From Yahoo CEO to national politics, the topic of children, their mothers, and the workplace, is everywhere in the news right now. No one's quite sure what to do. Follow the model of several Scandinavian countries and extend maternity leave? Create an onsite daycare where employees can drop off their children on their way to work? Go to the other end of the political spectrum and come to the conclusion that it's the parents who choose to have children, and it's up to them to absorb the cost, both financial and time, of their care?
Some small businesses have reacted by trying to make the work environment more child-friendly for employees who need a time off because a child is home sick, but are otherwise able to work. In some situations, telecommuting is an option, but in some jobs, the employee needs to be on site because of IT security or tech needs.
Here are a few things for you to consider before you decide to open your workplace to the occasional child visitor.
Kids are rambunctious
Even the most quiet and calm child, the child who can be content journaling for 30 or 60 minutes at a time, is eventually going to need to burn off some energy. Sometimes kids who are home sick are content to rest and watch TV shows on an iPad or tablet, but as any parent can tell you, they get sick, and somehow have even more energy to burn off. Will the workspace stand up to a child who is, rather suddenly, full of energy?
A great idea: set aside an old storage room or unused office as a kid friendly space. Communicate clearly with your employees about when kids are welcome, and what your expectations are for their behavior at the office.
Before kids are allowed in the workplace, you should check with your building's insurance company. What happens if the child, for example, slips and falls? You can't assume that their health insurance will cover the injury, if it happens on your property. Personal insurance companies are notorious for refusing to pay for a claim that happened on someone else's property, if they have insurance against injuries, and there's nothing like a personal injury lawsuit to ruin employee/employer relations.
How to make it work: do your research beforehand. Know whether or not you're liable for any injuries that occur while a child is in the workplace, and be prepared with the appropriate process to help the employee resolve any claims up front if you are.
Who will supervise any children?
Maybe, rather than a more forgiving sick time policy, you're considering offering a day when employees can bring their kids to work to see the workplace. These sorts of events can be loads of fun for kids. It can interest them in your field, and create opportunities for internships or even employees, depending on the age of the kids.
But if you rely on your employees to show their kids around the office, you're essentially giving up a day of productivity. This can be fine, as long as you're planning for it. If you're expecting an employee to give a tour to all the kids who arrive, you need to be very sure they can handle the number of children who are coming. The same employee, who is amazing with one five year old, one-on-one, is not necessarily the same person who can connect with and engage a dozen teenagers.
Even if you're planning on allowing employees to bring kids in during school breaks instead of wandering around the neighborhood, and you have a child friendly space set up, what's the plan? Are only kids old enough to be unsupervised allowed? Will you have a rotating schedule of employees who work from the kids' room?
Consider hiring a nanny for the room through a service like Care.com. When you first stare at the price, consider how much it will save you over losing productivity to employees who can't work during school holidays or vacations.
As an employer, one of your goals is to create a productive, engaging, happy workplace. While it's tempting to say that employees need to just keep their personal lives at home, it's not practical. The best CEOs, like Gabriel Bristol of Intelicare Direct, know that balancing work and home Isn't just a problem for women. Parents of all genders are struggling with managing this balance. By being the employer who understands and works with their employees, you will win loyalty and appreciation from your employees that's worth far more than the cost of implementing the necessary policies.