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‘Bring your child to work’ is moving from novelty to norm at workplaces worldwide. Does it make for a great or a messy experience? Find out as one parent narrates her story
No, it wasn’t the official ‘Bring Your Children To Work’ day at my office. It was just another ‘save your day with your children within sight’ day for me. It was no heroic deed- I was just an employee desperately trying to hold up a deadline, while not having to deal with the terrible images of a screaming toddler flashing in front of me every time I closed my eyes to blink. But it definitely did feel like one heroic moment!
You see, my childcare plan had failed for the day, and as I frantically went through my options all over again, I realized that my perfectly orchestrated evening plans would have to come crashing down too. However, I might have a chance at a part resurrection if I tried something I had never done before- lug my children to work with me!
When I did tow them (my preschooler and toddler) along to my cubicle, I must have looked quite a sight. I imagine I fended off a few disbelieving stares (perhaps a few unfriendly ones, too), but my children’s presence at my workplace did please and amuse a whole bunch of my colleagues- enough for them to give up their spots and march down to mine to engage with the two brand new office specimens.
What I didn't expect was that my children would now choose to ignore this new interest they spawned, and express an unwavering, unembarrassed interest in the bathroom (bathroom!!!). You see, I worked for an automation giant, and my children were thrilled with the energy-saver lights in the bathroom that automatically lit up each time you entered, and switched off each time you walked out. The first time I took them to the bathroom was the only genuine bathroom break they needed. And then they discovered the magic and thus passed their verdict on the most interesting thing about my workplace - the bathroom!
No prizes for guessing that I ended up making many more trips to the loo than I would have liked. I also got a ‘show ‘n’ tell’ lesson on ‘how not to take a NO for an answer.’ The following week was a trail of make-up coffee treats for my colleagues for filling in for me on some of those bathroom trips.
Overall, my unofficial ‘take my children to work’ day was a memorable one for my children and an amusing one for my colleagues!
As a step towards work-life balance and family-friendly initiatives, several companies have made ‘family days’ a key part of their employee wellness plans. In many organizations, ‘Taking Our Daughters and Sons to Work’ day is officially celebrated on the fourth Thursday of April every year. Other companies worldwide are fast catching on with this trend. In fact, companies around the world are using the ‘Bring your children to work’ hook to win the talent war.
Our workplace is an important part of our lives, we want our colleagues to remember it in a good way as well. For women especially, this could turn out to be more than just a day of ‘meeting family.’ Our co-workers’ perception of us makes the motherhood penalty real - the notion that mothers are less competent at their jobs due to their responsibilities as primary caretakers of their children. It is quite the opposite for fathers. When fathers are seen involved in parenting activities even in limited doses, they are perceived as being more well-rounded and caring individuals (than just an employee).
Here are a few things you can do to ensure your ‘Children at office’ day is smooth and fruitful:
For many, ‘bringing your child to work’ could be the first point of contact between family and work. When parents leave home for work, it's like they are stepping into ‘the other world’. Your time outside your home is a black box for your children. Watching parents work helps children relate to this unfamiliar side of their parents. They will know exactly what you mean when you say you are ‘going to work.’
When I took my children to my workplace, they were far too young, but I remember spending some evenings at my father’s cabin. I remember thinking - “Wow! All he has to do is just sign on that wad of paper?” When I told my Dad how lucky I thought he was, because all he had to do was pass off a bunch of signatures, he guffawed in his characteristic way, totally amused that I saw it that way.
Preparing to bring your children to the workplace calls for a three-way preparation. With a little planning and communication ahead of time, it can be a positive experience for all the people involved.
If the meet is an official family day for the entire office, there will, in all probability, be some pre-planned activities by the Human Resources department. Talk to them about any of your child’s pre-existing conditions. Some children break down with too much stimulation. Check if there will be provisions for ‘quiet breaks.’ If not, plan for periodic one-on-one time with your child. My older daughter is an introvert, and more than once she has requested to get out of such meets for a bit.
If you are planning to take your child to work on a day outside of such office events, it is best to check with your manager if it is okay. Ponder over key questions like:
Like most of us, our children might not like surprises, especially unpleasant ones. Taking the time to discuss what to expect in your office ensures a great start to the experience. Attempt to tell your child, in an age-appropriate way, about the work you do. Ask him what he would like to see. Tell him some amusing aspects of your office (who doesn't have these!) and ask him what he thought of it. Tell him about the kind of environment he should expect. Let him know about the people he is likely to meet. Discuss appropriate behavior and attire. Let him know how he can communicate with you about his needs.
Ask him what he would like to see or do. It helps you plan your day well so your child doesn’t find it a disappointment by the time it’s over! Come on! It’s your office! You can't let him think it’s a boring place!
