Could it be time for HR departments to devise formal policies for staff who want to bring children into work? It’s a course of action that has been the focus of a fascinating debate across two days at HR Magazine, which stemmed from an article the journal published last October.
In the piece – titled ‘Why you need a “children in the workplace” policy’ – author Jannine Flynn, who works in the HR software field, writes: “I worked from home today because a colleague who is on maternity brought in her newborn baby. A baby in the office shouldn’t be a big deal, but actually it is a problem for myself and for the many others who have or are facing infertility issues.”
She adds: “HR departments need to be aware that not all are comfortable with colleagues bringing in their youngsters. Members of my team have told me that they find it a noisy distraction. I feel anxious when children are brought into the office. It is a painful reminder of what I cannot have.”
In the ensuing debate, Vedder Price solicitor Esther Langdon writes: “It’s hard to see how employees could reasonably argue they have a right to bring their children to work, and that not permitting them to do so would be discriminatory. Yet a proliferation of policies isn’t the answer. Having a written policy makes an issue where there isn’t one, and could create a sense of entitlement; not every scenario can or should be managed by dictatorial policies.”
For Inge Woudstra, diversity and inclusion director at W2O Consulting and Training, bringing a child to work “is part of bringing your whole self to work”. She explains: “For many parents it helps them bond with their colleagues. For many new parents, especially new mothers, it helps to introduce their colleagues to their new lives … That said, there should be boundaries. Work is not childcare.”
So, would formal policies be the most effective means of setting those boundaries in a clear, unambiguous fashion? Or would they be over the top?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “It’s undoubtedly the case that opportunities to introduce your colleagues to your partner, or your family, have very positive effects. Such introductions are reminders that you’re part of other networks, and have other demands in other areas of your life. Indeed, ‘Family Fun’ days – which used to be major fixtures of companies’ calendars and employee welfare programmes – tended to be highlights of the year, and still exist in certain firms.”
However, Cooper notes, looking after children is a full-time job in itself. “They need care; you need to keep them safe, stimulated and busy. They need to be listened to and attended to, and for all those reasons, we have nurseries, schools and childcare professionals who assist with those needs. Of course, parents are carers who look after their children, too – but not when they’re doing another job at the same time. To me, this is the main problem within this debate: how can you possibly be doing two, very demanding jobs well?
“Fair enough: bring the children in for a visit, perhaps – or for a special ‘bring your son/daughter into work day’, as some organisations provide. The advantage with those sorts of days is that they would typically be catered for through set activities and supervisory arrangements. But I think that bringing your children to your workplace where there are no provisions in place is to put far too great a demand not only upon the parents, but – in terms of productivity – their colleagues, too. So organisations must find middle ground between undesirable attempts to somehow make workers’ children invisible, and providing optimal working conditions.”
Cooper adds: “In the end, I don’t think that this is about HR policies. It’s about your ability to do your job. If you bring something – or someone – into work with you that potentially interferes with your productivity, efficiency and relationships with colleagues, a policy would be simply an exercise in stating the obvious. There are enough policy layers already within most HR departments without one that risks splitting staff into factions. The emphasis must be on a common-sense approach: gatherings or visits held by arrangement, and on special occasions, that make the office a welcoming place for children, as and when it’s appropriate to do so.
“I don’t think that formal policies would help to enforce that common sense any more effectively than managers and workers already can. Overall, the psychological contract when you come to work is that you give your job your best attention.”
For further thoughts on HR procedures, check out this learning item from the Institute