Workers at the North Dakota Agriculture Department are listening to more than just the hum of office machines these days. The gurgling and cooing sounds that compete with the tap of fingers on computer keyboards and calculators are coming from babies who go to work with parents.
State agencies seem to be leading the trend that some think may filter into the regular workplace soon. Agencies that participate in the take-your-child-to-work program allow infants to accompany desk-working parents. "People that have jobs tied to their desk have more success [with the program]," said North Dakota State Health Department personnel director Jennifer Bandy. "People that have meetings and other obligations - it doesn't work out as well."
North Dakota state agencies started experimenting with the program in 1996. In Kansas, the state Insurance Department has been allowing babies at work since 1997.
Participating agencies enforce an age limit - four to six months old is common. Also, babies must be able to observe at least a tiny bit of office decorum. Cryers and other disruptive babies are not welcome.
Anonymous surveys of co-workers have provided positive reactions among those forced to work in the vicinity of the babies. "They sleep all the time," is a standard reaction to having babies in the office.