Childcare sorted or complete chaos? BBC2’s Babies at Work

A two-part documentary follows a company’s experiment allowing parents to bring their children in to work

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If you’re crippled by the cost of childcare while you work, you’ll be fascinated by mini cab giant Addison Lee’s attempt to help ease their employee’s pain.

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Following its success in the US, the company are considering implementing a scheme that allows employees to bring their children into the office. Eight parents working in the call centre in London took part in the experiment.

A quarter of women who go on maternity leave don’t come back, which costs companies dear to replace them. Addison Lee is also wary of the costs generally of losing good staff, mainly women in their 30s. Then, of course, there are the emotional costs, with several women employees admitting they can’t afford to have one, yet alone a second child.

The obvious downside of the scheme is loss of productivity. On the first day of the experiment, only one person in the office had answered as many calls as the day before. And it wasn’t just the parents who were distracted by crying toddlers or babies needing feeding.

Having children in the office, obviously, affects everyone and it quickly became a community thing, with everyone pitching in to help out with the kids. Is that fair? Two unconvinced young geezers in sales admitted they quite liked getting away from their kids during the day, but it was also heartwarming to see a lot of the men rather enjoying interacting with kids.

An expert was brought in to say that a couple of days a week in an office wouldn’t hurt a child but who didn’t feel a bit uncomfy seeing a sleeping baby in a car seat shoved under a desk?

Unsurprisingly, it was the mother of six who was the most efficient, glad to be out of the house and back at work, she was a natural multi-tasker. The least efficient was the poor mum, seven-months pregnant with a toddler in tow, who opted out and went home, exhausted, by 4.30, and the father who struggled to get any work done at all. Presumably he wasn’t used to looking after his daughter all day anway, let alone trying to work at the same time. You could probably bet that the whole office was exhausted by the end of the day, not just the parents.

Cut to two firms in the US where the scheme has been running successfully for years, and what immediately struck was that the parents here had much more office space. One woman, who admitted to 25% less productivity with her baby in tow, but didn’t charge for the those lost hours, had a huge cubicle decked out with a bouncy chair and toys. It all seemed remarkably calm.

The other was a homely wool company that felt more like a front room anyway. Far cry from the cramped and rather dingy spaces the UK mums were attempting to do it all in, squeezed in together.

Most importantly, the US firms only allow babes in arms up to 6 months old, useful for women in the US who don’t automatically receive any maternity benefit, so no bored toddlers playing up here.

At the end of the day, the long-suffering and quite frankly ground-breaking MD here in London was prepared to give it a go for another month. A lifesaver for some, particularly the single mum.

What the programme didn’t mention was what the company’s liability was if a child got hurt in the office or why it wasn’t a better idea to be offering a crèche. Maybe that comes up tonight in part two.

Part 2 is on BBC2 tonight at 7pm.

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