Benefits and Compensation, HR Management & Compliance

Equality in Expectations of Personal Life Obligations

Workplace flexibility has become increasingly important in recent years. That trend has accelerated in the wake of a pandemic involving illness and a forced shift to remote work for many organizations. More than ever, employees expect some flexibility to leave work early or take a long lunch to run an errand, work remotely, and take more or extended paid time off (PTO). As long as they are able to get their work done, they feel they should be treated like adults and given that flexibility.

Demand for Greater Flexibility

To a large extent, companies have answered this call, especially when it comes to family life. Managers are often willing to make accommodations for parents who need to leave work to take a child to the doctor or miss a meeting to drop off or pick up a child at school or attend a soccer game or choir recital.

But while parenting duties are certainly an important form of nonwork responsibility, they aren’t the only form, and some wonder whether employers treat nonparents differently than parents when it comes to providing flexibility.

Flexibility is Not Just for Parents

Many nonparents experience explicit disparate treatment, such as a manager’s allowing a parent to leave work early to attend a child’s school event but not allowing a nonparent to leave early to go fishing with a close friend or participate in a volunteer event. Other times, nonparents assume they should be the ones to work over a holiday or stay late to wrap up a project.

“The smaller things can often take a toll on non-parents, who are often treated as if their hobbies, relationships and responsibilities are trivial, compared to being a parent,” writes Christine Ro in an article for BBC Worklife. “This can lead many employees without kids to hide or feel ashamed about their lives outside work—despite many women without children, especially, using their time outside work to volunteer or care for others. Even simple comments presuming that most people have families can sting, making non-parents feel invisible.”

Increasingly, many people, both married and single, are choosing to forego having children for a variety of reasons. But just because employees don’t have children does not mean they don’t have nonwork obligations that are important to them. At the end of the day, employers and managers should avoid making value judgments about an employee’s nonwork obligations. It’s not for the employer to decide whether a child’s sporting event is more important than a nonparent’s volunteer obligations. Within reason, managers should be encouraged to provide equal flexibility to all staff without factoring in their family situation.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.