“One reason you may not get a raise or paid time off is that you do not have a spouse or children to take care of.” This statement was made jokingly by a manager at a team meeting. The subject of the joke was an operations executive in a big IT firm. Though made in good humour, the statement did set the executive thinking. After all, he was single and did not plan to get married anytime soon. Doubts arose in his mind. Did his workplace discriminate against single employees?
An American study conducted in 2019, states that married employees enjoy more flexibility at the workplace as compared to bachelors or those without a spouse or children. In fact, the study revealed that 70 per cent of companies only offered family paid leaves to employees with children. About 41 per cent of companies only offered flexible work schedules to married people. While 56 per cent of the companies surveyed offered a four-day work week to employees with children, only 36 per cent offered the facility to employees with no children.
“Equal flexibility can be given to all people, irrespective of whether they are married or single, without compromising on the output”
Sudhansu Misra, CHRO, Tata Coffee
This means, workplaces do subscribe to the belief that single employees with no responsibilities — children or partners to take care of — have no life beyond office. Therefore, they can be expected to cover for the married employees with kids. In fact, in a blog post, one American channel producer shared that when she was single and had no children, she was asked to come to the office every weekend or on public holidays to cover up for the married colleagues who got time off to spend with their spouses or tend to their children at home. Bella De Paulo, a social activist and author, coined the term ‘singlism’ for this discrimination.
Talking with HRKatha, Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries, does agree that married employees need more support in terms of flexibility, because after marriage their responsibilities towards their partners, children and even in-laws become more important.
Mukherjee also states that the cultural nuances in our country include several ceremonies and customs that married people are expected to attend or participate in. “For instance, in West Bengal, the Jamai Shashthi is a festival that celebrates the bond between sons-in law and mothers-in law,” says Mukherjee.
In addition to celebrating their wedding anniversaries, married employees with kids are required to attend parent-teacher meetings, annual days and other events at their children’s schools. However, Mukherjee clarifies that just because married employees have more commitments and responsibilities, it does not in any way mean that bachelors do not deserve flexibility in their lives.
“Bachelors and married people both need flexibility and should be given the same. However, married employees need more support in terms of flexibility than bachelors”
Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries
There are cases where bachelors, often being single children, are the only ones who can take care of their aged or elderly parents. “Bachelors and married people both need flexibility and should be given the same. However, married employees need more support in terms of flexibility than bachelors,” clarifies Mukherjee.
Sudhansu Misra, CHRO, Tata Coffee, disagrees. According to him, circumstances vary from individual to individual. “A newly-employed bachelor, who has just passed out from college and moved to a different city for his job, may need more support in terms of flexibility to settle down in the new job,” points out Misra.
A disparity in offering flexibility will only create differences and may not be good for the workplace believes Misra. “Equal flexibility can be given to all people, irrespective of whether they are married or single, without compromising on the output,” says Misra.
“I have never seen such discrimination happening at workplaces. If it does exist, it would be unfair, as it creates inequality amongst people”
Nishant Madhukar, former HR head, FnP
Nishant Madhukar, former HR head, FnP, states, “I have never seen such discrimination happening at workplaces. If it does exist, it would be unfair, as it creates inequality amongst people.”
While many may disagree, at some level, most managers believe that single employees do not have any responsibility towards anyone outside of work. In reality, however, that may not be the case. Singles may have aspirations and dreams to fulfil, hobbies to pursue or may just want to spend more time with their parents and friends. After all, ‘me time’ is something everybody deserves.