Singlism, according to an article on TED, is a term coined by Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., to refer to discrimination against single people. If your executive team was asked whether the business engages in discrimination, the vast majority would quickly say they do not. But many popular benefits such as paid parental leave may never apply to many of your employees. And you may never hear the complaints, because employees often do not care to explain why they are not married or do not have children. With the growing number of singles in the workplace, it may be time to rethink your benefits strategy.
A Growing Population
Single adults comprise 45 percent of all U.S. residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Beginning in 2014, unmarried adults now outnumber their married counterparts. "It's become legitimate and viable to be single for a long period of time," says Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at NYU and author of "Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone." If employers are going to maintain a workforce that reflects the culture, they will need to hire, motivate and retain singles.
Taking Time Off
Organizations have worked hard over the past decade to promote a family-friendly workplace, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Maternity and paternity leave are common offerings for approximately one quarter of employers, and 7 percent even offer subsidized child care. There are also more options than ever as to when, where and how an employee will work. Many organizations have formal and informal policies that provide for flexible schedules, the ability to work from home or take periodic time off. In fact, SHRM notes that telecommuting has increased by 300 percent since 1996.
But according to Workforce, the same types of benefits for singles are not always offered across the board. Single workers often take up the slack when others take time off to attend to family responsibilities. They may be asked to work longer hours, receive more last-minute assignments or travel more frequently. When they request time off, a getaway with friends may not seem as compelling to the boss as having to be home because the kids are out of school.
Benefits for All?
Health insurance is another key benefit that can be inequitable. According to Employee Benefit Research Institute, it's still the most important benefit to workers. But when employers pay a portion of the premium for family coverage, these workers are actually receiving a form of additional compensation. While this is both common and generally legal, it's a practice that can be demotivating for the single employee.
Some financial inequalities between singles and married individuals should always be avoided, such as paying a married worker more simply because he or she may support a family. Other inequities are beyond the organization's control, such as Social Security benefits and tax benefits that favor people who are married. But if businesses craft benefit plans with all their employees in mind, they will go a long way toward building loyalty from the growing single workforce.
Working singles are likely motivated by different factors than other employees. Look at existing benefit offerings to find perks and benefits that single employees want and care about. Total Rewards systems or flexible spendingplans are a great way to work toward equity. Offer a variety of different benefits and discounts so employees can choose the ones that work best for them. Some examples include:
- Many singles choose dental, vision or pet insurance instead of life or disability insurance. The Houston Chronicle reports that single employees often are looking for insurance and opportunities they can use now rather than down the line.
- If a business covers premiums for families, give single employees premium rebates, the option for an increased 401K employer contribution or credits toward other benefits.
- Single employees often enjoy travel (with or without) friends. And since they are not as dependent on other people's schedules, they can take advantage of last minute opportunities. Offer discounted travel and the corporate rates for personal trips.
- With more free time, single employees are often interested in taking classes for fun or to improve their skills. Offer tuition reimbursement or a learning budget.
- Paid time off and flexible work schedules are important for everyone. Businesses should be sensitive to time off requests for everyone. Family status, including being single, is a protected class in many states.
- While top pay is always appreciated, performance-based pay is even more critical. Single workers who choose to pull a greater share of the load will want to be compensated for the extra effort and willingness to carry the load. Having a reward structure that is fair and transparent can make workers feel better about taking on extra responsibility.
The demographics show a clear trend. The single population is a critical part of the U.S. workforce and is growing. Being sensitive to the needs of single workers, which can make for loyal and engaged employees, is a worthy goal for any business.
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