This story is from the 2016 Top Places to Work issue. You’ll find the full list of winners on BostonGlobe.com on Thursday evening.
ISLA FISH STARTED HER FIRST DAY at her new office on a blanket on the floor, playing with her toys. Then she took several breaks to eat and napped alongside her desk. When she got a bit cranky, her company’s CEO took her for a walk. All the while, her mother was at her side.
Isla isn’t a millennial being coddled by an employer. She’s an infant, who at 3 months old joined her mother, Abby Fish, on the job at W.S. Badger Co. On a sunny fall morning at the organic skin-care business in Gilsum, New Hampshire, Isla cooed and babbled as Abby filled boxes with orders of the company’s balms and lotions.
For nearly a decade, Badger has supported new parents with Babies at Work, encouraging mothers and fathers coming back from three months’ family leave to bring their children to the office until they’re 6 months old. Parents can set up play mats on their cubicle floors, strap on their Baby Bjorns for meetings, and take time throughout the day to feed and care for their children. Should they need to attend a meeting or make a client call, parents can turn to designated helpers. The company pays these parents for six hours of work each day, instead of the typical eight, with the understanding that tending to an infant can be a bit of a distraction.
But it’s a welcome one, says Bill Whyte, the company’s founder and CEO, who was happily bouncing Isla on his lap one recent afternoon.
“Life and work, is there a difference? There shouldn’t be,” he says. Badger has had 15 parents bring their infants to work since the program launched, and Whyte says other employees quickly bond with their tiny officemates. The babies also serve as a reminder about the need for balance.
“When you’re at work and you’re with your co-workers and producing a product, that’s life, too,” says Whyte.
“I like the idea of getting rid of the idea of the split work/life balance and saying, ‘Hey, work should be fun and pleasant and kind and productive.’ ”
Nationally, more than 200 of these programs are in places from credit unions to consultancies, says Carla Moquin, founder of the Parenting in the Workplace Institute, which works with companies, including Badger, to create family-friendly policies. Moquin says the pace of these programs has taken off in the last three to five years.
Many organizations are hesitant to bring babies into the workplace, but they quickly grow to love the concept, she asserts. “People end up bonding with the baby in the first few weeks, and it changes the whole dynamic of the organization. The employees don’t want the baby to leave.”
Perhaps more important, Babies at Work programs have proved to help with staff retention. “For us, it’s all about making it work for employees, which in turn works for us,” says Deirdre Fitzgerald, Badger’s manager of marketing and public relations. “Productivity is through the roof, and people feel that sense of ‘Ah, I don’t have to have two minds when I’m dropping my baby off at a day care.’ ” (Badger also offers employees day care).
“It means the world,” says Kristen Best, packaging coordinator at Badger, whose second child, Elias, now joins her at work. “Being part of Badger and this community and have him be a part of that, too — I can’t speak enough about it.”
Abby Fish says she’s thankful Badger gave her an onramp back to the office and the flexibility she needed to continue to bond with Isla. “I come home from work knowing that I’ve accomplished what I love doing while taking care of someone I love at the same time,” she says.
“Having to either be someone who wants to work and commit to your career or being someone who wants to be with their baby, that’s not really a fair option to give to people,” says Emily Schwerin-Whyte, the vice president of sales and marketing at Badger and the daughter of the company’s leaders. “So I love that this allows people to do some of both.”