When the Team Takes Advantage of Single Employees

November 1, 1996
The Dilemma:
Cindy and Andre are two single employees recognized as go-getters on their way up. In light of steady promotions, you imagined they were happy with their jobs. Cindy set you straight. She’s frustrated over what feels like a subtle form of discrimination. Whenever their team is on deadline, it’s the two of them who are expected to stay late—so the family folks in equal jobs can rush home to their kids. Your company is enthusiastic about its family-friendly policies, so how do you respond?

Readers Respond:
We’re taught to not discriminate— period! The essential function of any job is to be there to get the job accomplished. If the job requires working extra time, then the work should be distributed equally. We aren’t talking about having a family as being a disability—which would require a reasonable accommodation. We choose to marry, and anyone who has both a job and a family should expect that both need some extra care at times. The company shouldn’t always be the one giving in this relationship. It takes two and it works both ways, just like marriage. Equal employees shouldn’t be discriminated against whether they have a family or don’t.
Terry Martin
Administrative Manager
Beam Industries
Webster City, Iowa

When someone with Cindy’s abilities reveals a frustration, she’ll have thought of ideas for a solution, which should be discussed. If Andre has felt similar disappointments, he also should be given an opportunity to discuss his thoughts.

They both should be encouraged to discuss their feelings in a positive manner in the next project team meeting—asking other team members to consider their needs when planning for deadlines. If the project team members have a good working relationship and they take responsibility for the project, then the team will work together to resolve conflicts without infringing on anyone’s rights under the company’s family-friendly policies.
Ed Laging
Personnel Manager
FLEXSTEEL Industries Inc.
Harrison, Arkansas

The first thing I would do is investigate the situation. Cindy may be blowing things out of proportion and feel that she’s being singled out because of her marital or nonmarital status. If her accusations are true, then the team needs to be addressed about the situation.

Cindy might have felt that she needed to stay when others felt she was volunteering to stay. Lack of communication could be the problem.
Donna Turley
Human Resources Manager
CBA Information Services
Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Family-friendly policies should be defined as flexible policies, not special privileges. If employees with families are released from responsibility, we would call that a special privilege. Flexibility, on the other hand, is allowing those with families to care for family needs and then return to their work responsibilities.

Employees with families can take work home and complete it after the children are in bed. Those with families also can pick up their children from day care, pick up a pizza and return to work after hours. The children can color or play on the floor or in the hallways. My son loved coming back to work with me; I would set him up in the conference room with the large-screen TV and a VCR tape. There’s usually no one for the children to disturb and if done infrequently, this can be a treat for the children.

Also, you should find out ahead of a "deadline disaster" what everyone can give to the team in an emergency situation. A deadline-disaster plan would include a list of team members who can come in early or stay late and a list of team members who have access to a computer, phone or other equipment at home —after hours and during weekends.
Michelle Brackin
Human Resource Specialist
Board of Cooperative
Educational Services
Ithaca, New York

Many men and women have delayed having children and the related obligations to strengthen their career paths.

Conversely, others have purposely put family first and made a decision not to be one of the "drivers" in a firm. Both of these are personal choices, and you can often tell when they have been made.

If someone falls into, acts as if he or she is in, or puts himself or herself in one of these categories, he or she should suffer the risks and rewards. If the supervisor has misread the employee’s behavior, he or she should change his or her attitude toward the employee. All that aside, there’s also an element of teamwork here.

If the "family" folks are bolting at 5:00 p.m. while these two stay until 8:00 p.m.—no way! Some clarifications need to be made. These two will likely be recognized for their contribution (we hope), but we have to be clear that they want to do this. On the other hand, the rest of the gang may need a talking to about commitment and balance.
John P. Kosciusko
Chief Executive Officer
Virtual Consulting Organization
Jefferson, Maryland

Personnel Journal, November 1996, Vol. 75, No. 11, pp. 103-104.