A case for childless workers in a world of 'family friendly' policies

Offering benefits and perks that are as inclusive of employees with children as those without will make 'equitable wellness' a buzzword here to stay, writes the 4A's EVP, talent engagement and inclusion.

Mindfulness. Workplace health. Work-life balance. Inclusion. Purpose. Wellness.

When it comes to delivering policies that drive better employee engagement and retention, there’s always a new buzzword. While providing development opportunities may seem like enough to keep employees engaged, many businesses still struggle to stand out in a highly competitive and shrinking talent market. And that may be because they’re not taking into account the reality of today’s workforce.

Childless employees make up 45 percent of the U.S. workforce, a number expected to increase as the fertility rate amongst millennials decreases. Yet it’s commonplace for many workplaces to have family-friendly policies that ignore this huge subset of workers.

Now, let me be clear: even though I am one of these childless employees, my intent here is not to take issue with those employees with children, who deserve all (if not more) of the benefits they receive. But survey after survey shows that childless employees are becoming increasingly resentful of these family-friendly policies, which allow work flexibility for employees with children but ignore their own need for flexibility.

These family-friendly policies, while usually well-intentioned, often allow employees with children to "sign off" at the end of the workday, leaving the childless employees to pick up the slack. That makes employees without children feel less welcome to attend out-of-office aspects of their lives than colleagues who are parents, according to a recent study from New York University’s School of Human Resources. Children bring parents joy and a reprieve from work—but why should work-life policies deprive childless employees of their own personal reprieves?

To help solve for this imbalance, companies should consider relabeling "Family Friendly" policies as a more generalized "Work-Life Balance" policies in order to include all employees.

To start, businesses should take an acute interest in their employees’ passions and outside activities, to better understand out-of-office obligations. Managers should be trained on listening to their single and/or childless employees, without judgement, on their unique interests and hobbies.

If you know an employee is a skilled painter, and his/her weekly art class is an outlet for creative expression, it will be easier to encourage a set "shut down" time so she/he can attend that class. Getting to know employees on a more personal level, beyond in-office activity also creates a more authentic and "human" relationship between manager and employee.

And perks and benefits should be inclusive of all employees. Wellness initiatives such as discounted gym or yoga memberships are great for those both with and without children. For those whose pets are their children, offering pet care or other benefits for pets could be key in employee happiness.

We work in a world where we tell our clients that "1:1 marketing" is king, and we need to practice that in our own businesses as well. Offering benefits and perks that are as inclusive of employees with children as those without, and treating all non-work commitments with equal weight, will make "equitable wellness" a buzzword that will actually stick around.

Simon Fenwick, EVP, Talent Engagement and Inclusion, 4A’s

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