On the fourth Thursday in April, you may show up to work to see a bunch of children running around your office. Hopefully, it’s not due to a weather-related school shut down, but instead, to the annual Take Your Child to Work Day. Begun in 1993 by the Ms. Foundation’s then-president, Marie Wilson, and its founder, Gloria Steinem, as "Take Your Daughter to Work" day, boys were included later. The official title of the day became "Take Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day." Regardless of the name, it’s all about teaching your kids about life at work.
Steinem and Wilson began the day to illustrate how invisible women were in the office and to help girls understand that they could aspire to this visibility even if their mothers hadn’t.
Should Your Workplace Participate in Take Your Child to Work Day?
The answer is maybe. What do you do? If you’re running a restaurant, trying to bring kindergartners in to see how mom and dad work could create an unmitigated disaster. On the other hand, if you’re a hedge fund management team, allowing teenagers to come in for a few hours could open their eyes to what work is like.
It’s fine, either way. People will not choose to work for you or not work for you based on whether you participate in Take Your Child to Work day each year. If you’re on the fence about it, ask your employees.
You may find out that people dislike having to put together the activities for the children or pulling their children out of school. Or you may find out that people look forward to this day all year. Each company is different. Ask your employees what they want to do.
Think Through These Issues If You're Considering a Take Your Child to Work Day
Before signing up for Taking Your Child to Work Day, you need to sit down and consider the following issues:
- What’s your goal? To teach students about what work life is like? To have a fun event that makes parents and children happy? To post pictures on your website, so that job candidates gain positive feelings about your company?
- What age children should you allow? Some businesses focus only on teens; some focus only on elementary-age children. In any case, you should probably exclude babies and toddlers.
- What activities should you have? If you’re bringing in teenagers, perhaps having a short continental breakfast with a peppy talk from the HR manager and then letting the teens shadow their parents, is perfect. If you’re bringing in younger children, maybe you need a bunch of activities, from taking a tour of the facilities to doing puzzles and games that deal with the company, followed up by lunch with mom or dad.
- How long should the day last? Is this an all-day event? If so, you should not invite young children. A couple of hours is probably best for this group, but remember, the parents will then have to take the kids back to school when you’re finished with the Take Your Child to Work Day activities.
When you’ve thought through all of these issues, you can begin to plan your activities. Remind departments of the date so that they can prepare. If you have a huge deadline coming up in marketing on that day, they probably won’t want to do a fun presentation for the children, and that’s okay. The business still needs to operate profitably.
Remember that productivity will likely be low that day. No parent will get as much done with a child or teen shadowing them. If you skip the shadowing and just have planned activities for the children, you’ll need to pull people from various departments to run the activities.
You Need to Invite Everyone to Participate in Take Your Child to Work Day
This is an all or nothing event. If you are going to invite children, you get to set up the age parameters and plan the activities. You cannot say, “well, if you work in the factory, you can’t bring your child to work because that’s dangerous, but you can if you are an office worker.”
While you don’t want children running around the factory floor, making distinctions like this will breed resentment. If the CEO’s child gets to come in, then the newest hire making the lowest salary also gets to bring her child. You need to treat all of the children the same.
If you allow children to shadow their parents, consider also allowing them to shadow people in other departments. Just because mom is an accountant doesn’t mean that Jane wants to become an accountant. She may have more interest in research and development.
People without children who are participating, may or may not want to become a part of the day. Just ask. But don’t require participation. People were hired to do their jobs, not to entertain children. (Unless, of course, your company's work is to entertain children.)
Done right, Take Your Child to Work Day can provide a lot of fun, build good relationships, and perhaps even generate some good PR, which is not a bad accomplishment for a few hours once a year.
Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.