Creating a Singles-Friendly Workplace: How Would You Do It?
What do you say to coworkers who ask why you are single?
Posted October 27, 2010
A reader of this blog is facing challenges at work. He is in his 30s, happily single, not conflicted about his single status, and not looking to become unsingle. The people around him in his workplace, though, just don't get that. They act all concerned about his single status even though he is not. They ask him, repeatedly, to explain why he is single. He knows he can make up the name of a supposed girlfriend and talk about what the two of them did over the weekend when the topic comes up, but he is not interested in getting by with lies. During the planning of the end-of-year celebrations, one staff member - knowing full well that he is single - actually told him that he should bring a spouse to the events.
He would like some suggestions. How do you think he should handle these unwanted and inappropriate conversations?
I'm going to wait for readers' comments rather than offering any advice of my own here. I will, though, say more about the possibilities for creating a singles-friendly workplace and ask for your ideas about that, too.
The reader's question has come at a great time, because I am currently writing a chapter on singles-friendly workplaces. That's thanks to Wendy Casper, who has been writing about the issue for a while (here's an example) and who asked me to collaborate with her on the chapter.
"Family-friendly organizational culture" is already an established topic of study in academic circles. Scholars have recognized the importance of a number of factors, such as:
- the time demands that organizations place on their employees
- the work-life policies that are only pseudo-friendly (as, for example, when workers are frowned upon when they actually take advantage of them - the ‘mommy track' is the one that gets the most attention), and
- supervisors' sensitivity to workers' family responsibilities
In previous posts (some are listed here), we've discussed issues related to these considerations. For example, employers need to recognize that single people with no kids do have families as well as friends, and that those people are important to them. We've also discussed ways in which singles are often treated inequitably with regard to salary and access to affordable health insurance.
Wendy Casper and I want to generate suggestions for creating workplaces that are friendly to all employees, regardless of marital or relationship or parental status. We also want to make the case that a fair and friendly workplace is good for us as individuals and good for society. If you have ideas about those matters, please do share them.
The reader's question is somewhat different from the issues listed above. His concern strikes me as a matter of personal privacy. No one should have to explain why they are single or cohabiting or married (not that anyone would ask about that last one) or anything else. Maybe with some activism and consciousness-raising at work-life workshops, managers could come to learn that they should not be asking questions like that. But how do you deflect them when they come up in supposedly casual workplace conversations?