We took the pulse of over 1,000 US employees to unearth the state of employee burnout, its causes, and what businesses can do to curb it.
“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.”
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.
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?
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).
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…
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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- Casper, W. and Swanberg, J., “Single Childfree Adults: The Work-Life Stress of an Unexpected Group”
- CDC, Infertility
- Filipovic, J., “Child-free workers aren't selfish. They're being exploited”
- Franke, K., “Theorizing Yes: An Essay on Feminism, Law, and Desire”
- Ro, Ch., “Do companies lean harder on non-parents?”
- Runkles-Pearson, P.K., “The changing relations of family and the workplace: extending antidiscrimination laws to parents and nonparents alike”
- Wakabayashi, D. and Frenkel, S., “Parents Got More Time Off. Then the Backlash Started”