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BALANCING ACT

Non-Parents Happy About Filling In? No. Lashing Back? Not Really

June 01, 1997|NANCY RIVERA BROOKS

Workers without children frequently fill in for colleagues who miss work because of child care or other family concerns. And the non-parents aren't all that happy about it, a new study by the Conference Board found.

What's more, employers don't do a very good job of meeting the needs of workers who aren't parents. However, reports of a growing "backlash" by childless employees are overblown, according to the survey of work-family experts.

As the number of working parents increases, more companies have begun offering at least some policies and benefits to help those employees be productive on the job and at home. At the same time, the majority of U.S. workers--more than 60%--do not have children under age 18, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

Inevitably, the needs of the first group are going to clash from time to time with the needs of the second. In fact, tales of "singles backlash" are becoming almost as popular as stories of white males left behind by affirmative action.

In its report titled "The Childless Employee," the Conference Board said that even though human resources experts believe reports of resentment among childless workers have been greatly exaggerated, those same experts are divided about just how much pique these employees are harboring and how employers can reduce it.

The Conference Board, a private business research group based in New York, surveyed representatives from 78 companies with extensive work-family programs, asking them about the concerns of childless employees and how those employees use work-family programs.

The report concluded that all employees desire flexibility from their companies and that a benefits program, perhaps labeled more broadly as a "work-life program," can be crafted that helps every employee.

Nearly two-thirds of the representatives surveyed said childless workers readily volunteer to fill in when other employees have parental emergencies. Only 25% said childless employees carry more of the workload.

Almost three-quarters said that concerns of backlash from childless employees are exaggerated. At the same time, less than half--44%--were willing to say that childless employees "harbor no resentment against employees with children."

About 42% said childless employees feel they are subsidizing health-care and other benefits for other employees' family members. And only 57% said their company is "adequately addressing childless employees' needs."

So what "work-life" benefits do workers without children use?

Childless employees are more likely to opt for tuition assistance and wellness programs than are employees with children. The respondents noted that childless workers have more free time to pursue their education and are more likely to use fitness centers or attend lunchtime seminars on health topics.

Employees without children are also much more likely to use domestic partner benefits. Employee assistance programs, elder-care resource and referral programs and financial planning services are other offerings that work well for many childless people.

Workers without children are much less likely to telecommute or to request flexible schedules. They also make less use of flexible spending accounts and legal assistance.

Salli Figler, director of work and family initiatives at Nynex Corp., told the Conference Board that childless employees of the New York telecommunications company like its variety of programs and "hope they will still be in place for the day they too need them. Additionally, if our employees with children are less stressed, it makes the workplace a better environment for everyone."

Work-life consultant Mary B. Young, a researcher at the Human Resource Policy Institute at the Boston University School of Management, said backlash occurs when rules are applied differently within the same organization, perhaps based on merit or perceived need.

"This leads to messy questions like, 'Is your child's softball game more important than my MBA class?' " Young said. "Often, supervisors and co-workers do not recognize that single or childless employees have work-life issues. All employees want consideration, respect and some flexibility."

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Has your company developed an interesting way to help employees balance work life and family life? Write to Balancing Act, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053, or e-mail nancy.rivera.brooks@latimes.com

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