Home Free Study ​ What’s It like Being Child-Free at Work?

​ What’s It like Being Child-Free at Work? [2022 Study]

The
voices of childless workers regarding unfair treatment by employers are
growing louder. In this recent study, employees told ResumeLab about how managers treat parents vs.
non-parents at work.

“Come on, if you had kids, we would let you take the extra time you needed.”

“What personal reason? You don’t have kids to pick up from school.”

“Parents need that day off more.”

 

childfree at work

 Raise
your hand if you’re a childfree employee who has never heard some
version of the sentences above. No volunteers? Well, not surprising.

These people are both men
and women, college graduates, and people without a degree. And above
all, these are employees. So it’s a logical assumption that as the
number of childless people increases, the number of childless workers
also rises. And some researchers believe that soon the number of
non-parents may overtake the number of parents in the workplace. 

And
here come the problems. Unfair treatment of the growing childfree
community is becoming more and more visible. And with increasing
awareness of our rights and condemnation of discrimination and unequal
treatment, the voices of unsatisfied childless employees are growing
stronger.

At ResumeLab, we heard them. But at the same
time, we didn’t ignore parents. Read on to listen to both perspectives
on how childfree workers are treated. 

Parents vs. childfree employees

Bigfoot. Yeti. Childfree by choice. Unicorns. The Loch Ness Monster. 

Does any element of this list stand out? Once, it probably wouldn’t, but now it does. 

Childfree by choice. 

We
have come a long way to understand that some people don’t want
children. Or, for various reasons, they can’t. And they shouldn’t be
considered fantastic beasts. Nor should we ask where to find them. They’re in every workplace.

But
as research shows, like fantastic beasts, they are misunderstood, their
needs are marginalized, and their activities and responsibilities
outside of work are baffling. Why? Because they don’t have children. So
it’s clear that they have nothing to do after work, true? Well… no. 

Childfree
employees have hobbies, a second job, or sick parents they need to take
care of. They participate in courses and postgraduate studies or go for
physiotherapy. Whatever. But they still know how to spend their
personal time after work. 

So why are we willing to increase their workload, make them do overtime, or deny them a day off? Do parents need it more? 

At ResumeLab, we assume that both sides need it equally.

 

childfree at work

 Hope that the above data grabbed your attention. Let’s take a look once again. 

Unfair treatment applies to everybody, both childfree workers and people with children. According to our respondents, 72% noticed that childfree workers were mistreated because they don’t have children. The same goes for parents. 67% observed that parents were mistreated because they have children. 

Parents
strive to maintain the balance between being productive employees and
responsible parents. They still worry that employers may not extend
their contracts or fire them because of their family responsibilities.
But non-parents face difficulties balancing their job (or two jobs) and
family too.

If we wanted to satisfy both sides and remain
neutral so as not to offend anyone, we could’ve stopped there. But we
didn’t. And as we asked more questions, the responses became less
neutral.

74% of respondents believed that people with children are treated better in the workplace. And
surprise! This wasn’t the opinion of people without children only.
Actually, our respondents were dominated by employees with kids. 8 out of 10 survey takers were parents. 

But
why do both parents and non-parents believe this? As sociologist Amy
Blackstone at the University of Maine said, “there’s very little that
protects their [childfree] time to care for themselves and their
families and enjoy work-life balance.” So, “I have children” as the best
excuse at work isn’t just a myth? 

Well…

Our respondents say that in their workplace, because of not having children, childfree coworkers at least once:

  • were denied time-off – 63%
  • had to work overtime – 69%
  • were given a greater workload – 70%

So
can we say the fair treatment of employees without children is a fairy
tale? Not so fast. We can conclude that the situation is very personal
for both childfree and parents. But there is much more to discover. 

The hidden benefits (or lack of them)

For
a long time, society believed that parents and children come first. A
career was of secondary importance. Thus, parents-only benefits are not a
myth. This child-centered approach may overwhelm non-parents.
Especially childfree women who may be worried that these
“family-friendly” workplace policies are “collapsing women’s identity
into motherhood.”

So, now childfree workers start to ask: what about us?

Well, nothing. Has anyone ever heard of benefits only for employees without children? 

