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Babies on board: Why allowing infants at the office benefits some CUs

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Whoah, baby. There are about to be some younger faces behind the desks at one Massachusetts credit union – much younger.

That’s thanks to a new initiative from $1.3 billion-asset Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union, which has introduced a program that allows employees to bring babies as young as infancy to the office with them.

Known as the “Infant at Work” program, the initiative is designed to provide a “positive work environment that recognizes parents’ responsibilities to their jobs” and to their new arrivals, the credit union said.

“We understand the pressures and stress that all working parents face,” Mark S. Cochran, president and chief executive officer of Jeanne D’Arc CU, said in a statement. “For parents of infant children, we recognize that it is crucial for both the parent and their new baby to spend time together.”

In an interview with Credit Union Journal, SVP and Chief Member Service OfficerScott Flagg said while the program was not requested by employees, the credit union is always seeking ways to help workers “balance their work and home life” and that staff were “thrilled when it was announced.”

Under terms of the program, which is available to staff members at all levels of the organization, new parents (mothers or fathers) can bring their baby into work until they turn six months old or begin to crawl, whichever comes first.

“Infants are placed at their parent’s work space,” explained Flagg. “There are bassinets and cribs to use and there is a changing room. Parents keep their babies next to them all day. If they are sick, they are not allowed to bring them to the office.”

Caitlyn Aguiar, an assistant member service center manager at the credit union, is the first employee to take advantage of this program. The new mother was able to return to her job after six weeks of maternity leave, sparing her – at least for a time – the costs of paying for daycare or a full-time babysitter for her two-month-old son, Hendrix. Instead, Aguiar cares for Hendrix at her workstation while also fulfilling her job-related duties.

Along with at least temporarily removing the costs and headaches associated with daycare or babysitting, said Flagg, one of the program’s major benefits is that it allows for “more bonding time between the baby and the parent.”

While Aguiar is currently the only staffer participating in the program, Flagg said the credit union’s employees give birth to about six or eight new babies each year, meaning there could soon be other new arrivals spending their days inside the CU alongside Hendrix.

“The babies will be visible to members and other employees, as they will be situated right next to their parent,” Flagg said. “We feel members will be appreciative of the work environment we are trying to create.”

Flagg believes Jeanne D’Arc CU is the only credit union in Massachusetts offering this service, although similar programs are being implemented across the country in a variety of industries.

Daycare is costly
According to Care.com, in 2016, the average cost to send an infant to center-based daycare was more than $10,400 per year, though prices can range from about $6,600 to more than $20,000 annually. Similarly, the average cost of center-based daycare for toddlers in 2016 was more than $9,700 per year though prices can range from just over $8,000 to nearly $19,000 for one year of care.

Of course, costs of child care can vary widely by location. For example, according to New York University, the average cost for full time child care in New York City ranges from $1,300 to $2,500 per month.

The Parenting in the Workplace Institute estimates that at least 200 organizations around the country have policies allowing employees to bring their infants to work.

Happier and more productive in Hawaii
Thousands of miles away from Massachusetts, Hawaii First Federal Credit Union, a $39 million institution based in Kamuela, Hawaii, has had a similar program to Jeanne D’Arc’s since early 2011.

According to President and CEO Laura Aguirre, 12 employees have brought 16 infants into the office since inception of the program (some employees have used the program twice).

As with Jeanne D’Arc CU, employees can bring infants up until they are six months old or begin to crawl.

“Our program has made our workplace more productive, since mothers and fathers did not have to worry about their babies,” she said. “They were also happier with their infants near them.”

Aguirre believes productivity did not suffer at all because the employees were appreciative of the program, thereby spreading goodwill toward the organization.

Aguirre herself proposed the program at Hawaii First, and while the board of directors was initially skeptical, she said, they overcame that reluctance once they understood the long-term benefits.

Babies age out of the program when they do because, as Aguirre explained, by the time they reach six months or start crawling, children “become more active and require increased supervision.”

No members have ever complained about having babies at the credit union, said Aguirre, and many say they enjoy seeing them there. The same goes for other staff members, but there have been unexpected consequences – some employees, she explained, have indicated a bit of melancholy when the young ones age out of the program.

Growing up with the credit union
Schools Financial CU in Sacramento, Calif. has offered a similar incentive for employees since 2001, and VP of Marketing Cathy Grimes said that of the 141 babies to have come through the program, the oldest is now a senior in high school.

Schools Financial Credit Union, a $1.9 billion institution based in Sacramento, Calif., also allows employees to bring their babies to work – up until the time they reach six months in age, or begin to crawl (as with Jeanne D’Arc CU and Hawaii First FCU).

“Both the staff and members are happy with this program,“ said Grimes. “Even though employees get to have time off under the law, some can’t afford to take time off, so they end up being forced to come back to work sooner than they would want, and have to put their child in day care. This gives them the option to come back to work, but still be able to stay with their baby.”

Grimes said about 20 percent of the program’s participants have been fathers.

Little 1’s welcome here
Credit Union 1 in Anchorage, Alaska puts a different spin on things, offering the “Little 1’s Learning Center” where children can play and learn from birth until they are eight years old.

“Our Learning Center is an on-site childcare center at our headquarters building,” said Chrissy Bell, SVP of communications and culture at Credit Union 1. “We have about 30 children in the center at any given time from ages 13 months to 3rd grade. Any employee can sign their child up, but there are limited spaces so there is a waitlist that is first come first-serve.”

Credit Union 1 does charge for the service, but Bell said rates for the learning center are cheaper than those of traditional daycares.

Because Credit Union 1 has branches outside of Anchorage – and for anyone whose child is on the center’s waiting list – eligible employees can receive what Bell called a “differential benefit” as reimbursement for the monthly amount they pay beyond what it would cost to send a child to the Little 1’s Learning Center.

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