Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Please don't bring your baby to work

When someone sent me Lisa Belkin's recent NYT blog about new moms bringing their babies to work, I thought it had to be a joke. (The link to her blog is on the side of this page.) Sadly, these policies appear to be, if not common, then at least not unheard of.

Why sadly? Because it's trickery!

Companies can say, "Hey, come back after six weeks and bring the baby in with you." When (shocker) it doesn't work out, the employer can wash their hands of the baby without striking its faux parent-friendly policy from the employee handbook.

Here are just a few reasons bringing a newborn to work is a profoundly lousy idea:

- children at work are a distraction not just to the parent, but to other workers;

- no mom I know can work while her baby is wailing, and I assume that goes for new dads, too;

-many workplaces are unsafe for children of any age (which means these policies really exist solely for the benefit of white collar office workers, when an overwhelming number of blue collar employees desperately need child care/extended parental leave options);

-not even the nicest office is disease free (we all know the guy who comes in with a cold or worse, sneezes in his hands and touches everything, etc.);

-colleagues may become justifiably frustrated when calls and meetings need to be scheduled or changed according to junior's feeding timetable;

-nobody wants number two diapers in the cube farm trash can;

-distracted employees (both the parent and the co-workers) are obviously less efficient employees;

- customers and clients rightly expect your full attention when you're on the clock;

And so forth. Corporate take-your-infant-to-work programs are another example of what happens when an entity driven by profit (corporations after all have a single purpose: to earn money for shareholders) has nearly unfettered decision making power over workers' parental leave and childcare.

Instead of worrying about which baby carrier best suits your work environment, or whether your colleagues will pinch formula from the office fridge for their coffee, new parents should take five minutes to email their state representatives about the pressing need for greater protection for employees who want to take parental leave.

I say state because any change at the federal level has the proverbial snowball's chance in hell, especially in this economy. It's not that I'm optimistic that states will immediately take up the issue and mandate longer leaves, but most representatives do at least log their constituents' concerns. Tell them you think paid parental leaves should be longer, and that unpaid leaves should last at least six months (the method to this madness: by that point many babies sleep through the night and most are fully weaned, so the parent/employee has some chance of showing up for duty awake and alert).

Corporate bosses and the politicians in their pockets will rail about restrictions on free enterprise. But the reality is, it is WAY cheaper for an employer to grant a few more weeks of paid leave than it is to replace an experienced and reliable employee.

The tea bagger crowd and related cuckoos on the far right will rail about how they shouldn't have to subsidize other citizens' children. Which is nonsense. In civilized societies, every person has an interest in the next generation. And consider: Today's new parents are the ones who will have to work to support all those wingnuts when they turn 65, suddenly forget they despise handouts and sidle up to the trough for social security and medicare.

It would be a small step in the right direction to get our elected decision makers thinking about the realities facing working parents who need a weekly paycheck to survive, but who also need quality care for their newborns. The answer won't come in the form of corporate sponsored red herrings like bring-your-newborn-to-work. Companies launch such policies as a PR tactic. It doesn't cost a lot to say they're open to such arrangements, and its not their fault if the new parents can't make it work.

Let's be clear: no matter what platitudes the nice lady from HR recites, your employer views your child as a massive inconvenience. Which is why American corporations will only implement truly family friendly policies for ALL levels of employees when forced by legislation to do so. Sad, but true.

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