For the Illinois Educators' Credit Union, this is a no-cost benefit that we love to offer."
Cinda Ackerman Klickna serves on the board of IECU and is proud that the Infant to Work program is offered. She wishes state agencies would offer the same.