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Striking a Balance: Supporting Parents and Child-Free Employees

During the COVID-19 pandemic, working parents faced unique challenges due to school closures, childcare disruptions, and increased caregiving responsibilities. With 52 percent of their employees with children struggling, many organizations implemented measures to respond to the extraordinary circumstances and ensure business continuity. These included stipends for babysitting and tutoring, extra time off, and flexible working hours to care for children and assist with schoolwork. In response, numerous employees without children, including those at Facebook, Salesforce, and Twitter, expressed their concerns, stating that these extra benefits favor parents while burdening child-free workers. They felt it created a perceived imbalance in the workplace and that they were not receiving similar support or recognition for their circumstances.

Now that people are back in the office and childcare facilities are open, you may think it’s no longer an issue, right? But that’s not the case. According to government figures, American women are having fewer children and giving birth later in life. In addition, the number of adults expecting never to have children is rising. This amounts to fewer parents in the workplace in the foreseeable future and a need for employers to examine how they support workers with children without alienating their child-free employees.

Effects on the workplace

A ResumeLab study, where 80 percent of respondents were parents, found that:

  • 87 percent feel that working parents receive more benefits.
  • 86 percent feel that parents receive preferential treatment when applying flexible work policies.
  • 85 percent feel that workers with children get priority when planning paid time off (PTO).
  • 74 percent believe people with children are treated better in the workplace.
  • Because of not having children, child-free workers:
    • Were given a greater workload: 70 percent
    • Had to work overtime: 69 percent
    • Were denied time-off: 63 percent

When perceived, favoritism and unfair treatment can lead to decreased morale among employees who feel mistreated and undervalued, divisions within the workforce, reduced productivity, increased quiet quitting, and high employee turnover.

Ways to ensure inclusivity

To support working parents while ensuring inclusivity for child-free workers, your organization can:

Promote flexible policies—such as flexible hours, compressed work weeks, or remote work options—that benefit working parents who may need to accommodate childcare responsibilities and child-free workers with different personal commitments or preferences.

Encourage work-life integration to promote overall well-being and productivity. Recognize that employees have different priorities and responsibilities and empower them to find ways to integrate their work and personal lives harmoniously.

  • Related: Is Work-Life Integration Replacing Work-Life Balance?

Offer comprehensive wellness programs—focused on physical health, mental well-being, work-life balance, stress management, and resilience—that address the diverse needs of employees. Ensure these programs are accessible and beneficial to all workers, regardless of their family status.

Provide personalized employee benefits tailored to meet the unique requirements of each employee. Rather than offering a standard set of benefits that apply to all employees, personalized employee benefits programs allow for flexibility and choice.

Ensure that all employees have equal access to training and development opportunities by offering a range of learning resources and platforms—such as workshops, seminars, online courses, and professional development programs.

Create employee resource groups, mentorship programs, or affinity networks to support different employee experiences. This could include parent support groups or childcare resources for workers with children, while child-free workers might benefit from social clubs or networking opportunities tailored to their interests.

Foster a culture that respects personal boundaries—because 65 percent of people don’t see a problem with asking child-free workers why they don’t have childrenand avoids assumptions about employees’ family status or personal lives. Encourage managers and colleagues to be mindful of their language, avoid making assumptions or judgments, and steer clear of creating an environment where individuals feel pressured to disclose personal information.

Regularly seek employee feedback and input through surveys, focus groups, feedback platforms, and one-on-one meetings to understand their needs, concerns, and suggestions regarding work-life balance and family support. Involve employees in decision-making processes to ensure inclusivity and the consideration of diverse perspectives.

Celebrate and recognize the diverse contributions of all employees, regardless of their family status. Create an inclusive culture that appreciates each individual’s unique talents and experiences, fostering a sense of belonging for everyone.

Provide training for managers to enhance their understanding of the challenges faced by working parents and the importance of supporting a diverse workforce free from bias or unfair treatment. Equip them with skills to manage and support employees with varying needs and responsibilities effectively.

Inclusivity requires creating a workplace culture that values and respects the choices and contributions of all employees, regardless of their family status. Fostering an inclusive and supportive work environment that addresses the needs of all employees will contribute to their overall satisfaction and engagement while enhancing productivity, employee retention, and overall business success.

This blog was written by Joe O’Shea.