Working parents and nonparents share similar opinions about work/life balance, according to the latest Adecco USA Workplace Insights survey, released June 9, 2008. But when asked if they have the same level of access to work/life benefits as their colleagues, only 44 percent of nonparents said they did, compared to 60 percent of mothers and 70 percent of fathers.
“I'm not surprised that nonparents are less likely to feel they have the same access to work/life benefits as parents,” says Vincent Ciaccio, spokesperson for No Kidding!, a social club for those who are childless and child-free. “The work/life benefits seem to tilt toward helping parents, rather than helping everyone equally, so it's no wonder nonparents feel slighted.”
Ciaccio says parents might already get preference for certain benefits, such as flextime or telecommuting, and might be given time off for child-related activities, even though a nonparent could benefit from similar flexibility to care for an older or infirm family member.
“Depending on the company, even issues of maternity and paternity leave become a point of contention,” Ciaccio says. “In certain large law firms, mothers are now getting 18 weeks of paid leave; for a second-year associate, that could be approximately $60,000 for not working.”
Workers with children also might receive preferential treatment when it comes to vacation date selection, meeting attendance, overtime, weekend and holiday work, shift work, travel, and health care coverage and premiums, according to Jerry Steinberg, founder of NO KIDDING!
Yet all three groups surveyed felt their companies should do more to help achieve work/life balance, with fathers topping the responses at 55 percent, followed by 51 percent of nonparents and 49 percent of mothers.
“How much more can companies do to help the child-burdened raise their kids?” Steinberg asks. “How about free, onsite, 24-hour day care? And paid for by the childfree? That seems to be about the only thing left.”
Although half of nonparents seek greater work/life balance, only parents were asked in the Adecco survey to indicate which they felt more challenging to manage—their family life or career, a gap noted by Steinberg: “We have family lives, as well, albeit less stressful than those with kids.”
Among the parents asked to respond to this question, 64 percent of fathers and 71 percent of mothers said it was more challenging to manage their family life.
Parents were also asked if becoming a parent impacted their career path. According to Adecco, 45 percent of fathers and 41 percent of mothers said they thought it had. However, 26 percent of mothers and 31 percent of fathers indicated that the career impact was positive, as opposed to negative.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports the number of stay at home dads increased by almost 50 percent over the past decade.
“The perception that the work/life balancing act is mainly a female struggle no longer holds up in today’s workplace," said Rich Thompson, vice president of training and development for Adecco Group North America, in a press release.
"As moms and dads continue to more equally share responsibilities both at home and at the office, employers need to be mindful of this and ensure that they offer work/life benefits that are inclusive of both groups,” Thompson added.
Adecco says working parents have many qualities that are valuable to employers such as the ability to multitask, strengthened relationship skills and advocacy for work/life balance for others.
And when asked how likely they would be to work late or respond to e-mails after hours, similar numbers of parents and nonparents—43 percent of mothers, 50 percent of fathers and 45 percent of nonparents—said they would be likely to do so.
Over 2,000 parents and nonparents participated in the survey conducted by Harris Interactive.
Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is manager of SHRM’s Online Diversity Discipline.