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Titterton: Babies In The Workplace

Katie Titterton
Telecommuting parents may find their children "playing office" with great accuracy, down to the glasses and seltzer.

It’s not uncommon for my infant son to get handed around a boardroom table. I’m self-employed and work from home, so I usually schlep him along to meetings where I know he’s welcome.And when I first learned the Scott administration was implementing a bring-your-baby-to-work policy for infants under six months, I was heartened by this attempt to make the state workplace more family friendly.

But after a closer look and talking with some state employees, I think these good intentions miss the mark – never mind that the Vermont State Employees Association says the administration has changed the terms and conditions of state employment without negotiation.

Most people love babies, but some prefer them in small doses or not at all. And let’s be clear that babies in the workplace means diapers and tears in the workplace – which will be sure to challenge the productivity of some parents as they try to care for their kids, respect their co-workers, and do their jobs. And besides, an environment of cubicles and screens has never been characterized as warm and stimulating for anyone, let alone babies.

The VSEA claims that had they been consulted, they could have helped craft an outcome that was better for both families and workers.

Personally, I favor telecommuting. That way, parents can work while babies are sleeping or occupied, and take breaks for playtime. Without long commutes, parents have more time available to work, and the workplace remains professional, except for the occasional baby at a meeting.

And you can take it from me: there’s no more efficient worker than a parent on deadline when the baby’s napping.

Telecommuting also reduces demand for the state’s expensive and extremely limited infant childcare slots – which could help more parents – namely, mothers – stay in the workforce. Flexible work arrangements are said to boost morale and reduce turnover. And in a state desperate to reduce transportation emissions, telecommuting takes cars off the road.

Besides, if we’re serious about incentivizing telecommuters from elsewhere to move here to work, strengthening that benefit for state employees would seem to be both an act of good faith - and good business.

Katie Titterton is a freelance writer and communications consultant in Richmond.
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