Brand building through storytelling

Kids in the office? Oh, please!

Way back when I had a child at home and an overflowing in-tray at the office, there were times when some emergency or other left me no other choice but to bring my son to work.

You know how it is: the day care closes, the nanny phones in sick, or your toddler has one of those low-level bugs that stop him from absolutely nothing except passing germs to his peers. So you do what I did more than 30 years ago. You park your kid at an empty conference table with a whack of paper and crayons. You put a finger to your lips and say, “Sssh…mommy’s friends are working.” Then you hope against hope that the smallest, most restless person in the office (who, let’s face it, never asked to come here) doesn’t pick the wrong moment—like an urgent tete-a-tete with your boss—to start making freight-train noises at full voice.

Well, guess what? There’s a new trend shaking up the workplace—bringing the kids, not just once in a while but every day. So says the New York Times, in a story that had me shaking my middle-aged head in disbelief. We’re not talking workplace day care, that fading dream of my generation. We’re talking kids and staffers, practically side by side, in an arrangement that some are calling an alternative to mat leave. Why lose an employee for months when you can just create new spaces for breastfeeding and diaper changing? Of course, you’ll have to designate some other hapless employee to deal with little Amy’s overflowing Pampers while mom’s in a meeting (do I hear any takers?). And you’ll probably want to cut back mom’s salary because, as one employer told The Times, “we see that parents really don’t maintain the same productivity levels.”

How could they? Both children and work demand intense mental focus. To be a mother with a job is to live with the constant nagging awareness that you’re always shortchanging someone. This needn’t stop mothers from going out to work: in fact, I remember my first magazine job as a blessed escape from the relentless tedium of child care. At work no one ever threw a tantrum or hid the pens under the sofa cushions. I could get my boss’s sign-off on a story, knowing I wouldn’t have to start all over the next day (too bad she couldn’t effect the same magic with my cooking and laundry). At work…things worked. Except during child care crises.

I used to wonder how long it would take for employers to reshape the workplace to accommodate parents. Several generations later, we’re still not there. The “baby-friendly” office, like the “dog-friendly” kind, suggests a superficial aren’t-we-modernness rather than a serious rethinking of human needs at the work station. More seriously, it actually compounds one of the biggest problems facing all of us who work, throughout the career cycle—the technology-induced blurring of the boundary between our private and our on-call selves.

Speaking of boundaries, here’s another issue. What about employees who don’t bring kids to work and just want to concentrate on their jobs? The CEO of a publishing company, who brings her five-year-old to the office and encourages staff to do likewise, admitted to the Times that “editing a book and hearing a 3-year-old sing ‘Elmo’ don’t usually mix well—but we all adapt and learn to be respectful of our office-mates.”

Ah, yes. Adaptation and respect. The refrain of every commune, as I recall. This is one adaptation I’m glad I won’t be making.

Posted by Rona

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