The frustrations of being a single person in a mostly coupled-up world are common knowledge. Less well-known—but just as pervasive—are the challenges faced by single people at the office.
The expectation that single people clock longer hours than their paired-up counterparts is one common complaint. “Lots of people I interviewed complained that their managers presumed they had extra time to stay at the office or take on extra projects because they don’t have family at home,” Eric Klinenberg, author of the 2013 book Going Solo, told The Atlantic last month.
In some cases, being single can affect a person’s job prospects. A recent Swiss study found that employers were more likely to offer job interviews to married men than to single men, even when their qualifications were otherwise the same. (It’s common to include marital status on resumes in Switzerland.)
Other singles simply feel marginalized in work cultures that assume their employees will be coupled up. “We’re going to have a team holiday party this year,” says communications executive Aimee Colton, “and it’s annoying because everyone brings their partner or spouse, and then I feel like I’m the 15th wheel.”
These kinds of cultural expectations lag reality. Data show that singles make up an increasingly large portion of the adult population in the US. Four in 10 adults between the ages of 25 and 54 are single, up from 29% in 1990, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis. Singles’ numbers are growing in other countries, too, from Japan and South Korea to England and Wales.
Experts say it’s high time for workplaces to prioritize inclusion for people with all kinds of families and lifestyles. Click here for four ideas on how to get started. —Sarah Todd
Five things we learned this week
💁♀️ Female founders are on track for a historic year in fundraising. Women-led companies in the US captured 25% of total VC funding so far in 2021.
💼 The metaverse will mostly be for work. It’s particularly useful for job training.
☕ Starbucks baristas in Buffalo, New York, want to unionize… The vote on Dec. 8 could mark a rare success story for labor in the food-service industry.
📅 …And Starbucks and Amazon are offering more flexibility on shift schedules. The moves could put pressure on other employers competing for low-wage workers to do the same.
🚚 American teens are filling the gaps created by the labor shortage. Some states want to update child labor laws to increase the number of legal working hours.
We’re still talking about: Parental leave
Last week, we invited readers of The Memo to share their views on parental leave. Which countries do it well? How much is enough? Is there such a thing as too much leave?
Sarah Metcalf in Germany, who has two children and works in tech marketing, summed her situation up thus: Going back to work three months after her daughter’s birth made her “sad and angry” because it felt too soon, but once back, she found that she “enjoyed having some time and headspace for me again.”
Later, when Metcalf moved to Berlin, she noticed that the very long leaves which mothers, specifically, were encouraged to take—up to three years—were dramatically affecting workplace demographics, and not in a good way. “It was shocking to me when I moved here how many moms don’t work or work part-time, and how few there were in leadership roles,” she wrote.
How much parental leave?
Many readers said six months was either the minimum amount of parental leave that companies should offer or about the right amount. In fact, that’s the amount settled on by the Gates Foundation, which in 2019 pulled back from offering a full year of leave to half that much, citing balancing the needs of teams as well as parents.
Who gets parental leave?
Giving leave to mothers and not fathers, some readers noted, is problematic. Not only does it skew the work itself so that men tend to have continuity while women take breaks, it might also entrench gendered family dynamics as well. (One study, which Quartz wrote about, found that when Spanish fathers got more leave, they ultimately wanted fewer children.)
What about other types of care?
“Can we please stop calling it “parental leave,’” asked Teresa Shipley Feldhausen, who works in health communications in Tucson, Arizona. “To do so ignores the millions of unpaid caregivers in America—people who have to drop everything to care for a loved one,” especially older relatives. (Quartz at Work’s Lila MacLellan writes about this issue a lot.)
Who’s left behind?
One reader noted how rarely we talk about the experiences of employees who have to shoulder extra work to cover colleagues’ leave. While larger firms should be able to cover absences with interim hires, anecdotal evidence from small firms point to a problem when parents take leave concurrently or for long periods of time. Research from the University of Chicago suggests that small firms are more likely to fail if they grant extended leave to parents. And when the author looked at sick days and other metrics related to the co-workers of leave-takers, she found evidence that those workers who picked up the slack when their colleagues were on leave were more likely to move to lower-paid—and possibly less stressful—jobs.
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We can’t get away from: Health insurance
A new poll finds that 33% of US workers would be very or somewhat likely to quit their jobs if not for health insurance provided through their employers. Meanwhile, 26% of Americans say they would start their own company if health insurance wasn’t a factor.
Leaders say they want employees to bring their authentic selves to work. What does that look in practice? Get tips on creating new policies to navigating management conundrums at this week’s workshop, “How to navigate the whole-self workplace.”
Join us today (Wednesday, Nov. 10) from 11am-12pm ET.
You got The Memo!
Our best wishes for a safe and successful week. Send any workplace news, metaverse predictions, and tales of teen jobs to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. This week’s edition of The Memo was written by Sarah Todd and Cassie Werber, and edited by Francesca Donner.