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Employers can overlook
single workers' needs

by Anita Bruzzese


We've all walked in the door from work, dead tired. We're unable to move, let alone think about fixing something to eat for the children or head back out the door for soccer practice.

This is a common lament for working parents, and even those who have no children, but are living with a significant other, find they have little energy for their personal life after a grueling day on the job.

But overwork and exhaustion are felt by single people, as well. It's just that no one really wants to hear about it.

Dr. Mary Young, a work/family expert in Boston, has studied the conflicts felt by single people when trying to balance their personal life and work, and finds that many of those in focus groups were members of Generation X -those born between 1963 and 1977.

"They would tell me that they come home and they're too tired to even call back friends who have left messages for them. They just plop on the couch, and when Friday night comes around, it's impossible to even think of going out. They just collapse."

One of the reasons that it is important to study Generation X needs -and those of single baby boomers -is because they feel left out when employers look at offering benefits for working parents, she says.

"Just like working parents, they want to be able to leave work on time and not feel guilty," Young said. "They want support for their needs outside of work, and want to feel that they have legitimate personal needs, just like those with families. They don't want to be trivialized or dismissed, and not seen as noble or commendable as working parents."

She said that Generation X and others single workers believe it is unfair that they often are not seen as "caring" about their jobs, and would like companies and co-workers to recognize that stress from work also negatively impacts their lives.

"I think we need to realize that single people have a much greater need for a healthy social network," Young said. "No one needs to be totally defined by the workplace."

She said that companies didn't care "one whit" about balancing work and family issues until women significantly began to fill the job ranks and those issues directly impacted a company's ability to recruit and retain top talent.

"Generation X (has) great leverage with many companies because of their highly desirable skills, so we may see things begin to change regarding the way work/life benefits are structured," she said. 

Specifically, Generation X has already begun changing the recruitment process by asking about such benefits. Young points out that Intel found at least half of students interviewed asked about work/life balance, compared with only 20 percent making such queries five years ago. 

She added that many of those in her focus groups saw this period of great stress and hard work as only temporary. "They wanted to get married and have kids, and they knew they couldn't maintain this pace, and didn't want to."

Young said the key is offering enough flexibility to workers so that individual needs can be met without any judgment from others.

Some of those ideas include:

* Need-blind. This means that you offer workers a set amount of time off, to use as they want. This time does not have to be used strictly for family responsibilities, which makes it more equitable for singles who want to just hang out with friends.

* Time banks. Under this plan, an employee can "buy" or "sell" time off. Employees can buy 40, 80 or 120 hours a year from the employer, or simply sell back to the company any unused time off at the end of the year.

* Sabbaticals. This gives all employees the chance to recharge, usually unpaid.

* Flexible work arrangements. Many Generation Xers have expressed the desire to work where they want, when they want, feeling they can easily use a computer from home to complete their assigned tasks.

* Life cycle benefits. Often referred to as cafeteria benefits, it allows employees to choose what benefits they want, at what time in their life. This allows employers to contain costs while meeting individual needs.

* On-site services. It is becoming more common for companies to offer such services as dry-cleaning, take-home meals, health clubs or even car maintenance so that workers can devote more personal time to enjoyable pursuits.

This article appeared The Des Moines Register, February 7, 1999.


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