And
here we come to some aspects that our respondents observed (and let me
remind you of this – they’re mostly people with children).

 

childfree at work

49% of respondents believe that employees with children are more likely to be promoted in their workplace. In the minority, 29%, we have survey takers who say that people without children are more likely to be promoted. At the same time, 22% are convinced that having children or not doesn’t matter. In their workplaces, both are equally taken into consideration. 

The situation is not bad, but it’s leaning toward the parents.

But what about a pay rise? Similarly.

According to our respondents, employees with children are more likely to get a pay rise, 53%. The belief that childfree people are more likely to get a pay rise is shared by 23%. The rest, 24%, think that having children doesn’t really matter.

So again, no children means smaller chances for a pay rise.

What else are childfree workers complaining about? Vacations and days off.

85% of respondents say that people with children have priority when planning vacations and days off. At this point, talking about the unfair treatment of non-parents is quite reasonable. 

Anything else to back up such statements?

Respondents themselves admit that working parents have more benefits. This view is shared by 87%. Also, 81% assume
that child-related reasons for absences at work are more important for
their employer than the reasons of childfree employees. 

Let’s
make a case here for parents. Parenthood serves as a full-time job,
24/7, always on duty. There is no greater responsibility than equipping
the little ones to live a good life. Whatever effort it takes. No doubt
here.

But nevertheless, can we be blind to the needs of the childless? Where would it take us? 

A
case study of Facebook and Twitter illustrated this for us. After
introducing COVID-related policies, Facebook employees argued that those
have primarily benefited parents, while Twitter childfree workers
accused parents of not pulling weight. 

Both companies quickly corrected their mistakes, but the distaste remained. 

This leads us to paraphrase the wisdom of Yoda: Unfair
treatment leads to employee dissatisfaction, dissatisfaction leads to
anger, and anger leads to the cold war between employees.

So let’s not go down that road leading to…

Unspoken pressure

People
without children are often taken for granted when there’s a need for
extra hours or postpone vacation because “parents need more time.”
Society still assumes that childfree are more readily available compared
to parents. So their justifications for why they cannot work are often
considered less meaningful and trivial. 

Are people with children aware of that?

 

childfree at work

Hopefully,
our respondents are aware of this hidden pressure on the childfree.
They note some benefits that only people with children can enjoy. At the
same time, these areas create pressure on the childless to work longer
and harder because the “job must be done.”

Respondents admit that:

  • Parents take precedence when it comes to applying flexible work policies (86%)
  • Child-related reasons for being unavailable to work are more valid (77%)
  • Employees with children have priority when planning a vacation, and other days off (76%)
  • Employees should be able to take a day off because of a child’s illness (84%)
  • People with children should have the right to take more days off than the childfree (72%)

These
are examples of special treatment of parents. We asked our respondents
if they agree with particular concepts that take place in some
workplaces. The vast majority agree with them. This is both good and
bad. On the one hand, it’s good that people notice the different
approaches to employees with children, with the childfree being
aggrieved. On the other hand (especially from a parent’s point of view)
they don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. 

Let’s stop here for a minute and look at the last bullet. 72% believe that people with children should have the right to take more days off than the childfree. What about single people with children or men and women with children? Does this apply to them too?

Watch out because we’re going to reveal information not included in the graphic. Also, single moms or dads need special consideration. According to respondents:

  • 77% think
    single women with children should have the right to take more days off
    than those who share parental duties with a partner.
  • 74%
    admit that single men with children should have the right to take more
    days off than those who share parental duties with a partner.

We
find some equality here. But this equality applies to parents. The
childless, unfortunately, still have much to complain about. 

74% of our respondents believe that:

  • It’s ok to frequently ask a childfree coworker to stay longer or work more because a parent needs to care for the children. 
  • Childfree employees are expected to work overtime more frequently than their coworkers who have children.
  • Employers and coworkers assume that childfree people are more readily available because they don’t have children.

It doesn’t give much hope to people without children. 

And more is coming. The majority (65%) also see no problem asking childfree why they do not have children. 

Is
this actually not a big deal? When, according to CDC, about 10% to 20%
of men and women report infertility problems in the United States, some
may not agree. And those who use medical help additionally spend
thousands of dollars to be able to have a child. What if the treatment
doesn’t work? 

