Babies in the Office
For parents returning to work, finding suitable childcare arrangements can be an insurmountable challenge. Imagine the enhancement to ones work/life balance if you could simply take your baby to the office with you!
Babies in the Office, a British documentary made by the BAFTA award-winning observational documentary experts behind One Born Every Minute, will premiere on New Zealand screens on Sunday 9th December, 7.30PM on Vibe.
The documentary follows British company Addison Lee, London's largest mini-cab firm, as they trial a scheme where by parents bring their babies to work with them, putting productivity, staff relations and their $5 billion per month turnover on the line.
The radical scheme sounds idealistic at best, and fraught with difficulties at worst. Enabling employees to bring their babies with them to work - not just dropping them off at the crèche but having them beside them at their desks, has worked successfully in America, but no British company had done this before. Addison Lee were approached by the documentary producers and were not the obvious choice for the trial, but workplaces that seemed more logical (including a leading baby equipment retail chain) had already said no.
And why wouldn't businesses decline. Completing even the most basic of tasks with small children around can be taxing enough at home, let alone meeting the expectations of your employer in a corporate office shared with other target-seeking colleagues. My heart is beating a little bit faster as the tension mounts just thinking about it. Hence Babies in the Office makes for compelling viewing.
And to set the scene further, Addison Lee is no small-scale
operation. The firm provides minicab and chauffer services to over
25,000 clients a day, co-coordinating the movements of over 3500
vehicles. These bookings are handled by call-centre staff in
open-plan offices, who have targets to meet and clients to satisfy.
Important clients, with important places to be. The whole business
is driven; excuse the pun, by the reliability and efficiency of the
Just to spice things up a bit, lets add nine babies and toddlers to the mix. The trial was for one day initially, with eight parents taking part. The first episode of the documentary follows the events of this day. After one day, management decides whether to trial the scheme for a whole month, and after that month consideration is given to adopting the scheme permanently.
So, did the babies cry loudly while their parents were on important phone calls? Yes. Did the toddlers scribble on important paperwork? Yes. Were snacks messy, staff distracted, and nap times problematic? Yes, yes, and yes. Did the results conclude that the babies in the office scheme should be thrown out with the bath water? No. Head of HR and manager of the trial at Addison Lee, Clare Mitchell, says they were surprised to find there were actually no negatives what so ever. Even the finance floor, where cynicism was most obvious in the first episode, has found a way to accommodate a baby or two without productivity being hindered, Clare reports. Admittedly there were a few teething problems, but the company has now ironed those out, established some boundaries and has been running the scheme successfully for over a year. In fact, Clare will soon be returning to work from maternity leave, brief case and nappy bag in hand, to resume her role in the office with her baby beside her.
It is fascinating to see how it all works. Quiet rooms are provided for naps, or just to console the inevitable badly timed meltdown. A buddy is assigned to each parent to help them complete a task if they need to urgently attend their baby. Where staff are working towards bonus driven targets, the target is lowered for those bringing their baby to work so they are not penalized. Perhaps of no surprise to any parent of young children, employees with a baby were often more efficient, making the most of productive moments, multi-tasking and not wasting time.
An age limit of one-year-old has been set for babies coming to work, as it soon became obvious that walkers would not really work. Once children were older than one they can be cared for in the company's new nursery, at rates well below standard childcare costs.
It is clear from the documentary that Addison Lee are an exceptional company in their brave determination to extend support to their employers. They are a family business, run by two families, who started out small and have experienced impressive growth and success. Their reasons for wanting to trial a scheme that at face-value seems beyond the call of duty, appear obvious when weighed against common HR problems such as staff retention, loss of skilled workers, re-training and staff morale. Managing director Liam Griffin saw the scheme as an opportunity to soften the culture of a male-dominated environment, while offering employees tangible benefits that would not be taken for granted.
In turn, Addison Lee calculate that the value of retaining staff, factoring in the cost of re-training and the time it takes an employee to fully get settled in their role, outweigh the impact of, say on average, a year or two with a baby sharing an employee's desk. Clare Mitchell knows first-hand that having a baby is a life-changing experience and it was obvious to her that if the company could support their employees through the early stages of parenthood, they would have their loyalty long term. This loyalty would be reflected in overall productivity. But while the bottom line is of paramount importance, babies in the office works for Addison Lee because of their insightful perspective of the bigger picture.
Other companies have expressed interest in the scheme and Addison Lee have written a handbook that they willingly share. There is also information on the Addison Lee website, a handy link to forward to employers in New Zealand perhaps. Alternatively, subtly suggest your boss tunes in to Babies in the Office, 7.30 PM Sundays on Vibe.
Published 29 November, 2012