Babies in the office at Addison Lee

18 July 2012 | Leave a comment

addison_lee_babies_in_officeGood on Addison Lee for giving babies in the office a go (for the BBC television programme, Babies in the Office).

“Special and unique” are the words Addison Lee’s (the largest private hire company in the UK) managing director Liam Griffin used to describe his one day  ‘babies in the office’ experiment. Stressful and ‘who on earth is this helping?’ are mine.

What the programme demonstrated was that this is not the way to combine motherhood and work. We need our Government to make childcare 100% tax deductible, a feeling I’ve had for three years (and stopped short of setting up a petition about in reaction to it as I was too sleep deprived 2006-2009 to do more than what was absolutely essential for Family Chivers each day). Now more than ever – given the co-alition Government’s decision to scrap child benefit as a universal entitlement – this seems a sensible way ahead to ease the financial strain of working parenthood.

What about the children? I kept grimacing at the TV and shaking my head. Bound in bouncers and passed from person to person with bits of coloured plastic stuck under their noses by way of entertainment without any real engagement from their parent. This is madness. (And no this is no criticism of their parents – these are women who wanted to do the right thing by their children). Whilst many parents may love the idea of being close to their children whilst they earn they weren’t able to get on with their work which makes the whole idea invalid. Put a crèche on site and heavily subsidise it or make it completely free and allow parents to stop by every couple of hours, but for goodness sake don’t make the parents responsible for performing at work and rearing their child at the same time.

What about the parents’ mental health I kept thinking? What all of these parents missed on the day I saw them bring their babes to work was that beautiful state of ‘flow’ where time passes without recognition because your brain is completely engaged in something absorbing without interruption. Flow is good for us. This just couldn’t happen and it reminded me of maternity leave when, no matter how hard I wanted it to happen, I couldn’t get the space I needed to get lost in my own thoughts whilst my son was awake. With no family for 200 miles I used to take him to the gym crèche to get some work time to myself as well as a decent stretch on the treadmill.

Putting the argument to one side about call centre work hardly being the space for flow to happen, as some of you may laugh to yourselves, it wasn’t fair on other members of staff. The sales team fell behind on their targets and I imagine felt more than a tad stressed by their locus of control residing with people who can’t even wipe their own bottoms. No, the team was definitely in the sh*t; they were reluctant to pick up the phone for fear of a baby yowling in the background whilst they pitched for business.

But good on Addison Lee and Liam Griffins for giving it a go. If more organizations were prepared to give things a go where working flexibility is concerned we’d been in a much better state financially, mentally and career progression wise. I’m laughing like a mad woman wondering why on earth it’s come to this when there are far more reasonable ways of combining work and parenting that get overlooked up and down every day in the UK.

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