At the same time, 48% of couples admit to
having difficulty with conceiving. In their case, we are not yet talking
about fertility problems, but the topic is still sensitive. 

Considering
the above cases, a simple question can be painful. What else, the whole
idea of special treatment of parents might be difficult.

Moreover,
have you ever considered that such a question might be sexist?
Especially asked a woman by a man. Particularly when she can’t have
children. 

Any neutral ground? Yes. Our respondents believe it’s ok to talk about children in the workplace (82%). Unless you are upsetting people who are trying to have a child and are medically unable to do so.

And
here we are. On the one hand, we have parents for whom children are a
massive part of life, affecting work. On the other hand, we have
childless employees who also have a life outside of work, although
without children. 

Can we call the situation a deadlock? Any winners?

Should childfree people do nothing, following Google’s former head of human resources Laszlo Bock’s criticism?

Or should they strive for communication, as Krystal Wilkinson, a Manchester Metropolitan University lecturer, advises?

The conversation is vital. It’s easy to
accuse childless people of being selfish or parents of acting entitled.
But there is a third party in this dispute who should act like a
judge—the employer. It’s their job to support all workers and ensure
equality.

Let’s talk about equality

If
we remain silent, we risk being told that these policies are
justified… because everyone supports them; if we speak out about our
concerns or our exclusion, we risk being accused of selfishness,
pettiness, indifference to the plight of hardworking parents and
innocent children, or worse.

childfree at work

 

Childfree
or parents, we all want to be equal. And the good thing is that we
don’t want to take that equality away from others to make it better for
us. And that very sentence is the key summary of the information
presented in the infographic. 

Equality is a key, as: 

  • 92% of respondents are convinced that all employees should be equally treated regarding flexible working hours.
  • 87% think that employers should have the exact expectations for employees with children and childfree workers.
  • Equality between parents and childless people is also found when talking about the mode of work (remote or office-based). 86% believe that employees should be equally treated regarding how they choose to work.
  • Most of the respondents, 85%,
    share the view that employees with the same role should be equally
    treated when it comes to workload, regardless of whether they have
    children.
  • And last but not least, 84% agree that employees should be equally treated when it comes to time off work. 

As
you can see, in the end, we found aspects that apply both to people
with and without children. And both sides agree here, attributing great
importance to equality. This is good because it is an essential aspect
of our lives, especially our professional lives.

Ideal worker vs. ideal parent

There are no winners or losers. But there is a win-win situation. It assumes a perfect scenario in which:

  • Employees without children understand that parents need more time and flexibility to take care of their kids.
  • Parents understand that childfree coworkers have a life outside work, and they don’t use “I have children” as an excuse.

We
should stop embracing two conflicting norms: the “ideal worker”
sacrificing for work and coworkers, and the “ideal parent” thinking only
about family and ignoring the needs of childfree colleagues. 

So, let’s travel the road of mutual understanding, choosing the scenario that currently fits our situation. 

Methodology

The
findings presented were obtained by surveying 938 respondents using a
bespoke online polling tool. All respondents included in the study
passed an attention-check question. They were asked a series of
questions related to their opinions on differences in how parents and
childfree employees are treated at work. These included yes/no
questions, scale-based questions relating to levels of agreement with a
statement, questions that permitted the selection of multiple options
from a list of potential answers, and questions that allowed open
responses. 

Limitations

The data we are
presenting rely on self-reports from respondents. As experience is
subjective, we understand that there are many potential limitations with
self-reported data as some participants and their answers might be
affected by recency, selective memory, attribution, exaggeration,
self-selection, non-response, or voluntary response bias.

Some
questions and responses have been rephrased or condensed for clarity
and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages
presented may not add up to 100 percent; depending on the case, this is
either due to rounding or due to responses of “neither/neutral/unknown”
not being presented.

 

Dominique is a career expert specializing in resume and cover letter
writing advice. Having worked for both start-ups and corporations, she
knows all the ins and outs of the recruitment process. At ResumeLab,
Dominique shares her knowledge with job seekers at all stages of their
career paths, from interns to directors to C-suite members.


https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/childless-workers.aspx