Monique Rojas Ortiz came back from maternity leave a few weeks ago. Yet, she didn’t have to leave her new daughter, Sacred, at home.
Instead, she brought all the supplies — the car seat, bouncer and toys — with her. Sacred sits in her bouncer during the day, watching her mom work.
“She’s up in the morning at 5:45 a.m.,” Ortiz said. “That gives me enough time to feed her and get dressed for work. By the time we get here, she’s ready for another bottle and a nap. It’s perfect timing.”
Ortiz works for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which, through a program called Infants in the Workplace, allows parents to bring their newborns to work until they are 6 months old.
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Such programs can be found across the country and in different industries.
NAIC spokesman Scott Holeman said the Kansas City-based association has found the program helps keep good employees around and boosts job satisfaction. It offers a transition period and lets parents get back into the rhythm of work. While the workers with babies might be less productive, company managers would rather have that than have to train a new employee.
Supporters also point out that programs like NAIC’s can be a recruitment tool for companies and can increase teamwork.
Make no mistake, this isn’t day care. Ortiz and other parents who try this work two jobs at the same time. If the baby cries, they have to handle it. If a meeting is called, they have to go. Parents have to find coworkers, or caregivers, who will be available to help with the baby.
It’s not a free-for-all. Ortiz couldn’t just show up to work one day with Sacred.
Parents have to fill out paperwork with human resources and identify their caregivers. All of this has to be done before the baby comes to work. Employees have to be in good standing or work there for six months.
Ortiz, who has worked at NAIC for seven years, picked five caregivers. Ortiz said Sacred is going to have lots of aunts and uncles after this. One coworker is taking a weekly picture to document Sacred’s time at the office.
Holeman said he was skeptical of the program at first, but after seeing the program in action, he wasn’t concerned. Besides, he said, having babies around softens the workplace.
“It really is a nice thing,” Holeman said. “We handle a lot of stressful situations. Everybody smiles when you see a baby. It reminds us what’s really important.”
A growing trend
Since the program started in 1998, 150 babies have begun their lives at the headquarters of NAIC, Holeman said.
According to the Parenting in the Workplace Institute, NAIC is one of two companies in the Kansas City area that allow babies in the workplace. Based in Salt Lake City, the institute helps companies set up such programs. Carla Moquin founded the institute in 2007.
The institute lists 180 organizations across the country and industries that allow babies in the workplace. That’s up from 70 companies when Moquin started keeping track. The list was aggregated from news reports and confirmed by the companies. In recent years, Moquin has noticed more businesses jumping on board.
“It’s not a gigantic increase, but it’s definitely on the rise, especially for a concept that’s so foreign to how our society typically perceives the integration of career and family,” Moquin said.
Fourteen state agencies in Kansas have similar programs, thanks in part to former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is credited with kick-starting the trend in 1996. Sebelius implemented the program during her tenure as Kansas insurance commissioner. NAIC’s CEO at the time was inspired by Sebelius.
Sebelius said the program was “a great success” while she was at the department. She said having babies around the workplace made the adults behave better.
She said that she was disappointed in the number of companies that allow babies in the workplace. She would like to see it higher.
“I’m sorry it’s not universal,” Sebelius said. “I still find it pretty horrifying that we don’t have official policies for parental leave.”
NAIC’s program is structured. Parents file paperwork with human resources and recruit coworkers to help with the baby. Parents can have their babies in the office until they are six months old.
What’s it like
Right now, there are four babies growing up around the NAIC offices in Town Pavilion, which spans five floors and has more than 500 employees. Sacred is one of those four.
Ortiz came back to work May 31 and said the first week was an adjustment. She works as a product specialist, so her job entails many phone calls and emails. She had to rearrange her work schedule around Sacred. She tries to return phone calls while the baby sleeps.
Ortiz first heard of the program during an interview for the job. She noticed a jumper on her boss’s door and had to ask about it.
“So I was kind of like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ ” she remembered asking. “And she told me about Infants in the Workplace. When we took the tour, there were playpens around. You would just see baby toys and things like that around the office, and it was totally normal.”
The program was a factor in her decision to work for the company, she said.
When she first brought Sacred to work, Ortiz worried about the baby crying and disturbing her coworkers. But she said her coworkers were open to having the baby around.
“They were so excited when I came back,” she said.
Ortiz said she would’ve considered not coming back to work had it not been for the program.
“Oh, definitely. It would've been really hard for me to come back because they are so little, and you get that special bonding time,” she said. “It made it a lot easier to want to come back to work and not leave her behind.”
If the baby does get too fussy or needs to nurse, the company provides nursery rooms for parents. Ortiz said the nurseries make it comfortable for both her and Sacred.
NAIC communication specialist Evan Kuhlmann has two daughters. Rory is now 6 years old, and Findlay is 2 1/2 ; both of them went through the program. Kuhlmann didn’t have to use the nurseries often. But if his daughters were crying, he found that a ride in the elevator was just the trick. He said he’s not the only parent who does it. Or he would stand by the ice machine. He said the hum seemed to sooth his daughters.
Kuhlmann didn’t know about the program when he started at the company. But once he and his wife talked about started a family, it was a no-brainer to take his daughter to work, especially when he saw the price of day care.
Out-of-house child care costs an average of $8,632 in Missouri and $11,201 in Kansas per year, according to Child Care Aware. Child care out of your home is cheaper. The average cost is $5,720 in Missouri and $6,761 in Kansas.
For Kuhlmann, managing the two jobs was hard. He would be changing diapers and checking his email to start the workday.
“Outside looking in, it can seem like it’s fun and easy all the time,” he said. “But you get busy. And you have rough days.”
While it could be difficult to manage, he worked out times when his two caregivers could take the baby, which was a way he could get some work done.
“I still felt like I wanted to do my job,” Kuhlmann said. “I wanted to be productive.”
Kuhlmann said his two daughters never made it to the 6-month mark at the office. As they got older, they demanded more attention, and it was more difficult to have them around.
When Kuhlmann had his daughters with him, he said it seemed like a lot more people would stop by.
He compared it to having a puppy.
Kuhlmann loved the program, not only for the savings on childcare, but also for the bonding.
“You get to be around them all the time,” he said. “My wife was a little jealous. I would come home and tell her a story, but cellphones helped to keep her in the loop.”
Kuhlmann works on the 15th floor of the building. So during a fire drill, he carried his daughter in her car carrier down all 15 floors. On his way back up, his boss, who had also brought his baby to work, offered to carry the child upstairs. Kuhlmann said this is an example of the camaraderie among parents who participate in the program.
“There’s a little bit of a club,” Kuhlmann said.
Katherine Knott: 816-234-4097, @knott_katherine