Are parental work benefits a double standard for childless employees?

As a working mom, juggling both family and office demands can be challenging and sometimes impossible. For me, the hardest part about being a working parent is not being able to be with my son for all of his key milestones. I struggle with finding a balance and admit that at times I feel overwhelmed and guilty when I can’t be at two places at the same time. So it’s great to see that companies are recognizing the importance of work-life balance for working parents on a mass scale.

This year alone, employers have been extra generous with their parental benefit offerings starting with Netflix’s announcement in August to offer unlimited parental leave for the first year of a child’s life. Adobe and Microsoft followed suit with extended parental leave allowances. And they’re not the only ones supporting this growing trend.

Global consulting firm Accenture has a new parental benefit program that allows U.S. employees to be assigned to local projects (versus global projects) during their first year of returning to work. IBM and Accenture also recently rolled out a program that lets employees ship pumped breast milk home for free when traveling for work.

While I support the parental benefit trend, it got me wondering—how do childless workers feel about it?

An interesting argument is that with the growing trend of parental benefits, childless employees are expected to put the needs of traditional families before their own needs, a research study found.

“Many participants in nontraditional families discussed a double standard in which they did not receive the same emotional support or family leave time as co-workers belonging to traditional families,” according to the study.

For participants in nontraditional families, needs such as caring for an elderly parent or having to regularly babysit for a niece or nephew fell second to the needs of traditional families.

“Family-friendly policies that help parents spend more time with their kids can be unfriendly to those without kids if the childless co-workers are left handling all the weekend shifts or the last-minute business trips that moms and dads couldn’t do,” Trina Jones, a professor at Duke University who researches the effect of family-friendly workplaces on single people without children, told CNBC.

“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.”

While I’m very appreciative of parental work benefits, employers need to be more mindful of childless employees’ needs and expand their family benefit offerings to better support them. This may include offering pet insurance and putting together a family leave policy that supports nontraditional families. For human resources departments, the challenge will be advocating for the diverse needs of all employees and creating a balance in benefits and employee treatment.

Danielle Clark is a human resources manager with more than 10 years of HR and customer service experience in healthcare and retail organizations. Her work with Fortune 500 companies, in addition to a diverse professional and academic background, has trained Clark to be results-driven, people-focused and a thought-provoking leader. Her goal is to educate and inspire professionals to change their way of thinking. She is also an adjunct professor, active community volunteer, wife, mother and passionate lifelong learner.


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