Why you need a 'children in the workplace' policy

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I can totally and wholly understand it makes you feel uncomfortable. However, surely it's important to bring a new-born into the office. It's a key part of a parents' life, and as work is another key ...


Read More Inge Woudstra
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Not all are comfortable with colleagues bringing in their youngsters

I worked from home today because a colleague who is on maternity brought in her newborn baby. A baby in the office shouldn’t be a big deal, but actually it is a problem for myself and for the many others who have or are facing infertility issues. After years of fertility treatment I have ended up childless. This has led to bouts of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and unfortunately the inability to cope with being around children.

Women who for whatever reason have been unable to bear children suffer with work matters such as:

  • Not being allowed to take annual leave during school holidays as their peers who have children need that time off.
  • Having to cover for people during maternity leave, when a colleague has a shortened work day/week, or when they are off to care for sick children.
  • Being refused time for study leave, sabbaticals etc. as they do not fit the ‘family-friendly policy’.
  • Having to take time out themselves for fertility treatment, operations, depression, stress etc. and having to explain that to people.
  • Working alongside pregnant women.
  • Not being able to join in with parents' or grandparents' conversations about children.
  • Having to receive pregnancy announcements, leaving presentations and emails containing baby photos.

One of the toughest challenges that they face is when a newborn baby, toddler or young child is brought into the office.

At my place of work the visits used to be unannounced, frequent and sometimes for extensive hours. Not many people are going to protest about this. Who wants to complain about the cute child being brought in, especially when others are looking forward to it?

Having a baby is a big deal and I understand that motherhood has its own challenges. However, HR departments need to be aware that not all are comfortable with colleagues bringing in their youngsters. Members of my team have told me that they find it a noisy distraction. I feel anxious when children are brought into the office. It is a painful reminder of what I cannot have. In everyday life I can walk away from such situations, but when I am trying to concentrate on my work in an open-plan office I feel trapped, nervous and upset. All I want to do is run away or hide. A few times I have panicked, got up and gone home without informing anyone.

HR came to an agreement with me that parents would have to inform them when they planned on bringing in their children. That way I would be as prepared as I could be without it interrupting my work. It works best when it's around lunchtime and I can go out for a long lunch, but not always. Sometimes I cannot be interrupted from what I am doing. In such cases, surely there should be a duty of care that the employee’s mental health is protected and the work that needs doing is the priority.

The next time a child is in your workplace, look around. Is a man looking away because his partner has just had a miscarriage? Is there a woman with a grimacing smile because she desperately wanted children but it just never happened?

Statistics show that one in six couples fail to conceive, so please consider implementing a ‘children in the workplace’ policy so that this matter is sensitively dealt with and is non-disruptive for all. Even simple things such as restricting children's visits to lunchtimes can help.

Jannine Flynn is a technical services specialist at an HR software company

Comments

I can totally and wholly understand it makes you feel uncomfortable. However, surely it's important to bring a new-born into the office. It's a key part of a parents' life, and as work is another key part, it would be rather weird to disconnect the two entirely. I lost my life partner whilst everyone around me was getting married, and am/was obviously faced daily with other people my age getting married, or bringing their partner to work do's. Not sure if it made a difference to my pain. It seems to me that your pain is more to do with learning to deal with your own pain than with inconsiderate colleagues. But let me know if I am wrong.


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Brilliant article. I'm lucky in my new job as it's very work focused and I really can't imagine anyone bringing their kids in. But my last job was a bit of a nightmare in that respect. Pregnant colleagues, babies and I worked in the Family Care Division, which is neonates and obstetrics.


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Brilliant article, we need to talk more about this in all occupations, and give all employees a chance to talk to their employers if they feel that children visiting the workplace is difficult, for whatever reason, and not feel unreasonable in voicing this. For too many years, pronatalist opinion has trumped everything else, which has created an unwritten two tier system of rights for parents and non-parents in many workplaces, anecdotally this seems more evident amongst females at work. Inge, that is a really interesting point you make. I am sorry to hear that happened, it must have been extremely difficult. Throughout our lives, other people’s circumstances can make us examine our own either positively or negatively, I think that we need to move towards a more compassionate and less comparitive culture overall. I think that people who have not had children through choice or without choice have had a smaller voice than parents for many years which is not right. With the grieving process involved in any loss, including loss of children or the hope of being a biological parent, it is vital that the workplace feels safe for all employees. I don’t think the author suggested that parents shouldn’t be able to bring children into the workplace but rather it requires a little forward notice and planning, to ensure the safety of employees. Just as you might plan workplace building works, to ensure employee safety. I hope you got the support you needed Inge. Maybe you would consider writing a piece about this that could help other people? Many people will be going through similar journeys I imagine. I certainly don’t think you are “wrong”, indeed I think it’s positive to open this discussion where it is neither “wrong” or “right”, rather this is a key move towards more collaboration and the promotion of consideration for everyone, so employees realise they don’t have to sit silently and don’t feel ashamed to ask for their rights to feel safe at work.


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Personally if it was regularly id be having to walk out and leave , its bad enough when folk forget and dont think before they engage brain and make comments that dont help my infertility issue . Id rather have puppys in work than babys but babys are also cute - if its colleagues i know and am close to, aslong as i get first dibs on cuddles then im happy to meet in the middle but there is a time and a place and i do think id should be pre-arranged . Noone knows others struggles in life including men


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We need a sensible and sensitive approach to this. If an employee is uncomfortable or going through issues themselves then the workplace culture should be one where they can raise this in confidence with either their manager or HR, discuss and agree how best to handle it. I don't think a 'policy' is at all the right approach and new parents should also feel comfortable to share their joy with work colleagues as having children is such a major milestone and we want employers to embrace support for parents too. I think it is a shame when it becomes an argument about one or the other; it is about respecting all and creating a positive culture for that.


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