By Jen Weigel
Your baby-sitter canceled and you need to head to the office. But is taking your kid to work really the best alternative?
"Yes, I think it's a very good idea," says Fortune 500 leadership coach Paul David Walker. "Not every day but periodically. If your boss is fine with it, this can be a great thing."
Walker says not only will an occasional kid visit help lighten the mood of the mundane office, but it can also build a culture that is empowering and exciting.
"And let's not forget that we might see our co-workers in a different light," adds Walker, author of the book "Unleashing Genius: Leading Yourself, Teams and Corporations" (Morgan James Publishing). "This can build a rapport with team members. If you see someone handling their children and you see they are good parents, this could change the way you view them as a co-worker. It can be a very positive experience."
While a planned visit can be an enjoyable change of pace, the occasional child-care emergency that forces a parent to bring the child to work isn't always welcomed with open arms. Bill Gaul, who works as a financial services professional, says kids at work can prevent productivity.
"If I'm on an important sales call, it's no different than Starbucks at that point," he says. "I am a parent, but it doesn't mean I'd like to see children at work.
"We shouldn't all have to become kid-friendly to accommodate a co-worker. Child care issues should be dealt with outside the office."
Brian Chambers, who runs a massage and acupuncture business out of his home, says there are times when his three children can be a distraction to clients.
"If a patient is in pain and they don't want any interruptions and total solitude, it can be tough," he says. "But I think my work situation is rather unique. ... If I worked in an office for a large company, I absolutely would not bring my children into work because some adult environments are just not appropriate for kids."
But Walker stresses that it can benefit the kids to see their parents doing their job.
"There was an HR professional who had to bring her son in because of baby-sitting issues," he says. "Her son, who was 10, turned to his mother and said, 'Mom, you're a leader!' It gives them an opportunity to see their mom or dad in a different light."
Here are some things to consider if you're planning to take your kids to work.
Give ample warning.
"You have to let the office know ahead of time," says Walker. "If it is a last-minute thing with a member of the staff, send out a note as soon as possible."
If it's not an emergency, Walker says the boss should take the lead and make an announcement well in advance.
Provide plenty of activities.
"Be sure to give them games or things to keep them busy," says Chambers. "The more choices you give them, the better."
Consider a time slot.
"Bringing your kids in for lunch is a great way to break up the day," says Walker. "Then maybe they stay for an hour of your work time, and get to see you do what you do, and then it's time to go. That gives them insight into your life at work, and that in turn helps you feel energized to get through the rest of the day."
"If they come in at the end of the day and you're on your way to Navy Pier, that's just enough time for the kids to see where you work, and they don't need to be around the office much longer than that," says Gaul.
Be age appropriate.
"A baby might be easier to care for if they're good sleepers," says Walker. "There's nothing cuter than passing around a baby. But ages 5-8 need more attention. They could be harder to control. We can't forget that the child's attention span is limited."
Plant the seed.
Taking your kids to work may also help them figure out what they want to do for a living.
"Sometimes we have to see it to understand it," says Walker. "And then we discover our passions, and are able to follow through with them as we mature. It's quite possible they will inspire the kids, too."