A question for you work-life and wellness people: How do you get your message out to the people who most need it, when they need it most?
At Johns Hopkins, the folks at the Office of Work, Life and Engagement have solved this perennial problem for at least some of their constituents with a charming—and pragmatic—idea. Twice each year, they throw a “baby shower” for all faculty and employees who are expecting, have a spouse that’s expecting, or are planning an adoption.
Like any self-respecting shower, these events feature pretty iced cupcakes, other healthy snacks and plenty of gifts. But they also include boatloads of information. Vendors of benefits and work-life programs are on hand to make brief presentations and talk one-on-one with employees. Staff talk about the organization’s many relevant policies and services, which include child care locators, back-up child care, a comprehensive breast feeding support program and more.
“We were getting lots of calls from moms who were getting ready to come back from leave, thinking for the first time about the logistics. The baby shower allows us to reach them much earlier,” explains Meg Stoltzfus, Lifespan Services Manager. “It really helps ease the stress of returning.”
Employees agree: they love the showers. While the office spreads the word about them as far and wide as it can, it also keep the events purposefully small, limiting registration to those who really are expecting (one way or another)—especially those closer to their leave time. Nonetheless, they find themselves fielding requests from those who aren’t among their targeted audience. (They’re welcome to come if there’s room—otherwise they’re reminded that the showers happen twice a year.) Even experienced parents come—returning when they’re expecting a second or third child. For them, it’s not only a way to refresh their knowledge or learn about new or changing benefits, it’s a chance to meet other parents.
In fact, meeting other parents-to-be is an important aspect of the proceedings for everyone. When they arrive, to the gentle strains of classical music and a slide show of baby pictures and baby-related trivia and quotes, participants are seated at tables by trimester. There, they can meet and chat with others at a similar life-stage. (Another thoughtful touch is customized table tents with fun facts about stages of development for the trimester in question.)
Presentations are interspersed with plenty of time for networking and chatting with vendors, as well as activities. Sometimes there are games (name that nursery rhyme, anyone)? And always there are numerous raffles, including one based on due dates. The prizes are good: the office comes up with them in part based on informal polls it conducts periodically among faculty and employees with young children to reveal what’s currently on parents’ “most-coveted” lists. There are oohs and aahs as attendees win everything from baby monitors to infant car seats to Moby Wraps. They can even win a free night of babysitting from Care.com, one of their vendors. And everyone goes away with a small gift, like a logoed bib, and useful tools, such as a list of the most popular smart phone parenting apps.
The showers even serve a purpose for those who can’t get to them. “It’s still a promotional strategy,” explains Meg. “They find out about our office and what we have to offer. As soon as they contact us, even if they can’t make it to the shower, we connect them with services that might help them.”
Johns Hopkins has been holding the showers for the past three years, but they’re constantly thinking of ways to improve upon them. Including adoptive parents was one such tweak; another they’re now considering is finding a way to connect parents expecting multiples. They’re also constantly working to ensure they speak to everyone, avoiding too much emphasis on two-parent families, for example.
But no matter how much they may tweak the showers, one thing is clear. The initiative has been a tremendous success—an elegant solution to a difficult problem.