Single workers need work/life balance,
By Susan Bowles, Special
In a recent email to Unmarried America, an equal rights
association in Glendale, CA, a 22-year-old restaurant manager minced
"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!"
Welcome to the dark
side of the work/life equation. While work/life programs began
taking off in the 1980s as a way to help parents balance the demands
of families and jobs, many never grew beyond their family-friendly
roots. And that's a problem, say experts in the field - especially
when you consider Department of Labor statistics that show almost 44
percent of the American workforce in June was single.
struggling to try to balance things," says Thomas F. Coleman,
executive director of Unmarried America. "The question is whether
these work/life programs really include everyone or are just a code
word for family-friendly."
What fits Coleman's
"code word" category?
policies that favor workers with spouses or children, he says.
Domestic partner benefits that don't extend to siblings. Company
policies and practices that rely on single people to ante up for
holiday and overtime shifts. And an overall assumption that working
spouses and parents have more responsibilities than their single
"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."
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."
Smart companies are
addressing this oversight. Otherwise, they may find themselves
losing employees, fighting to find new ones and struggling to keep
"If you want to get
the best and the brightest, you better be having this conversation,"
That's good news.
But even better is knowing that workers themselves can help change
how work and life are viewed in their companies. If you're single
and wish your employer was a bit more tuned in to your needs, here
are some things you can do:
First, feel free to increase the balance in your life, Michaels
says. "We have a strange thing in this country where it's not okay
to have a personal life." That's not true. So rather than feeling
guilty about wanting more balance, look at the specific goal
you're trying to achieve. Is it to take a yoga or dance class on
Fridays? A continuing education class on Wednesday mornings? "We
prefer to view work as a given, around which everything else just
crams and jams," Yost says. Instead, flip that equation by
figuring out how you want to fit work in with the rest of your
Understand the downside.
If you're looking for increased flexibility at work, make sure
your career expectations are realistic, Yost says. You may not
advance at the same pace you would if you put in 24/7 at the
office. Make sure you're okay with the tradeoffs.
After you know specifically what you want, ask for it. But be
strategic, Yost says. Articulate your goal for balance, your job
responsibilities and how you'll make sure your work gets done. And
don't worry about telling your boss exactly what you'll be doing.
He or she doesn't need to know you're heading to a Pilates class.
"All managers really want at the end of the day? They don't want
to do extra work."
Do your homework.
If you feel like your boss takes advantage of your singleness,
examine your company's workplace policies. Is "marital status"
listed in its nondiscrimination policy? (It should be, Coleman
says.) Are employee assistance programs equitable to both single
and married employees? Do a thorough analysis, paying close
attention to "hidden areas of unfairness," Coleman says. Then
approach your employer with your findings.
Many companies have support groups for gay and lesbian employees
or for employees who are parents. Ask if you can form a support
group for single workers. "Why not? It's an option that should be
considered," Coleman says. "You have to ask. But you have to ask
intelligently, meaning you have to do your homework first."
Identify allies in your company who can help you effect change,
Michaels says. "You need to lobby. You need to find people in
power positions who can really help move this forward." If,
however, you feel like you're bumping your head against the
proverbial wall, look to enlist the support of a national
organization such as Unmarried America (www.UnmarriedAmerica.org).
Members of that nonprofit who feel they're being unfairly treated
should contact the group, Coleman says. Unmarried America will
then contact the company and bring any questionable policies to
If you're looking
for a job, you can take some steps during the search process to
ensure a workplace that values singles' lives. Look for benefits
like a health club or wellness facility, Michaels says. Ask if the
company offers tuition reimbursement programs, volunteer
opportunities, sabbaticals or the chance to work from home.
But don't stop
there. Once you identify companies that provide such
across-the-board benefits, talk to single employees so you can
better gauge the business culture. Ask about managers' attitudes
toward work. Ask how many singles have taken all their vacation
Above all, don't
feel guilty. Single workers should expect and demand the same
benefits as working parents, Michaels says, adding: "Everyone should
have a life outside of work."
Susan Bowles is a business journalist based in Washington,
DC. She has 20 years journalism experience and has written for USA
Today, USATODAY.com, the Washington Post, the St. Petersburg Times
and The Palm Beach Post.