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No Children? No Work-Life Balance?

May 06 2019 - by Carole Houlihan, CLP's Gender and Diversity Specialist

Depending on the day of the week, we see media stories about how technology gives us flexibility and frees us to work from home or from anywhere, anytime! Yet it also means that employers can make demands and expect employees to respond to requests 24/7.

Similarly, we hear about how, partly due to technology, workplaces are becoming more sensitive to issues of work-life balance.  Work-life balance benefits offered in the workplace are intended to provide flexibility to staff members’ professional and personal life. These include benefits such as paid paternity and maternity leaves, flexible working arrangements, and, family-friendly environments to support a work-family culture.

With an aging labour force, more women in the workplace, and more young couples sharing family and childcare responsibilities, companies, organizations and governments are actively promoting policies to support work-life balance in order to attract and keep good employees.

But recent research in Canada asked the question: Do employees without children get the short end of the stick when it comes to work-life balance policies? 

A study from York University's School of Human Resources Management found that employees without children feel less welcome to attend to non-work aspects of their lives than colleagues who are parents.

They are less likely to ask for things like flex-time or telecommuting privileges, and do not feel they can leave promptly at the end of the day, according to researcher Galina Boiarintseva.  She found that human resource policies designed to promote work-life balance are usually aimed at making it easier for parents to fulfil their child-rearing obligations.  She suggests that the same opportunities are not given to nonparents.

Employees without children also report feeling pressure to work later, take on weekend shifts and do extra. Yet employees also have other responsibilities and pressures - other sick or elderly relatives to care for, or other personal issues that also require time off and workplace flexibility.

Are you an employee with no children? Do you feel you are treated fairly with regard to these issues?

How does your workplace address these issues? 

 

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Gail Henry - Reply

In my organization, the provisions for various types of leave are the same for everyone. Flexible working hours are allowed but working from home temporarily is only permitted on a case by case basis. There are no on site childcare facilities other than lactation rooms. My observation has been that when someone goes on extended leave e.g. maternity or sick leave, unless team members picking up the slack are given a salary increment and informed as to exactly when the employee will be back, it creates resentment. That needs to be addressed as it may not be easy to hire and train a temporary worker or second an employee from another department to perform the duties of the absent staff member.

Carole Houlihan - Reply

Thanks for your comment, Gail. 

I have heard similar comments from others. While co-workers want to support their colleagues who face challenges at home and with family, resentment can develop if management is not seen to be addressing these issues in an effective manner. 

In situtations where staff are already overworked and resources are limited, any change in workplace staffing can push co-workers  beyond their limit. This is a challenge for leaders in the public sector.