At six months old, Hendrix Lessard can already call himself a trailblazer and a graduate of sorts.
The youngster recently became the first baby to “graduate” from Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union’s “Infant at Work” program, which allows employees at the credit union to bring their babies to the office to be cared for while they work. When Hendrix reached the age of six months, his time at the $1.34 billion-asset institution came to an end – and under the terms of the program he even received a going-away party at the office.
For his mother, Caitlyn Aguiar, bringing her child to the office for about four months brought some blessings to her and her family – including savings on child care costs, as well as the chance to spend more time with her young child – time she might have missed out on had she returned to work and sent Hendrix to day care instead of utilizing the credit union’s program.
Meanwhile, Hendrix will now be sent to a local day care facility.
Aguiar, who has two other sons in addition to Hendrix, said she “understood the challenges” behind the arrangement, but “made it work and figured it out.” She admitted when she first brought her baby to the office she worried about her colleagues’ reaction to having an infant in the office and was also concerned about doing her job adequately.
“I know I had some anxiety about bringing an infant into work, into a call center, and how that all would actually work,” she told Credit Union Journal. “But taking it day by day and being open to being flexible with how you allot your time or your normal approach to your duties really helped.”
Indeed, balancing the needs of a baby and the requirements of a job were sometimes tricky.
“I was able to get down his eating and nap schedule and focus on being most productive around those times and then even just using a baby carrier when I needed to be on the phones helping members so I had both hands free,” Aguiar explained.
Overall, this experience was ”amazing,” Aguiar added. “Being able to be with my son through some of his most important times of his life has been a true blessing,” she said.
The credit union was behind her all the way.
Aguiar said her credit union puts an importance on “making sure their employees feel appreciated” and they also understand the importance of family.
And the fact they backed up that sentiment with a real-life policy was “beyond anything I ever expected.”
Since Aguiar works in the credit union’s call center, members did not see the baby, and she said she never received any complaints from members about hearing a baby crying in the background during a phone call.
Aguiar’s supervisor, Member Service Center Manager Anexis Sanchez, praised her ability to multi-task.
“There was nothing that fell to the wayside within her job duties or functions,” Sanchez said. “I commend Caitlyn for doing this while maintaining her work ethic.”
Mark S. Cochran, the credit union’s president and CEO, explained that the program was designed to give ample bonding time for babies and working parents. Given the program’s success thus far, he said he is “very much looking forward to providing more parents in our organization with this opportunity.”
‘Baby-inclusive’ workplaces growing
It is unclear how many companies in the U.S. have adopted a policy of allowing employees to bring their infants into the workplace.
According to Carla Moquin, founder and president of the Salt Lake City-based Parenting in the Workplace Institute, there now at least 200 “baby-inclusive” organizations nationwide.
“The number gets higher every year, so, we expect this concept to continue to grow,” she added.
Moquin’s organization has found a variety of benefits to baby-friendly workplaces, including increased employee recruitment and retention, lower turnover costs, increased customer loyalty, higher morale and productivity, and lower health care costs.
For families that utilize those programs, the benefits include lower child care costs, improved financial stability, less stress and increased family bonding, among others.
Meanwhile, child care costs continue to soar in the United States – but they differ dramatically by region.
According to 2016 Care.com member data, the average cost of center-based day care for infants is about $10,468 per year, but these prices can range from $6,605 to $20,209 annually, depending on the state.
In addition, a “Cost of Care” survey by Care.com, revealed that 32 percent of families spent 20 percent or more of their annual household income on child care.
Based on her experience, Aguiar said institutions considering implementing similar programs to Jeanne D’Arc should have “an open mind and [realize] the benefits – not only to the employee and baby, but [also] the boost in morale that a baby brings to the workplace.”
Jeanne D’Arc CU, she observed, was able to put in place a “detailed policy that we worked with to ensure the program would continue to not only work for me as the employee, but work for the company overall as well. They were also incredibly accommodating, even providing certain baby gear to be used. Being as prepared as possible really made a difference.”
Cochran told Credit Union Journal that from the perspective of Jeanne D’Arc CU, ensuring the safety of both the parent and the baby remains the most important priority.
“We also want to make sure the employees working in the same area as the baby are comfortable,” he said.
And having a baby around seems to have stressed-out adults a little happier.
“Hendrix was a true pleasure to have in the office, as he brought so much joy to all of the employees with whom he interacted,” Cochran said. “We’ve had many employees mention how having Hendrix in the office lightened their mood and helped alleviate any stress they may have been feeling.”
Overall, Cochran concluded, the benefits of the program certainly outweighed the challenges.
Cochran also noted that the program – whether at his credit union or any other organization – would likely be tweaked to fit each employee’s unique needs.
“The program will continue to be a work in progress, as we may need to make minor adjustments for individual parents and situations,” he said. “It’s important to provide as much support as possible for the parent bringing their infant into the workplace, such as offering a designated private area for the parent to care for their baby. It’s also crucial to properly prepare other employees by making them aware of the policies and procedures the organization as set forth for the program.”
And it’s likely those “minor adjustments” will be made soon – Cochran said the credit union already has some expecting parents who are considering bringing their own babies to work.
“Caitlyn has become a great resource for parents who are thinking about taking advantage of the program,” he said. “She enjoys giving these employees honest advice, and welcomes the chance to discuss her experience with them.”