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Kids in the Office

Monday, February 3, 2014
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Dear Miriam,

My boss brings her 5-year-old daughter to the office at least once a month, and not just for a quick visit. Her little girl spends the whole day there while her mom works. She plays on her tablet most of the time, but she'll often walk up to employees to talk to us or show us what she's drawing. I haven't figured out what, if anything, to do about this, in part because she's my boss, and in part because I have a child, too — what if I have an emergency one day and need to bring him with me? I could almost keep ignoring this distraction except that it's become much more frequent recently with school on break over the holidays and now snow day after snow day. Your advice?

Signed,
Kids in the Office


Dear Office,

While any parent knows how stressful it can be to find yourself without childcare at the last minute, it sounds to me like your boss is taking advantage of her role in the office to be negligent about finding suitable back-up options for her daughter during the day. If it happened once in a while, as you say, it's a different story, but the regularity that you describe makes it seem like you and your co-workers are her back-up.

Your boss must know that her daughter is likely to be distracting. So you could safely assume that if you're taken away from other tasks because you're talking to a little girl about Fruit Ninja, your boss will be understanding. Then again, presumably you feel a responsibility toward your tasks beyond the approval of your boss, in which case you actually want to get things done without feeling like an overworked and underappreciated babysitter. On top of this, I imagine you have plenty of being-distracted-while-trying-to-do-other-things at home, and work may actually be a welcome break from that particular strand of multi-tasking.

All that being said, you can decide to write off those days when your boss brings her daughter to work or you can take action. Action might mean getting someone else involved, or it might mean changing your attitude and your own circumstances.

I can imagine it being quite difficult to go to the human resources department to complain about your boss. You could try dropping a casual mention of the daughter's frequent visits within earshot of someone who has connections to HR. You're not tattling, exactly, but you're making it known. If everyone's all right with this, then your comments won't raise any eyebrows, but you at least stand a chance of attracting the attention of someone who could crack down on the pseudo-daycare. You could find a way to get an anonymous note to another higher-up at work so you're not implicated. You could also rally with your contemporaries to see if anyone else has any solutions. 

In terms of changing your own situation, consider bringing earphones to work so that you're simply unavailable for her distractions. Depending on your work, perhaps you could take a very long lunch that involves getting work done in a coffee shop for a few hours. 

There's always the "be direct-ish" route, wherein you approach your boss and say with all the kindness of understanding in the world, parent to parent, "I know it's been really hard dealing with all of these snow days, but I'm just not sure of the protocol in the office when your daughter is around. What's your ideal scenario for how we interact with her?" You're making your boss aware that there's some discomfort around her daughter's presence without telling her flat out that she's an annoying distraction whose frequent presence is totally unprofessional. Then, when you inevitably run into your own childcare issues one day, you've opened the door to compassion and leniency with the right hint of, "it won't happen again."

Be well,
Miriam

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