Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

December 5, 2005  



Many singles not satisfied with work-life balance

by Thomas F. Coleman

Unmarried workers are much more likely to be dissatisfied with the balance between their work life and personal life than are married workers.  That is one of the key findings of a recent survey conducted by Hudson, a global human resource consulting corporation.

The survey reported that 34 percent of unmarried workers were unhappy with their work-life balance as compared with 18 percent of married workers.  That's a big discrepancy, especially considering the fact that 43 percent of the nation's workforce is unmarried.

After reading a news story about the Hudson report, I wrote to Alicia Barker, vice-president of human resources, Hudson North America, asking her opinion as to why unmarried workers were nearly twice as likely to be dissatisfied with their work life than married workers.  I did not receive a reply.

So I dug into my own archives and found an e-mail from a 22-year-old restaurant manager who had no problem explaining why she was upset:

"It's the single people working long hours on the holidays, the worst hours on the weekends, and we are always the first ones called up to work overtime or relocate. This absolutely outrages me!"

Karen Wormwald is a freelance writer who has spent a good deal of her life as a single person working in an office setting.  Earlier this year she wrote an article for a human resources magazine where she listed a variety of perks for parents:

  • flexible schedules, allowing time to be missed for children's activities or illnesses with no loss of pay
  • no penalty for having the workday disrupted by children's needs
  • parental leave
  • exemption from working overtime, weekends, or holidays
  • priority assignment for shift work
  • working from home to save on childcare expenses
  • on-site childcare or assistance with childcare expenses
  • subsidies or fully paid insurance coverage for dependents.

Wormwald notes that the work doesn't disappear just because employees with families can't do it. That's where the single workers come in, she says, giving the following personal example:

"When I was a single and childless manager, a married female subordinate who supervised 10 employees got pregnant after several years of trying. There was great rejoicing. When she went out on maternity leave, I assumed day-to-day responsibility for her department in addition to my own job. One day during her leave, she brought her infant to the office and brought the department to a standstill for an hour.

"The incident left me silent and fuming. Had I said anything to end the disruption, I knew I would have earned the 'total witch' seal from all the other mothers."

Some human resource consultants worry that too many perks for parents may create resentment by singles those who don't get comparable benefits. 

Susan Bowles, a business journalist in Washington D.C. wrote a story for Gannett Newspapers in which she cited two experts who shared this concern.

Rest assured it was never anyone's intent to exclude single people from the push for balance, says Cali Williams Yost, president and CEO of Work + Life Inc. in Madison, NJ, and author of Work + Life: Finding The Fit That's Right For You.

But because working parents presented a real and pressing need when many programs were formed, "they just got more attention."

"We don't want resentment for people and policies," says Bonnie Michaels, president of Managing Work & Family Inc. in Evanston, IL, and author of A Journey Of Work/Life Renewal. "And single people will resent it if it's all for parents."

Michaels has advice for unmarried employees looking for a company that promotes work-life balance for everyone, singles included:

  • Look to see if a prospective employer has benefits which don't depend on whether an employee is married or has children at home, like a health club or wellness facility;
  • Ask if the company offers tuition reimbursement programs, volunteer opportunities, sabbaticals or the opportunity to work from home.
  • But dig even deeper. If you identify a company that provides such across-the-board benefits, make sure to talk to single employees who work there so you can better gauge the business culture.
  • Ask about their supervisors' attitudes toward work. Ask how many single employees have taken all their vacation time.

The results of the Hudson survey on work-life balance should not really surprise anyone, considering the way in which singles are being devalued and shortchanged in many American workplaces.

Single employees should expect and demand the same benefits as working parents.  Single people have a life outside of work which, to them, is just as valuable as the personal lives of married workers or those raising children. 

Employers who truly respect diversity in the workplace should reexamine personnel policies to ensure that all workers are treated equitably.  With a little creativity and determination, they should be able to find the right balance between "family friendly" and "singles friendly" human resources practices.

Unmarried workers should not be expected to express satisfaction with their own work-life balance if the workplace policies and corporate benefits programs are themselves out of balance.

Unmarried America 2005

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.