single in the workplaceBecause I have studied singles and write about single life so often, I hear lots of stories from other single people. Everyone’s story is unique, but there are some common themes. For example, singles often feel neglected or slighted by their friends and relatives who become coupled.

Another observation I hear repeatedly is that single people are not treated fairly in the workplace. (Some examples of my previous writings on that topic can be found in Singled Out, in Singlism, and in the section on “Workplace Issues” here.)  Often, single workers with no children – and even coupled workers who do not have children – note that their coworkers who are parents are offered more understanding and more leeway in their requests to leave work early or bow out of the assignments involving travel or get their first choice of vacation times.

Singles, in contrast, find that the people and passions important to them are considered less significant.

I was surprised when Anne-Marie Slaughter, in her much-discussed article on “having it all” in the Atlantic magazine, made the argument that in her opinion, just the opposite is true:

“Consider the following proposition: An employer has two equally talented and productive employees. One trains for and runs marathons when he is not working. The other takes care of two children. What assumptions is the employer likely to make about the marathon runner? That he gets up in the dark every day and logs an hour or two running before even coming into the office, or drives himself to get out there even after a long day. That he is ferociously disciplined and willing to push himself through distraction, exhaustion, and days when nothing seems to go right in the service of a goal far in the distance. That he must manage his time exceptionally well to squeeze all of that in.

“Be honest: Do you think the employer makes those same assumptions about the parent?”

Even if Slaughter is correct that employers would see the marathon runner as more disciplined than the mother (and I’m not so sure about that), I think the weightier point is that employers would feel more obligated to be flexible and accommodating to the mother than to the runner. (Some of my other critiques of the having-it-all article are here.)

I think all employees should have equal access to good vacation times and to opportunities to leave work early or to take time off. Moreover, they should not have to specify why they want particular times off. That way, employers don’t get to judge whose life pursuits are the worthiest.

There can still be flexibility. One colleague can ask another to cover a certain time or to trade times. But these favors should be reciprocal.

Marathon runner photo available from Shutterstock