Wendy Casper and colleagues wrote an interesting article in 2007 that I recently re-read. They highlight the need for a single-friendly culture in organisations – that is, whereby the culture doesn’t make single employees feel unwelcome or somehow excluded from the work-life balance debate.
The vast bulk of the work-life balance literature has looked at the twin domains of work and “family”, the latter usually defined in traditional and narrow terms. Casper and colleagues point out that single employees are sometimes excluded from consideration when organisations examine the work-life balance needs of their employees.
They hypothesised a model of singles-friendly culture that comprised the following elements:
Firstly, Social Inclusion. This is the extent to which formal and informal social events are as appropriate for single employees as those with families. The second element is Equal Work Opportunities, the extent to which opportunities for advancement, promotion and attractive projects are available to both single employees and those with families.
A further important factor identified by the authors is Equal Access to Benefits. Here, they make reference to the fact that many flexible working schemes are designed for working parents and take no account of the needs of single employees. Referencing work-life balance benefits that only apply to those with children can actually cause single, non-parent employees to view the benefits as unfair.
Respect for Non-Work roles refers to the need for managers to treat the private lives of their employees equally, regardless of familial make-up. In practice, this means stopping the practice of asking single employees to stay behind late at the office because they have ‘no commitments’.
(Incidentally, I caused quite a stir at a conference in Istanbul a few years ago when I used the example of a single employee’s evening language class as an outside commitment that needed to be respected. Many present felt the hypothetical employee in question should work late so their colleagues with children could be home in time to see them to bed!)
Finally, Equal Work Expectations refers to the need for organisations to hold the same expectations regarding work output from their single employees and those with families. The authors cite business travel as an example where single employees often have to do more than their colleague who are parents.
Based on their results, Casper et al identify practical implications for organisations, including:
“…organizations would benefit from ensuring their work-life programs support various nonwork roles. For example, flexible work schedules can be used to manage any work-nonwork need, not just family. Finally, career options seem crucial to turn- over of singles. Therefore, organizations that provide access to mentoring and career development programs may enhance retention of single employees.
Ensuring the provision of a singles-friendly culture is just one aspect of a diversity-sensitive work-life balance culture. To be clear, it doesn’t require taking any flexibility away from those employees with caring responsibilities in the home.
At its simplest, it’s about managers viewing the non-work lives of their employees as equally important and valuable.
Casper, W.J., Weltman, D. & Kwesiga, E. (2007). Beyond family-friendly: The construct and measurement of singles-friendly work culture. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 70: 478-501