This column appeared in the Tri-Valley Herald on July 1, 2008
Last year when Wendy and Tommy Zanotelli became the proud parents of a baby boy they named Christian, they knew that soon their son would tag along with mom to work.
“My employer encourages moms and dads to bring their babies to work,” said Wendy Zanotelli. “We’re very fortunate.”
Ironically, Zanotelli, chief operating officer of UNCLE Credit Union, had her doubts about the program when it was first proposed in 2002 by an accounting manager who was expecting.
"At that time, I just couldn't fathom how having babies in the office could possibly work,” said Zanotelli, “especially with our staff on the teller line.”
Nonetheless, a few months later in 2003, the program was launched. “Now I’m one of the biggest supporters,” Zanotelli said.
Titled “Babies in the Workplace,” the program allows employees to bring their infants to work with the written release of a doctor. This benefits both the employer and the employees, and allows the babies to be with their parent instead of a daycare provider.
“As employees, we’re more likely to come back to work sooner,” said Angela Hewey, who has had two babies in the program and is expecting her third. “This benefits our company because we don’t have to hire and train temporary help,” she said.
Zanotelli said employee productivity hasn’t been a problem because while an employee with a baby may not be quite as productive as usual, a new parent who worries about a child in daycare isn't necessarily productive anyway if he or she is constantly calling to check on the baby.
“In my experience, the parents are even more diligent to make up for the time when they are caring for their child,” Zanotelli said.
An unexpected benefit of the program has been the morale boost and sense of family that comes with having a baby around.
“Our employees love the babies and pitch in to care for them,” said Rose Chaco, another executive at the firm. Chaco said the babies encourage employees to get to know one another on a more personal level as they talk about their children and families.
Chaco is proud to point out that in 2003 the credit union won a Family-Friendly Employer Award from Child Care Links, a local agency that serves as an advocate for quality childcare.
Even customers enjoy the babies. The typical customer response is summed up in this email excerpt: “Thank you for being sensitive to the needs of new mothers and their babies. It must be wonderful for both mother and baby to be together during the day. And I suspect saving the cost of infant childcare will gain you some valuable employee loyalty.”
Of course, mothers aren’t the only ones who bring their babies to work. Four fathers have participated, and one dad had two boys come through the program.
In all, 19 babies have participated. (The firm employs about 80 people.) Looking ahead, eight employees are currently expecting, and most plan to bring their babies to work.
"This will be the most babies we've ever had at a given time,” said Zanotelli, who notes that babies are welcome on site until they reach the age of eight months or begin to crawl, whichever comes first.
“After they leave us, we really miss them,” she said.
While a handful of firms have contacted the credit union about this unique program, including a company from Australia, Zanotelli hopes to get the word out to more employers and encourages them to explore this family-friendly benefit. She invites inquiries at email@example.com.