Is It Fair to Cater Solely to Employees With Kids?

ByTORY JOHNSON via via logo

Feb. 27, 2006 — -- Some of the best companies in America bend over backward for employees with kids. Those that are not family friendly have a harder time recruiting and retaining the best people.

Companies go to great lengths to tout their extraordinary benefits for working parents -- generous paid maternity and paternity leave, on-site or backup child-care assistance, options for flexible or telecommuting schedules, and even scholarships to send employees' offspring to college. They work consciously to be cited on the popular lists that rank the best places for working parents.

This aggressive emphasis on the family-friendly workplace is great for working parents, great for employers and great for society.

But if you ask another group of employees -- those without kids -- you may get a very different take. There is growing resentment out there from workers without children who are fed up with what they perceive to be too much coddling of their peers with kids -- as if to say: What are we, chopped liver?

They've got a good point. None of us should be dismissive of our childless colleagues. I've seen too many instances where working moms expect accommodations because they've got to get home in time to relieve the baby sitter, or they assume it's acceptable to routinely miss meetings to take their kids to any number of after-school appointments.

I'm conscious of this in my own shop. As the mother of 8-year-old twins, I run a company where all but one of my employees does not have children. While I juggle work and family, they too juggle work and life.

In offices everywhere, there's often an implicit -- and hugely mistaken -- assumption that those without kids can stay late because their time is not as valuable or they have nothing better to do outside the workplace. This attitude shows a disregard for personal time and priorities that may very well be no less important than tending to children.

Companies can't afford to risk alienating their rank and file without kids, and as colleagues and co-workers we can't let this bad blood boil either.

For starters, everyone's time must be valued the same. We must be willing to carry our fair share of the workload and recognize that flexible work arrangements -- those that allow us to work from home on occasion, or to leave early, or step out to attend ballet lessons and soccer games -- are accommodations, not entitlements. Even in a family-friendly company, certain policies or protocols don't work for every position or every department.

The stronger your performance -- whether you're married, single, with kids or without -- the more accommodation you can ask for and may receive. Performance and results are the key drivers.

Beyond that, I'm seeing a growing trend among employers that are starting to announce benefits that appeal to all types of people -- working parents, childless employees, young people and mature workers.

Among the unique perks that you can expect to see a lot more of are those that show all employees that their time is valued. These include the ability to take your dog to work; dry cleaning and laundry services on-site; haircuts, spa treatments and massages on demand; in-house doctors and nurses; access to home maintenance gurus, personal shoppers and concierge services; and more.

Obviously this stuff shouldn't -- and won't -- replace the family-friendly benefits; however, a wide range of benefit offerings is a good thing. Increasingly, employers will want to be fair across the board and not be seen as implementing benefits that only favorite one group, such as parents. We should applaud that.

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