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(originally published by Booz & Company)


Babes at Work

Bruce Poon Tip, author of Looptail: How One Company Changed the World by Reinventing Business, introduces a passage from Richard Sheridan’s Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love on how to build an employee-centric corporate culture.

Unconventional business practices and policies often seem crazy at first, but as I can attest from my experience at G Adventures, these ideas sometimes turn out to be terrific. Take the idea of allowing, even encouraging, employees to bring their babies to the office—as described in the excerpt below from Joy, Inc., a new book by Richard Sheridan, the cofounder and CEO of Menlo Innovations.

Sure, bringing their babies to work solves a major problem for new parents, and it keeps them on the job. But it’s bigger than that: Lots of companies say that they care about the work–life balance of their employees, but Menlo has actually proved it.

Menlo’s willingness to try something as seemingly nutty as raising infants in the office says something important about the purpose and culture of the company. It fosters a sense of family among employees, and it strengthens their connection to the company’s core values. It nurtures a workforce filled with people who are passionate about their company and the work they do. It creates differentiation in the markets for customers and talent. And all of these things drive performance and profits.

Bruce Poon Tip

An excerpt from chapter 7 of
Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love

In 2007, Tracy, who had just recently joined Menlo, and her husband had their second child, Maggie. Tracy took about three months of paid maternity leave. She came into the office one day and let me know she was ready to come back to work, but Maggie was too young for day care and she didn’t have anyone to babysit. She was stuck for an idea on how to make this work.

What happened next was a pivotal moment in my life as a manager, an entrepreneur, and a leader. As the next sentence began to form in my brain, I became aware of this silent screaming match happening in my head:

I know what you’re about to say! Don’t do it. It’s against the rules. HR will hate you, silently screamed old manager Rich. New and improved manager Rich firmly retorted, There are no rules about this here. We’ve never had an HR department. It’s our company—we can do anything we want. Go away.

“Bring Maggie in,” I offered, not betraying the struggle I had just resolved in my own mind. “Bring Maggie in to work with you.”

If only I’d had a camera. Tracy’s face was a beautiful look of bewildered confusion. She started questioning every element of this crazy idea. Did I mean every once in a while or every day? If every day, did I mean that she was allowed to have her daughter with her at work all day? Then she looked around this big, wide, open room that is the Menlo Software Factory, where there are no walls, no cubes, no offices, no doors. “Where will I put her?” she asked.

“Put her in a bassinet on the floor next to wherever you happen to be working,” I said. “She’s not going anywhere.” If we were going to run this experiment, I reasoned, we should be both serious and very open with it. It wasn’t clear that this would be an easy experiment, but the potential for success was there.

“What if she makes a fuss?” she asked.

“Here? You’ll never hear it. It’s like a noisy restaurant all day. Besides, I remember raising my own kids. They loved noisy environments at her age.”

“Yeah, but what if she really makes a fuss?” she persisted. I’m pretty sure she was thrilled by my idea but wanted to confirm just how much I’d thought this through (which admittedly wasn’t much).

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The Reviewer

  1. Bruce Poon Tip is the author of Looptail: How One Company Changed the World by Reinventing Business (Business Plus, 2013). Poon Tip is the founder of the travel company G Adventures.

This Book

  1. Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love (Penguin Portfolio, 2013) by Richard Sheridan

    Richard Sheridan is the CEO and co-founder of Menlo Innovations, a software development firm which has won the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility for eight consecutive years. Joy, Inc. is his first book.

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