Baby on board: Water Resources a leader in expanding “Infant at Work” program

Baby on board: Water Resources a leader in expanding “Infant at Work” program
Published date
Wed, Jun 7 2017

For public consumption, three-month-old Juniper smiles and coos. And sleeps. And, really, there you have it.

Occasionally there is an impatient bleat at Mom – water resources planning specialist Natalie Mast – to get on with fulfilling one or the other of Juniper’s very basic needs.

Water Resources planning specialist Natalie Mast with three-month-old Juniper

But, beyond that, you’d never know that such a wee one was sharing cubicle space with the Statewide Planning division of the Arizona Department of Water Resources… unless you were to queue up for the chance to hold her for a while, which is becoming something of a pastime among Water Resources planners.

“Instead of coffee breaks we can take baby breaks and it is so incredibly calming,” said Gerry Walker, deputy assistant director over Statewide Planning. “People just want to go over there and touch her toes.”

“I was really nervous about it – about how she would react,” said Mast about her choice to take up Gov. Doug Ducey on his plan, announced in January, to expand the state’s “Infant at Work” program from a limited pilot program into still more state agencies, including Water Resources.

“It’s one thing for me to impact my own productivity. I can make up for that. But I wouldn’t want it to impact my co-workers,” she said.

Mallory Orme, David McKay and Chris Jones of Recharge Permitting with Juniper and Mom

“It’s really worked out,” she added, with a palpable sense of relief. “I’ve had people comment that she’s been a big boost to office morale.”

Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke is a big supporter.

“I just insist on the director’s prerogative to hold her whenever I want to,” he said. “And I don’t do diapers.”

The positive experience in Water Resources is consistent with how the program has worked elsewhere.

Then-Interim Director of the Department of Economic Security, Henry Darwin, said in January that the program’s success at the Department of Health Services and at the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System inspired him to try launching the program at four DES locations in 2016.

David McKay, manager of Recharge Permitting; John Riggins, Statewide Strategic Planning specialist; Eddie St. Pierre, Recharge Permitting; Juniper and Mom; and, Mallory Orme, Chris Jones and Shannon Reif of Recharge PermittingThe Infant at Work pilot program at DHS, in fact, is among the oldest baby-at-the-office programs in the country, starting in 2009. DHS Director Dr. Cara Christ told the Arizona Capitol Times recently that about 200 babies have come to work there over the years. It’s resulted in better overall morale and higher retention rates, as well as public-health considerations like increased vaccination rates among employees.

The evidence coming out of DHS and AHCCCS, said Darwin, was overwhelmingly positive. New moms were able to return to the job sooner, while still bonding with baby.

Infant at Work has clearly defined terms.

The baby must be at least four weeks of age and no older than six months. The employee is responsible for any and all supplies. And certain state-employee duties are deemed off limits: Program policy does not allow for babies to accompany mom on field trips into the hinterlands measuring well depth, for example.

“Most of it is pretty much common sense,” said Mast.

Water Resources planning specialist Natalie Mast with three-month-old Juniper

Mast said that while she saw the advantages of the program, she approached it cautiously.

“I thought I’d wait and see what kind of baby she was,” said Mast. “She’s pretty chill. We have a quiet office here and I didn’t want it to be too disruptive.”

She’s not. Observed Mast’s co-worker, Mandy Whatley: “Seriously, it’s been awesome. Her little babbles are so cute.”

The advantages for Mast well outweigh the complex logistics of fortifying a cubicle with portable cribs, rockers, blankets and baby toys, as it turns out.

Time – the bane of motherhood – is more on her side, said Mast: “I don’t have to drop her off anywhere.”

As to the mother-daughter bonding experience, “I really do think it helps,” she said.

“Me knowing what goes on with her is especially big because they change so much so fast.

“It makes me feel even closer to her. It’s hard to describe.”