Rest assured you will make some great memories. My office had very tight security due to the high confidentiality factor. When my daughters got a Visitor’s pass each to enter the building, they flashed it like they just earned the Nobel Prize. My office also had a lovely aquarium and my children really wanted to spend time with the fishes. We would set up a time after a meeting for a ‘little walk’ to the next building which housed the aquarium.
And remember, we can be prepared all we want, and yet be left with some amusing moments- Remember the toddler who had a tantrum in front of the Obamas because her mommy refused to let her strip exactly at the moment the Obamas were coming into the room? Oh yes!
It’s always best to let the school’s teachers know that your child is about to have an unusual day. It’s a good way for them to communicate any make-up work they expect to be done, or how her absence would impact her school life. It’s best to know in advance to avoid last-minute surprises.
A dad’s experience
You just read about the mommy experience. Now, let’s bring out what a father thinks about taking kids to work. Kamal Sharma, working in an MNC in Bangalore recounts his experience:
Q. How was your experience in taking your child to ‘bring your child to work day’?
‘Bring your child to work day’ is a good concept. My office was filled with joy and laughter as children were enjoying themselves. It was an opportunity for us to handle our children along with work. Indeed, it was a good feeling to be able to give my child a tour of my workplace.
Q. How was your child’s experience? Did she ask any questions about your work or workplace beforehand or while at work?
To begin with, the first question she asked me was - who my boss was! As I often mention my boss’s name at home, looks like she was curious. It was a change of environment for my child from a regular school day, so she enjoyed the outing. She had all the fun using the vending machines and roaming through the floors of the huge office. She also enjoyed drawing on the whiteboards! There were several activities planned for the day, children enjoyed themselves as they enthusiastically participated in those party games. At the end of the day, my daughter asked me when I was bringing her to my office again!
Keeping children at the workplace is slightly different from working from home with children - this is an unfamiliar environment for them, and an unfamiliar environment for you too considering you have your children around.
My husband used to work in a very creative office (he was an ad-man) and when my children went to his office, they made a splash of color on their office ‘ideas’ wall. His colleagues were so thrilled with it, that my little ones’ artwork remained for several weeks on the bottom of that wall.
Many co-workers welcome the opportunity to interact with their colleagues’ families and go to any lengths to entertain them. Here are some ideas to engage your child positively at your workplace:
If your office is planning a ‘Bring your child to work’ day, here are a few suggestions you can make to the organizing committee to keep the children engaged. Note that these methods work especially great for older children:
For younger children, there are a few organization suggestions:
If the child is old enough, this is a great time to introduce him to the real world. While introducing him to your colleagues, insist on eye contact and a steady voice. Don't discourage questions but insist on the correct form of questioning. Believe me, watching their parents in their workplace fills children with pride and awe. Allow the curiosity to flow, and who knows, you might hear something from that fresh mind that could help solve a nagging problem at work (barring confidential issues.)
Every office will have that one co-worker who is great with children- the one your child is most likely to associate with your office experience. That co-worker will indulge your child, pass on cute gifts and mock-scold you in reaction to shared woes.
Nothing matches the excitement of children when they are asked to help out. There’s a lot that older children can do- from simple filing to stocking up on office supplies. My children used to love stationery (still do!), so I had them sort my station and they went crazy with the color paper clips, markers and post-its. You can ‘recruit’ your child to deliver little packages and messages (made-up is okay too) to co-workers and in the process, make her feel super-important.
As parents and co-workers, it’s understandable that we are worried about our colleague’s impressions, and overlook the child’s impression of the experience.
Make sure to ask your child about his experience. Get him to write an account of his experiences in your office, and it will be a delight for posterity.
Older children are quite articulate and some of their observations may come as a revelation to you. On the other hand, younger children may not be able to articulate verbally or in writing, but they will surprise you with their expression.
When my younger daughter was too young to tell us in words (she had her baby talk slang for a lot longer than my older one), she drew up my cubicle, replete with my laptop and pin-up photo, with a depiction of her sitting beside me and my colleagues. Children are as expressive as they get, and they will find a way to get it across to you.
We want our children to be on their best behavior, especially at our workplace. But life happens. Children are still children regardless of where they are or how much they have been prepped. Tantrums will happen, they will break a thing or two and you will be flush-faced more than once. Most colleagues are understanding and won’t judge you. Yes, even the ones who are not parents.
I can say candidly that the times I have lost my temper with my children are the times when I have most feared being judged as a lousy parent. Nobody gives a damn, and if they do, you shouldn’t give a damn about their opinion of you as a parent.
Just refrain from judging yourself too harshly.
And don’t forget to watch and enjoy their amusement at how you make a living!
‘Bring your kid to the workplace’ should be all about bringing your utmost joy to the workplace. Go, make it happen!
In a nutshell
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