There’s a story below the fold (apocryphal or true, I don’t know) that lives up to the old joke in the title. An unnamed employer in Chicago took an attitude towards employees that left much to be desired. The story has been making the rounds in Childfree circles, and a source of great mirth.
But there is an ounce of truth to it, whether the story is true or not: employers are more accomodating about scheduling and workload to people with children. Just because people do not have children does not mean they have “free time and nothing to do”, or that they “don’t have families”. (NB: Saying this does not diminish, excuse, nor pretend that discrimination by employers doesn’t exist, e.g. the glass ceiling and lack of advancement women are subjected to.)
It’s an arrogant assumption that people without kids have “unlimited free time”. Childfree and childless people have just as much right to free time as those with kids. The pandemic has exacerbated this with the attitude that Childfree and childless people “can’t pass it on if they get sick and should work from the office”, as if they have no contacts outside of work.
In the career complaints category, few things can get people more worked up than the debate over who works harder, has it better or is given more preferential treatment: Workers with kids, or those without.
Parents will tell you that juggling work trips and presentations to the CEO with field trips and an unexpected vomiting episode is hard work, but they can make it work with a little co-worker understanding and a few nontraditional work hours.
But increasingly, some childless workers are countering with a similar lament: They say they deserve a life, too.
Workers without children often have been coveted by employers precisely because the assumption is that they have nothing better to do than to put in long hours, said Trina Jones, a professor at Duke University of Law whose research looks at whether efforts to produce family-friendly workplaces have had an adverse effect on single people without children.
In addition, some childless colleagues worry that they’ll face backlash if they ask for flexibility to pursue something outside of work, such as a part-time schedule to train for a marathon or flexible days off so they can volunteer at a pet shelter.
“What happens is the justifications are not viewed the same, and therefore the single person’s commitment to the workplace is questioned,” she said.
Another problem is that those with children are sometimes excused from work duties, and those without kids expected to take on a heavier share of the workload without extra pay. From Harvard Business Review:
Bias against parents — and especially mothers — has been well documented. We call it the “Maternal Wall,” and we’ve been studying it for years, researching how women who have always been successful at work sometimes find their competence questioned when they take maternity leave or ask for a flexible work schedule. We know now that this bias can affect fathers, too, when they seek even modest accommodations for caregiving. For example, a consultant in one study reported that he was harassed for taking two weeks of paternity leave — but applauded for taking a three-week vacation to an exotic locale. Parents, studies consistently show, face extra scrutiny.
But while the data is clear that parents are more likely to face bias at work, sometimes we also hear about a different problem: that people without children find that their managers are more understanding of working parents’ need for flexibility, while expecting childless or unmarried staff to pick up the slack because they “have no life.” Indeed, research has found that women without children work the longest hours of any group.
[. . .]
If you have a work-from-home policy, it should be reason-neutral. It’s generally not a good idea to have to judge different peoples’ “reasons” for working from home. This leads to uncomfortable territory: does sick baby trump dying grandparent? Instead, when people work from home, just have them say “I’m working from home.” Don’t make people explain why.
If employees are given unequal workloads, scheduling flexibility, time off, and pay is not reflected by the work done, then resentment and friction is inevitable. Childfree people are NOT “anti-child” or “anti-parent”. What we are is people with the same expectations as those with kids.
Leo Ramirez’s passion job is editing Grubby Cat, a cat-care website. But his main job is very different: coordinating inspections for a crane company in Florida, US. It’s there that he sometimes feels frustrated as a 47-year-old employee without children.
“It’s a very family-oriented workplace,” he explains, with frequent social events like employee picnics and parties. These are supposed to be fun occasions, but they can be dispiriting for him. “My co-workers will make me feel guilted – unintentionally I am sure – into staying [at work] those days later than everyone else… while everyone else has that ‘excuse’ to be unable to make it in because they have families and kids to prepare with.”
Ramirez reports that his colleagues say things like, “come on Leo, you know if you had kids or anything we would let you take the extra time you needed”. Yet when Ramirez and his lifelong best friend married earlier this year, his managers wouldn’t let him leave two hours early for last-minute wedding prep on the Friday before the wedding.
Ramirez is sympathetic to parents’ needs: “Me having to get my teeth worked on is never going to be as important as someone’s kid being hurt, I completely understand that.” He’s even happy to work on holidays so that his colleagues with kids can have uninterrupted family time at Christmas and Thanksgiving, for instance. But it can rankle that “I have been asked to pick up the ‘supervisor on call’ responsibility for others on multiple weekends when it should have been their turn to do so”.
“On call for our need until you breed” is not conducive to creating good morale.
The story goes, more than one Childfree employee of a company in Chicago gave notice simultaneously, one more after this went out. Illegal threats, passive aggressive language, threatening to underpay, demanding overtime – I’ll bet he still can’t figure out why they’re leaving.