Workplace nursery cuts staff absenteeism

Dubai Customs is setting an example by providing daycare for employees. Analysts say the move has reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.

Ghalia Alhamouri with her 8-month-old daughter, Leya, at the Dubai Customs nursery.
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DUBAI // Companies that provide quality childcare can expect less absenteeism, better timekeeping, higher productivity and greater employee loyalty, a new study suggests.

Since Dubai Customs opened its nursery in 2009, absenteeism among staff whose children used it was down by 70 per cent, and lateness by 72 per cent. More than four in five staff who use the nursery said it had allowed them to spend less time travelling between home and office, and the same number said they were less stressed because they no longer had to leave their children at home.

More importantly for Dubai Customs, 82 per cent said they felt more loyal to their employer and 71 per cent said they were more productive.

"The nursery has had a great impact," said Fatma Al Khaja, the organisation's corporate social responsibility manager. "I'm not a mum yet, but if I had a child I would have peace of mind.

"I would come to work with him and I would not have these little excuses any more to leave work. Before, they'd say 'I have to leave the office, my child is sick, I have to come and go'."

The Dubai Customs initiative has also created happier and more loyal employees. "We had someone who resigned last year, and she came back and told me, 'I want to come back just for the nursery because I don't know what to do with my child, he's 3 and it's difficult for me to travel back and forth to a nursery'," Ms Al Khaja said.

Samia Kazi, chief operating officer of Arabian Child, an organisation in Dubai that supports the development of early childhood education, said the study's findings were in line with others that also found lower absenteeism and higher productivity followed the introduction of a workplace nursery.

Parents were able to spend more time with their children, improving their work/life balance, while children built a sense of connection to the community, even as infants.

Children in the Dubai Customs nursery are taught Islamic studies, Arabic, English, maths, art and other subjects under a programme based on the British foundation curriculum. One day a week is devoted to sport.

A nurse is always on duty, major occasions such as National Day are celebrated, and there are picnics linked to educational themes.

Initially, only female employees were allowed to use the centre, but access was extended to men in 2010. Currently 33 children aged from two months to 4 years use it, and there is a waiting list of 37.

Ghalia Alhamouri, a business analyst at Dubai Customs, leaves her eight-month-old daughter Leya at the nursery every day.

"As a new mum, integrating work responsibilities with new-born baby responsibilities was a real challenge to me," she said. "I needed to combine being a caring and dedicated mum and following my career path ambitions.

"The nursery makes this challenge easier, it can be managed in a way that lets me feel comfortable at work and at the same time reassured about my baby."

It has helped her child to develop a stable routine, too. "I feel that Leya is adapting and becoming more active and flexible, she is becoming a more independent baby."

Ms Kazi urged employers to follow the Dubai Customs example. The key, she said, was to provide a quality facility rather than a babysitting service.

"If we don't provide quality care then we may actually be harming the children," she said. "Providing high quality is expensive, but around the world successful companies have discovered that the benefits justify the investment.

"Secondly, it is important to know that establishing employer-sponsored childcare is far from a cookie-cutter solution. Each organisation is different, and the needs of their employees are different."