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December 19, 2001
Do 'Family' Benefits Snub Singles?
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cago Tribune columnist Carol Kleiman writes that she hears complaints from single people who feel left out of their companies' family-friendly benefit programs and put upon by colleagues who go absent because of child-rearing obligations.

Kleiman says she understands their complaints but believes their anger is misdirected. It should be aimed at insensitive managers who are too cheap to hire additional help, even during periods of unpaid leave, she argues.

Mary Young, senior research consultant at the Center for Organizational Research in Lexington, Mass., told Kleiman that she isn't surprised by the complaints. "As more and more companies downsize and staffing gets tighter, there may be even less equity," she said.

In 1997, Young studied 714 single and married professionals with and without children in order to ascertain if those with children worked fewer hours.

"Contrary to popular opinion, there was no difference in the number of hours parents worked compared to nonparents," said Young, who is single. "But parents were more likely to have flexible hours, even though they worked a full week."

Young said she's "not so big on us versus them. We're all in this together and we all have responsibilities and things we enjoy doing. It's good for employees to have a vibrant work outside of life that renews them - and good for the organization, too."

Some 40 percent of the workforce is unmarried, according to estimates by Thomas Coleman, an attorney and executive director of the 1,300-member American Association for Single People, a nonprofit organization based in Glendale, Calif. Coleman's definition of "single" is "anybody who's not legally married."

Coleman replied, "Big time," when asked if single people are getting short shrift when it comes to flexible hours and work/life benefits.

He called for cafeteria-style benefit plans, so employees "can choose what they want to do."

Employers are aware of this resentment, according to Kleiman.

"Companies are inviting backlash if they don't look carefully at their employee demographics," said Richard Federico, vice president and work/life practice leader at The Segal Co., a benefits consulting firm based in New York. "But many benefits today are for everyone: fitness, recreation, tuition reimbursement, financial and estate planning, elder care and volunteer time off."

Federico has a solution to this problem, however. "The point I always make to employers is: Do some research," he said. "Just ask employees what their needs are."

To read the Chicago Tribune story, click here.

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