So you are single in the workplace and you are trying to establish whether
being single is workplace purgatory or at the other extreme, a powerful bargaining position. The simple and honest answer is that it is both.
But first, let’s talk about the overpowering evidence of single discrimination. In her blog, “Nine to Thrive”, Michelle Goodman interviews psychologist and author Bella De Paulo who lists the “top issues plaguing singles in the workplace”:
- Married workers can include their spouses and children in their health care packages, while singles experience a negative skew in benefits by only having the right for personal coverage.
- De Paulo actually found a number of studies that revealed the shocking news that married male employees were paid more than their single counterparts. One case study found a salary discrepancy of almost one-third.
- Married employees experience favoritism when holiday and vacation time is being allocated.
- Singles are more likely to be imposed upon to work overtime or to take on time-consuming and travel assignments.
- There is a perception that the “life” of a married person has greater value than the life and time of a single person.
This is not a new issue as Gillian Flynn explains in her 1996 article written for Personnel Journal. Citing a survey of single and childless workers, Flynn noted that 80 percent or more of single/childless employees (1) felt they were excluded from work/family programs, (2) believed they were not receiving as much attention from management as employees with spouses and children, and (3) felt they were carrying more work burden than their married counterparts. That is, they were contributing more, but receiving less benefit.
Clearly, over the years, management has become more family friendly. This accommodation has been made at the request of employees with families — a concession designed to retain and attract quality employees in an increasingly competitive work environment. There was a time when employees would be timid and apprehensive in job interviews hoping and wishing with fingers crossed that they had secured employment. However, employers now prepare a package for prospective employees, knowing they will also be on the firing line during interviews. The organization nows shares some of this timidity and apprehensiveness hoping they will not face rejection from a high quality prospect
Single and married employee represent different values to employers. In the eyes of employers, the married employee is seen as a stable resource that depends security to meet family requirements. Employers feel that a family is an anchor of sorts that will requires spouses and fathers to insist on a stable work environment. The family employee will leave promptly at 5 but can be counted on to deliver a quality product during normal working hours. The family employee will likely stay in one organization longer, since the interview process is a stress-or and results in some family instability. The downside of the family employee? The more present they are in their family responsibilities, the less they can be counted upon to deliver on urgent needs and perform unlimited overtime. Finally, the married/family employee is the morn — that is, the family employee is more likely to have more in common with other employees; and in simple terms majority rules — the majority will drive new human resource polices and programs.
While the family employee is an ocean liner, the single employee, in the eyes of managers, is a PT boat — having the flexibility to change directions quickly. The single employee will stay later, stay longer and take on more urgent work. It is hard for managers to think of singles as being loyal, because there is nothing preventing them from leaving tomorrow and causing the organization another costly staffing effort.
The fact of the matter is that this thinking is faulty and discriminatory. Many married employees think career first and many single employees have time consuming interests away from work. Many married employees consider overtime a necessary part of advancement, while many single employees would prefer to avoid the stress of short deadlines that involve excessive overtime. Although this may be true, in some organizations, singles still face this form of discrimination.
Given this reality, singles do have choices:
- Get married: I would not recommend this action, until you are ready; and of course this may never be the right step for you.
- Leave: move on and find that organization that respects your status and your right to say no and not punish you for it. Again, this assumes that you are not particularly motivated or are unable to change your thinking.
- Play the game to advantage: there is a strong possibility that one day you will be married and will prefer to focus on family. (There is also the assurance that about half of married employees will one day be single). But for now, let’s have some fun and make this into a game. And what is the game? Use my singleness to advance as quickly as possible in this organization. First, you will be exposed to work assignments that are above your current level in the organization. This means that in essence you are training for you superior’s job. When these employee s head off on vacation or illness leave or maternity leave, you will be first in line to replace them on an acting basis — this means more experience and greater recognition that you can do the job and more bonding with senior persons. When an opening occurs, you will be first in line to aspire to these higher levels. And then? Continue the process. You will advance at a faster rate because of the experience and the visibility ans the attitude. The good will that you will build with the management of your organization will stay with you for your tenure in that organization.
Changing your thinking is not a simple task. First you must be aware of the possibility and the advantage of change. I have employed this strategy with many employees and it has paid handsome dividends. What do you think?