Your Employees May Not Have Children, But They Still Have Lives!
As a young schoolgirl, I often came home to the pleasant aroma of cookies baking in the oven. It was a simpler time, when moms stayed home and took care of the family, while dads went out and "brought home the bacon." Needless to say, the world has changed.
Approximately One-Third of U.S. Households are Childfree
Not only is it common for both men and women to pursue careers these days, many are waiting until their 30s and 40s to get married, let alone start a family. And some are choosing not to have children at all.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1998, there were 31.6 million non-family households, which is 30.9 percent of all households in the United States. Of those, 83.2 percent of the people lived alone. Though the majority of Americans still go home to face the challenges of parenthood, several million people do not.
Can You Stay to Finish This Project?
As parents rush off to retrieve their children from daycare or miss work to care for a sick child, childfree employees are often left to complete projects, provide phone coverage, and, in general, pick up the slack.
For some reason, many employers assume that single and married people without children have more disposable free time to devote to their jobs and, therefore, seem to have no qualms about asking (or expecting) them to stay late and/or work weekends.
But employers, beware. A silent -- sometimes seething - resentment may be building among your workers, drawing battle lines between childless employees and employees with children.
Companies Cater to Family Life
Many companies today are sensitive to employees' needs when it comes to family life, which is a necessary employee retention strategy. However, childfree employees (singles, married people without children, or those with grown children) often feel they are getting the short end of the stick.
Why? Because parents are not the only people attempting to achieve a work/life balance. Despite the fact that family-friendly workplaces are important in today's society, childfree employees can feel resentment toward their employer and coworkers for what seems like "reverse discrimination."
When an employee calls in because their child is sick, it is generally considered an acceptable absence from work. But childfree employees may face other situations that are not widely recognized as "acceptable absence." For example:
- Baby boomers are now at middle age, so taking care of elderly parents is an important issue. It may be necessary for an employee to drive their parent to the doctor's office or stay home with them in an emergency situation.
- A lot of people consider their pets as family. If a pet becomes ill or needs to be "put down," it can be devastating for its owner, sometimes to the point of needing a day or two to deal with the loss.
While many companies may be supportive in the above scenarios, they are the exception rather than the rule.
How Do Your Benefits Measure Up?
Do you boast about a daycare facility or other childcare benefits? While these are important, a person with no children cannot benefit from them. Childless employees may see childcare subsidies as an extra benefit given the employees with children. They may feel it takes money away from a benefit the childless employee could use. As an alternative, consider other benefits that are of use to all employees.
What about health care? Do your insurance plans fare as well for individuals as they do for families? For instance, does your company offer to pay more of the premium on a family plan than it does for a single or two-person plan? If so, consider this approach: Earmark the same number of dollars in employer contribution to premiums for all employees, regardless of the coverage they choose. Let each employee cover the remaining benefit through payroll deduction. That way, all employees receive the same benefit.
Childfree employees don't necessarily have more time to devote to the office. But someone who is treated equally and fairly will be more likely to volunteer when the extra time is needed. Be fair to both sides. Your employees will be happier and more productive -- and that makes everyone a winner!