Singles-Friendly Workplace
Work/Life Programs


Single workers need work/life balance, too!

By Susan Bowles, Special to Gannett

In a recent email to Unmarried America, an equal rights association in Glendale, CA, a 22-year-old restaurant manager minced no words.

"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.

"Everybody is 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?

Family leave 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 counterparts.

"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 productivity high.

"If you want to get the best and the brightest, you better be having this conversation," Yost says.

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:

  • Take stock. 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 life.
  • 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.
  • Ask. 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.
  • Form networks. 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."
  • Find help. 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 ( 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 its attention.

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 time.

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,, the Washington Post, the St. Petersburg Times and The Palm Beach Post.




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