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Despite the growing trend in flexible working, many singles say they’re still treated “unfairly” compared to colleagues with families.

Janice had spent her lunch hour organising a surprise birthday party for a close friend. Due to heavy traffic, she returned to the office fifteen minutes late.

“My boss questioned me and scolded me,” she says. “But some time ago, a colleague took several hours off in the afternoon to take her child to the doctor. It wasn’t an issue to the boss; in fact he was perfectly sympathetic to her.”

Singles versus Parents

Colleagues with children were also prioritised when it came to taking their preferred vacation dates, Janice says, while fellow single or childless workers struggled to get time off to care for elderly relatives.

Studies back her claims: a survey of 25,000 workers in the UK found that two thirds of childless women aged 28 to 40 felt that they were expected to put in longer hours, and go on business trips more often.

They say the assumption is that singles have no meaningful life, lots of free time and can therefore take on extra work.

But Janice, now a consultant, says that life as a single is more expensive. “You have to run all errands yourself, and not have anyone to fall back on financially and emotionally during hard times.

Corporate Workhorses

In doing research for his book Going Solo, Eric Klinenberg, a professor of sociology at New York University interviewed hundreds of single people in Europe and America, and discovered that singles have become the grunts of the corporate world.

Klinenberg says many workers complain that their managers expect them to be available to work after-hours and weekends, especially if they don’t have family obligations.

“In a few cases, I’ve even met women who said that they had been denied raises that they deserved, simply because their managers believed that they didn’t need the extra money as much as colleagues with children,” he adds.


Bella DePaulo, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, coined the term “singlism” in reference to the stigmatisation, stereotyping and discrimination against singles that is commonplace in the workplace and society at large.

She argues that single employees, far from being lonely and isolated, are actually more likely to be actively engaged in their communities and have strong relationships with friends who “feel like family”, even if they are not a family in the traditional sense.

Advice and Suggestions

So, what should single workers do if they feel they’re being treated unfairly, yet don’t want to jeopardise their careers and reputations?

“Don’t bitch and moan about your particular circumstances,” is the first advice dished out by UK-based business mentor David Carter.

He argues that “the answer is in the crowd.” Single colleagues should club together to push for changes to company practices that might benefit the organisation more widely.

That may be easier to do than ever, as unprecedented numbers of young people are starting families later in life, if at all: approximately a quarter of Americans will have never married by the time they turn 50, while the most common type of household in the European Union in 2016 consisted of one person.

A technique favoured by Carter is a kind of sharing economy points system, tracked digitally or using physical items like buttons. Employees have the chance to swap hours or tasks, and help others out in return — but making sure no one goes more than five points into credit or debit, though this system may be tougher to implement in larger corporations.


“It’s not about how you’re going to spend your time off (whether it’s watching TV, Christmas shopping, going on a date or taking your children to a school play); it’s just about being able to work your 40 hours a week when it suits you,” he says.

Carter allows his own employees to work “wherever or whenever they want — as long as they get the job done.” He warns that companies that fail to improve fairness and flexibility in the workplace will ultimately lose out on talent.

Facebook’s CEO Sheryl Sandberg makes a similar assessment. In her book Lean In, she tells the story of a single woman who felt that going to a party is just as legitimate a reason to leave work at five as attending kids’ soccer game, since she needed to meet new people in order to eventually marry and start a family of her own.

“Make sure single employees know that they, too, have every right to a full life,” Sandberg advises managers.

Family Priorities

Other business leaders argue that offering equal latitude to all employees in terms of work schedules is easier said than done.

“There’s a difference in perspective between people who are parents and those who aren’t. If you aren’t a parent, you really can’t see how that affects your life and priorities,” says Jonas Almeling, a Swedish entrepreneur and father of one.

Almeling asserts that he would definitely not have the same attitude for someone saying ‘oh sorry I am off to the disco’ compared to someone doing a pick-up from kindergarten.

But he adds that a valuable employee is someone who has a high quality of life as a whole, no matter what choices they’ve made. So, there might be a need for a wider outlook.

“You shouldn’t feel guilty for seeking a work-life balance, regardless of whether you’ve got kids or no kids,” says Janice.

Her advice for anyone is to thoroughly research a business you’re interviewed by, to find out its culture and policies in advance.

“Find a company that doesn’t ask – or care – why you need time off. You can still get that promotion, not by working harder or longer, but by working smarter.”

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1. According to the article, singles and parents are treated equally in the workplace. True or false? What was the example given?

2. What other ways are singles “discriminated against” at work?

3. Do employers (managers) view childless workers and those with children differently? How do they perceive singles? Is this (always) true?

4. A person’s marital status can affect his or her salary and work schedule. Is this right or wrong? Why does it affect their salary and work schedule?

5. Do all singles have a “lower” social life and less fulfilling lifestyles than those with families?

6. Should singles moan and complain to their bosses? What should they do?

7. Everyone (except bosses) sympathizes with childless employees. Is this correct or incorrect? Does everyone feel completely pro-parents or pro-singles?

8. “Companies that fail to improve fairness and flexibility in the workplace will ultimately lose out on talent.” What does this mean? Can businesses continue with the current trend regarding the way it treats different employees?


A. At your company or organization what percent of employees are parents and what percent are childless? How many are single and how many are married?

B. What is the work schedule like in your company? Is it 8 to 5, Monday to Friday? Is there (much) overtime, after-hour and weekend work?

C. Do you feel there is a bias against singles employees or those without children? Can you give examples? What about between younger and older workers, male and female workers?

D. Is the system fair or unfair? Should there be changes? What is the solution to this?

E. What might happen in the future?


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