With the holidays approaching, tension is mounting in some workplaces over which employees get time off — and which remain in the office while their co-workers enjoy turkey leftovers and long weekends out of town.
On one side: parents; on the other: childless people. Productivity demands have caused increased stress for all workers who feel they’re doing their job and two others; yet it’s often the child-free employees who pick up the slack because of a co-worker's flexible schedule, holiday plans or maternity leave. In this time of tight budgets and lean staffing the left-behinds are saying “enough.” They flock to online forums like The Childfree Life and STFU Parents to vent about being taken for granted because they have no children.
"You can work all the holidays, you can take the weekend trips, you can work late when your colleagues have to run home for the soccer practice or the recital," said Laura S. Scott, Roanoke, Va.-based author of "Two Is Enough" and founder of The Childless by Choice Project. "There's an assumption that the childfree don't have lives outside of work. There needs to be an acknowledgement that all employees, whether they have children or not, need work-life balance."
"Where the person with a kid might need to take off the day after
Thanksgiving, the person without children may have a friend who is ill. None of
us are without personal responsibilities."
The work-life field was born in response to the flood of women entering the workforce in the 1970s, and in recent decades became mainstream as more employers recognized the value of flexible work benefits in attracting top talent. This summer, the Obama administration has spotlighted workplace flexibility through public statements, the first-ever White House summit on the topic and a pilot program giving federal workers greater flexibility. But as employers compete to appear family friendly to both prospective employees and the government, they risk alienating child-free candidates who worry they will become second class citizens in the workplace. "The best employers provide flexibility equitably," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. "Where the person with a kid might need to take off the day after Thanksgiving, the person without children may have a friend who is ill. None of us are without personal responsibilities."
With young people delaying marriage and child-rearing, and some never having children, there are more child-free people in the workplace. Nearly one-in-five American women will never bear children, double the percent in the 1970s, according to the Pew Research Center. But everyone has parents. In the last year, 42 percent of workers the Families and Work Institute surveyed have had elder care responsibilities, and 49 percent expect to in the future, Galinsky said.
Soccer Mom Syndrome
Diana Palmer, a receptionist in New York City, may not have children performing in school plays, but many of her friends are in the theater, with early curtain times, and she does have doctor's appointments for herself and her cat. "There are times when I need to leave early, but as a single person they tend to look at you as if you killed a dog," said Palmer, 64. "They shouldn't be putting the pressure on the single person to automatically be there because so-and-so has to leave early to go to soccer."
Richard Levy, a research director in Washington D.C., says some parents feel it’s OK to leave early to pick up a child from school, but not to meet non-parental commitments, such as a book club or yoga class. "There may be some under-the-surface resentments," Levy said. "Don't assume that just because so-and-so doesn't have a partner and kids, they don't have a very full life."
"If a parent wants to leave early for a child's recital or practice, then they
need to put in the hours somewhere else."
Managers should keep tabs on the hours worked by all employees, so that everyone is shouldering a fair load regardless of their family status, Scott advised. "If a parent wants to leave early for a child's recital or practice, then they need to put in the hours somewhere else," she said.