Paid parental leave, flexible working hours, time off for childcare - the working world has finally caught up with the fact that family life often comes first.

It's great that mums and dads can take time off to look after their sick kids or for special occasions, but does this mean those without families have to pick up the shortfall by default?

As a formerly single, childfree person I admit to many eye-rolls when I was rostered on to yet another less-than-ideal annual holiday timeslot; many of my contemporaries shared similar concerns.

But is this problem widespread? And what can employers do to ensure all staff are treated with equal care and respect?


Chris Till is the CEO of Human Resources Institute New Zealand. He says that employers would be walking a very fine line if they were seen to be showing preferential treatment to those with families.

"That is discrimination, and they could see themselves getting into considerable trouble," he says.

He says that a person's family situation shouldn't play a role in what holiday leave they are entitled to.

"There should be no preferential treatment on leave based on whether you have children or not, plus single people have all kinds of often unknown responsibilities."

Till advises those who feel they are doing more than their fair share due to the childcare commitments of their colleagues to take a wider view.

"Ultimately everyone is working for the same organisation and should be considered as a team," he says.

"So while you're covering for them now that doesn't necessarily mean they shouldn't cover for you should you need time off."

He says if the person involved is in a more senior role, it's also good to use the situation as an insight into the possibilities of where your career can take you, without any of the responsibility.

"Embrace the fear of a greater challenge and give it a go! Ultimately all human beings seek balanced reciprocity."

Just as work flexibility and other benefits have increased for those with families, so too have the benefits for single people. Till says there are a number of ways in which managers can extend similar types of workplace perks to their child-free staff members.

"There are a number of benefits that some organisations offer to all employees, and some are more suitable for people who don't have young families at home," he says.

"These include carers allowance to look after ill or disabled relatives or friends; "pawrental" leave, where staff are encouraged to look after pets should they become sick or to spend with your furry friend; and travel allowances for those who have families who live out of town."

Though anecdotal evidence indicates some single people at work feel they get a raw deal when it comes to carrying the workload, Till says he's encountered this very rarely in his years working in human resources.

He says having a clear policy that is applied consistently ensures that any ambiguities are handled appropriately and employees don't feel they are being unfairly burdened.

"Managers need to make sure that all staff know and acknowledge what is required and expected of them when they are at work -- and also what is expected in relation to their leave and the types of leave they may have available to them," he says.

He says that its best practice to advise and encourage employees to take regular breaks, regardless of their marital status or family arrangements.

"[Having time] for yourself and family is important. We should be thinking about a life/work balance and trusting people is always liberating."

In Till's experience, trusting people when they say they need a break leads to them feeling empowered and ensures they remain trustworthy. He believe this creates a cycle of reciprocity that helps strengthen working relationships.

Though the progress made in working conditions for those with families should be celebrated, Till says single people without such obvious responsibilities shouldn't be forgotten about.

"With technology and flexible working agreements, many organisations are taking these days, the previous negative stigma around people taking time off to look after sick children is declining.

"However this isn't to forget that even though someone may be single that doesn't necessarily mean they don't have dependents, as many care for older parents or relatives."

The bottom line for those dealing with employees is ensuring they are all treated fairly, reasonably and equitably.