Is Take Your Kids to Work Day Worth Your Time and Theirs?

Today is Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day, which means thousands of children and teenagers are heading into offices, warehouses, stores and other workplaces to see what their parents get up to when they’re not making them eat vegetables or clean their rooms.

The day isn’t just one of those fake holidays like National Pancake Day or International Day for Hulk Appreciation. In the U.S., Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day is a non-profit educational organization that aims to get kids interested in career possibilities, either the ones their parents have already pursued, or others. It hopes to give them a taste of the working world, before they take on after school jobs of their own, or summer internships.

Most school districts have access to the organizations materials, setting out just what Take Your Sons and Daughters Day should like and what it’s meant to achieve – but that doesn’t mean that schools, workplaces and parents are taking advantage of this material.

When I was a kid, each year I eagerly awaited the day I would accompany my mother to the office and… do whatever random tasks she assigned me, from filing, to building bankers boxes, to stuffing envelopes. And I would do all of these tasks because they were something different from my routine and because it meant I got to skip school. None of my mother’s workplaces had an official program in place, but they embraced the day anyway as a kind of treat for their and their employees’ kids, and as just another one of things good corporate citizens do.

But unless your workplace has a program in place, one that includes educational opportunities for specific age groups, it might not be worth bringing your kid in for the day – unless your employer is as tolerant as my mothers’ were.

Why Was Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day Founded?

The day actually started as Take Our Daughters to Work Day, and was founded in 1992 by the Ms. Foundation for Women. It’s intention was to specifically encourage girls to pursue careers and to expand their career dreams. As higher ed success for boys plunged, it was expanded to include boys, in 2003. Of course, many schools and workplaces have career days unrelated to his one, so what makes it special? According to their site,

Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work program goes beyond the average practice of “shadowing” an adult. Exposing girls and boys to what a parent or mentor in their lives does during the work day is important, but showing them the value of their education, helping them discover the power and possibilities associated with a balanced work and family life, providing them an opportunity to share how they envision the future, and allowing them to begin steps toward their end goals in a hands-on and interactive environment is key to their achieving success.

That is, the organization expects you and your employer to be doing more than parking your kid at a hot desk with a stack of envelopes – they expect you to educating them.

But do you have time for that, and is that what your employer really wants out of the day?

What Would Make it Truly Worthwhile?

The Evil HR Lady, Suzanne Lucas, says that if your Take Your Kids to Work Day doesn’t have a clear program established, one that sets educational goals for different ages, then you’re doing it wrong. Back in 2009 Penelope Trunk argued that the day should be cancelled entirely, since it’s a relic of an outdated form of feminism. The value of taking your kids to work is a perennially hot topic for debate – at least once a year, it is. But we’re going to settle this right now, yeah?

If Take Your Kids to Work Day is just about showing off your workspace and getting some free labour, it’s definitely not worth your time. Likewise for getting your kids interested in your career, or thinking more seriously about theirs. Unless your work is hands on and showy, something like a laboratory or factory, it’s difficult for me to imagine kids being amazed by your day-to-day. As someone who works for home, I can 100% guarantee that no child would be intrigued by my routine of eating breakfast, showering, shuffling to my desk and then typing for 8 hours straight (though maybe a few teens might be!).

But if your workplace treats it more like an internship, albeit an incredibly short one, with clear educational goals for your kids and hopefully for its employees, then Take Your Kids to Work Day could be a valuable learning opportunity for everyone involved.

Here are some tips on how to make that happy reality yours:

  • Participation in Take Your Kids to Work Programs should be optional for parents and departments alike. Not every department can accommodate the disruption or makes a suitable and safe environment for kids and teens.
  • Develop a well rounded program for the day with goals for visiting kids and employees, using Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work and others toolkits.
  • Make sure that all your business leaders and employees buy in to the program. If some members of the team are hesitant that may be a sign that your program is not well designed, or that it won’t be a good experience for the kids or workers.
  • Pairing kids with experts in the areas they’re most interested in guarantees they’ll be doing something real with their time, and that employees won’t have their days disrupted by grumpy kids. Instead they have the privilege of spending some time with a bright, young apprentice, and solidify their own sense of themselves as subject experts.
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Megan Purdy

Megan Purdy

Former recruiter, HR pro and Workology editor. Comics, cheese and political economy.

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