Single workers can be some of the most hardworking and loyal employees in an organization—and often, they're the most mistreated. In a Quartz essay on the topic, social scientist and Singled Out author Bella DePaulo shares a distressing story from her own work history: A former employer dismissed her salary request by saying that a single person with no children shouldn't be worried about money. DePaulo also cites former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell's assertion that Janet Napolitano was perfect for the job of Secretary of Homeland Security because "she has no family" and "can devote, literally, 19, 20 hours a day to it."
Both anecdotes expose the problem: Single workers are often expected to clock more hours than peers with spouses and/or children, and they're expected to shoulder that burden with less flexibility, at a fraction of the pay. (See also: our previous post about childfree women being the group that works the longest hours.)
"Too often, employers believe that single, childless people are emotionally untethered and financially untroubled, which means they ought to be free to stay late, travel on weekends, show up on holidays, and take whatever vacation slots married employees haven't already claimed," DePaulo writes.
What these employers don't realize is that their workers don't need to have children to have caregiving responsibilities, they don't need to have families to have a sense of community, and they don't need to have either to deserve fair pay.
In fact, on the caregiving count, single people often do more than those with partners. Research has shown that uncoupled daughters and sons are more likely to take care of their aging parents than their coupled siblings, and that single individuals are more likely to provide care for disabled and ill people.
Adding to the stress is the financial burden of singledom. As DePaulo points out, research has shown that single men are paid less than their married colleagues, while single women accrue less wealth by retirement than their married counterparts. Plus, as The Atlantic reported in 2013, unmarried women can pay much more than married women in taxes, healthcare, housing, and other expenses—even as much as $1 million more.
It's statistics like these that make us at Werk urge employers to implement not just flexibility, but needs-agnostic flexibility. Whether an employee is married or unmarried should be immaterial, as should whether an employee is a parent or childfree. Everyone should have access to the flexibility they need to make their lives and their work more compatible. In fact, our research shows 96 percent of employees need some sort of flexibility but only 19 percent can access a range of flexibility options, even though the average employee needs access to 2.5 types of flexibility.
At Werk, we’re passionate about solving this issue so that all employees have the opportunity to thrive. Our people analytics platform is the first and only technology to provide organizations with algorithmic data on flexibility needs and utilization within their employees population overall, as well as across demographic groups like gender, caregiving status, and more. With this data in hand, organizations can see where any flexibility gaps exist, learn the businesses risks associated with those gaps, and most importantly, make informed decisions for how to amend their current flex policies or implement new ones.
In our experience, the data always tells an interesting—and often surprising—story. You just have to be open to hearing it.