Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Childless Workers Deserve Fairness

There's no shortage of stories being written about the dilemmas of working parents. The problems of trying to balance the needs of family while maintaining a career are written about every day, and I know I've written my fair share of these stories.

But each time I write about the subject, I get mail from someone who is fed up with all the focus being on the needs of the working parent, and would like some attention given to the childless worker who sometimes gets the short end of the stick.

I think many of them have a legitimate gripes: they often are expected to work on or around holidays because they don't have a "family,"; they often are left to pick up the slack when co-workers leave early to attend a child's event or to care for a sick child; their desires to have a flexible schedule are often put on the shelf in favor of a working parent's request; they often feel socially isolated if they work with a majority of workers with children; and they feel they are rarely rewarded or recognized for their work in helping fill the gaps.

Generation X originally brought up these gripes years ago when they were the new kids on the block. Some of them are still childless, and they still complain. Now, GenY has joined the refrain, as they face a workplace that sometimes has evolved very little in terms of flexibility (which is why many of them would rather strike out on their own.)

Part of the problem is that employers have allowed bosses to use personal judgement -- instead of business sense -- to respond to the personal needs of workers.

For example, a boss may decide that a worker attending a child's school play is a more important request than the one from the worker who wants to use the daylight hours to train for a bike race. But the result is that the childless worker becomes angry and frustrated with the boss, possibly leading to that valuable worker leaving the business.

As more younger workers enter the workforce armed with important skills, the employer who ignores the childless worker's needs does so at its own risk.

The key, experts say, is give all workers as much control as possible over their work lives, determining how and when the work can best be completed. The result, they claim, is a greater enthusiasm by all workers to do the best job possible.



Anonymous said...

Great post. I have personally witnessed the ire of childless workers who feel like parents get special treatment that is never to be reciprocated. I have to admit that they have a point. It's somehow acceptable to leave work early for your child's play, but it's frowned upon if you want to go see a play yourself, for pure recreation.

It's not like one can say that everyone builds a family eventually and will get what's coming to them then, because that's not true. Childless workers need work/life balance too, and that must be taken into account NOW.

Alexandra Levit
Author, They Don't Teach Corporate in College
Blogger, Water Cooler Wisdom

Anita said...

I think another problem is that working parents will say they make up their work while at home or on weekends. But is that really a reciprocal agreement when a childless person must put in the time in an office... answering phones, dealing with customers, answering a boss's questions, etc., while the working parent is away at a child's event? It's something that needs to be discussed, without childless workers feeling like they will be attacked for their views.