Employers offering family friendly policies – but are slower to support single staff

Author: Susan Tam | Date: 07 Jun 2017

Researchers recommend equal benefits for unmarried workers and professionals without caregiving duties

Experts say workplaces have a long way to go in developing policies that provide support for single professionals, despite their increasing numbers.

Kenneth Matos, vice president of culture consultancy Lifemeetswork.com, said single professionals were not offered need the same kind of support as employees with families because their lives were not believed to be as complicated.

“The work-life field has focussed on supporting parents and others with care-giving duties, often to enhance the participation and advancement of women in the workforce,” he said.

University of California project scientist Bella DePaulo believes the rise of single people is an international phenomenon.

For example in the United States, in 1970 only 28 per cent of adults aged 18 and older were not married. Now, nearly 45 per cent of adults are unmarried, said DePaulo.

“Single people were expected to stay late, cover for their married or unmarried colleagues with children and work on holidays,” she said.

Similar trends are observed in Singapore, as shown by its latest population census, which found more residents are choosing to remain single.

According to that survey, more than 70 per cent of men and women were recorded as single, compared to 50 per cent in 2000.

Although not explicitly stating single-friendly policies, Hong Kong's Equal Opportunities Commission explained that employers should ensure equal opportunities and hire people based on their abilities, aptitude and knowledge.

“They should not turn down candidates just because of their gender, disability, family status, race, age or sexual orientation,” it said.

The commission also provides guidelines for legal assistance for cases of discrimination against workers regardless of their family status.

DePaulo said trends were beginning to change in workplaces where single-friendly policies were encouraged, but change was not happening fast enough. She said one of the things that needed to evolve was the way workplaces perceive people and their value.

Matos said initial observations suggest support for single workers was designed to make work more fun, rather than to reduce the overall hours they worked.

“Now there is greater attention paid to allowing people to do things that help make work more meaningful, such as sabbaticals for junior employees to do charity work in another country or to sponsor remote workers to travel the world,” he said.

“Businesses need policies that don’t automatically prefer caregivers over single people but instead create reciprocal communities at work where everyone respects and supports one another to do what they each find fulfilling,” he said.

DePaulo used an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) survey to illustrate the burden on single people. It covered income tax rates for 35 member countries for single people with no children and one-earner couples with two children.

“In most nations, including the US, single people are taxed more than couples. Financial disadvantages in taxation, social security, health spending and housing expenses add up,” she said.

She said people should be rewarded for the quality of their work, and it would be better if all workers were offered the same opportunities in terms of benefits and salaries.