Taking kids to the office

Some parents take their children to work because there is no one to mind them, while others want to show their kids what they do

Mrs Debbie Grignani has taken all three of her children - aged 10, seven and six - to work with her, settling them around the table near her own desk in her open-concept office.

While it is rare to have her sons and daughter all accompany her to the international school where she works, dealing with databases and administrative matters, she takes at least one child with her to work on an ad-hoc basis, especially during the school holidays.

They typically spend half a day at work with Mrs Grignani, 38, who keeps the child occupied with a "big bag" of entertainment options, such as Lego, books and worksheets.

"The challenge is to keep the children entertained and not have them disturb your colleagues. I look at the situation before I take the kids in. I ask my colleagues if it would be all right to do so and I won't take them if it's really busy at the office," she says.

Her two elder children, who are pupils at her international school, sometimes come to her office after their school day ends, and she occasionally works from home for a few hours at night, if she has to take time out for her kids during the day.

The permanent resident from Malaysia says having such flexibility helps her balance her career with her role as her children's primary caregiver.

Mrs Grignani, who is married to a 38-year-old paediatrician, says her workplace is supportive about her childcare situation and she appreciates that her employer grants her this flexibility.

Two months ago, The Straits Times reported that a mother took her baby with her to evening classes while she was pursuing a master's degree at Kaplan Higher Education Institute.

Ms Yvonne Wan's third child was usually asleep during class and her coursemates and lecturers were understanding. Her experience shone a spotlight on work-life integration for parents of young children.

For some parents interviewed by The Sunday Times, taking their children in to work, on an ad-hoc basis, presents both challenges and opportunities for themselves, their children and their employers.

While some take their children with them because of a temporary lack of childcare alternatives, others find value in demystifying for their kids what working adults do all day.

Mrs Roslyn Ten, general manager at Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), says: "Companies that find innovative ways to offer flexible work arrangements that work for employees will see a rise in employee satisfaction, productivity and loyalty."

Offering employees flexibility can help companies gain access to more diverse perspectives and resources, says Mr Pierre Winnepenninckx, chief executive officer of No Deviation, a service company in the pharmaceutical industry.

Two of his workers, who are parents with three children between them, are based in the more senior employee's home office (see other story). He has found that allowing his employees flexibility empowers them to be "more relaxed and enthusiastic, with a can-do attitude".

It also potentially grants employers access to "a bigger pool of resources, with different people", he says, admitting that it is easier for small and medium enterprises like his to be flexible.

Still, the challenges and politics of taking children to work can be tricky. Mrs Sher-li Torrey, founder of Mums@Work Singapore and co-founder of Career Navigators, both of which support women in finding work-life balance, says that often, for many employers, "the perception can be that it is not professional to have children around".

And even though it is typically a top concern for parents that their youngsters are not disruptive at work, employers may worry that children who come in may not behave appropriately, she adds.

A lot of parents also fear "being judged" even if they are given the opportunity to occasionally take their children in to work, she says.

"They don't want to be perceived as being less dedicated in their work. Also, single people may feel that it is a privilege they do not have," says Mrs Torrey.

At the end of the day, taking children to work boils down to a matter of trust, where the parents have built a good relationship with their bosses and colleagues and have proven themselves at work, she says.

Ms Violet Lim, co-founder of the dating company Lunch Actually Group, says it would be difficult if taking children to work were an office-wide policy.

Ms Lim, 37, co-founded the company with her husband Jamie Lee, 41, who is also its president. It has more than 100 employees in Singapore and in overseas branches.

The couple take their son Corum, 10, and Cara, eight, to work - usually once or twice each school holiday period and one child at a time. It is one way to spend time with their children while working long hours and travelling for work, says Ms Lim, who recalls enjoying going to work sometimes as a child with her mother, a tailor, and her father, a used-car dealer.

"It's important for my children to understand what I do. They know that mummy is a matchmaker, for instance. It's important to let them know that money doesn't fall from the skies," she says, adding that she hopes to instil a strong work ethic in her children at the same time.

While they may not fully understand what her work entails, she has found that they are interested in the adult world of business.

Corum once happened to be in the same room when Ms Lim was on a conference call and later asked her if it was a call about strategy or marketing.

Having children accompany their parents to work can be a bonding experience, says developmental psychologist Qu Li, an assistant professor at the School of Social Sciences at the Nanyang Technological University.

It can be a treat like going to a holiday resort, if the child goes with his parents to work occasionally, says Dr Qu. "It allows children to better understand their parents' work and deepen the quality of conversations beyond how was your day, for instance," she says.

For Mr John Garrido, 42, regional director for Asia at Virgin Pulse, a company that focuses on well-being, taking his young sons occasionally to his office at The Working Capitol, a co-working space, helps demonstrate to them "trying to make your life work in a balanced way". It is also a way to show his kids the need to behave appropriately in a professional setting or what it means to concentrate on one's work, he says.

Lucas, seven, and Noah, six, usually spend up to a day with their dad at work, usually one at a time, and occasionally during their school holidays. Mr Garrido ensures they are occupied with books as well as educational and game apps on the iPad, though this lasts less than an hour.

Time on the iPad is also a treat for going in to work with dad. Lucas says: "I love getting entertained by my iPad."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 02, 2017, with the headline 'Taking kids to the office'. Print Edition | Subscribe