- Approved state employees in Vermont can now bring their newborns to work after the Feb. 1 launch of the "Infants in the Workplace" program, the governor's office announced.
- The program allows employees who work in approved environments to take their babies to work until they are six months old. To participate, eligible parents must get approval from their supervisor and certain department heads. The parents must have a designated care provider who can assist in an emergency, as well.
- State agencies may opt-in as they choose; the agencies of Administration, Agriculture, Digital Service, Education, Natural Resources and Transportation and the Department of Labor will be the first to adopt it.
When caregivers are faced with conflicting personal and professional responsibilities, many choose to exit the workforce. This has posed a problem to so many people, in fact, that research has estimated as many as 5 million people could enter the workforce if employers were to adopt family-friendly policies.
To enable caregivers to work will require a variety of solutions, according to Professor of Management Practice at the Harvard Business School Joseph B. Fuller, who recently authored research on the subject.
Vermont's initiative embodies one such solution. For Vermont Department of Human Resources Deputy Commissioner Dan Pouliot, who assisted in creating the program, "Infants in the Workplace" aims to attract young workers to Vermont and keep them there. "We in Vermont have a demographic problem," Pouliot told HR Dive in an interview. "Our population is getting older. Our workforce is getting older. We are trying to be as encouraging as we can for young families to stay in or move to Vermont and pay taxes."
Pouliot admitted he had concerns about the program when he first entertained the idea of sharing his workplace with newborns: "My initial, gut reaction was 'ooh, that's icky.'" As he spoke to employers who had already instituted the measure, however, his worries about disruptive infants — "smelly babies, loud babies, fussy babies" — disappeared. Employers shared with him that while babies did sometimes cause disruptions, the distractions ceased quickly as parents relocated, usually on their own initiative.
Pouliot had fretted about cute babies, too. "The other thing that had jumped into my mind, [was that] having a baby in the work area was going to be disruptive for other people because they'll be gathering around the baby," he said. Again, employers had an answer; "After about the first day or two of extra interaction, that just fades away," he said employers told him. "The infant becomes part of the normal scenery."
A program like Vermont's may not work for every employer. But as businesses move to make work more inclusive and more possible for caregivers, leaders may find a spirit of innovation helpful. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation tried a progressive 52-week paid parental leave plan but recently halved it, finding it caused too much disruption within the organization. It replaced the policy with one that features a six-month leave and a $20,000 stipend to offset childcare costs and other family needs.