Hey, Singles: Do Co-Workers and Bosses Expect You to Cover for Everyone Else Over the Holidays?

Holidays in the workplace: Singles should not be expected to cover for others

Posted Dec 01, 2008

It's that time! The holidays are here, and along with all of the possible joy, bustle, and stress of the season, there is sometimes a special indignity thrust upon single people in the workplace. Their co-workers and bosses, believing that they "don't have anyone" or "don't have a life," expect them to cover for the holidays.

Of course, the notion that single people don't have anyone, or don't have a life, is complete and utter bull. I've mocked it mercilessly on this blog and in Singled Out. There was already evidence aplenty when I wrote my book. Since then, the results of several national surveys have been published showing that single people are more likely than married people to contact, visit, advise, and support their parents and siblings. They are also more likely to encourage, help, and socialize with their friends and neighbors. It is also single people who do more of the work - emotional, practical, and financial - of maintaining intergenerational ties.

One of the reasons why people persist in their misperceptions that single people "don't have anyone" or "don't have a life" is that many of the people who are so important to singles are culturally invisible in our culture of matrimaniacs. Spouses and romantic partners are celebrated endlessly, but friends are considered "just friends" (even when the friendships have outlasted many marriages), siblings are nothing but gist for rivalry, and inspiring mentors and other significant figures are not even on society's relationship map. And, as I've discussed before, many people cherish time to themselves, but the value of solitude is too rarely acknowledged in our cultural conversations, especially in comparison to its evil twin, loneliness.

In everyday life in the workplace, singles are sometimes asked to cover while others leave early or beg off weekend work or unappealing travel. During holiday season, this expectation can get ramped up. Most everyone is busy, even frazzled, and so people put on their stereotyped-colored glasses and "see" that surely singles can pick up the slack.

I don't think singles should refuse to cover for the holidays - I think they should share, along with everyone else. Each worker should have an equal obligation to put in holiday time, no questions asked. So if you are single and a co-worker or boss asks you to work on a holiday, you could perhaps say something like, "Sure, I'll cover this one and you can take the next." Or, "That won't work for me this time but I'm happy to cover next time." Other suggestions? Please contribute your comments.

In a previous post, I've explained the risks of speaking up for yourself about these issues. I also proposed that one step toward a more just workplace is consciousness-raising about these issues. We all need to understand that issues of singlism are pervasive - they are not just about specific individual workers.

A great source of enlightenment, when at its best, is the media. Today, I was contacted by a reporter from a major newspaper who is writing a story about the experiences of singles in the workplace over the holidays. I would love to support her efforts. Do you have stories you would be willing to share with her? Singles, do your colleagues and supervisors expect you to do more than your married co-workers over the holidays? Or not? If you want to talk to her, let me know. (My e-mail address is on the contact page of my website.) I'll forward your contact information to her. She is especially interested in talking to people who are willing to be identified, but would also like to hear stories from others. Let me know by this Thursday (December 4). Of course, you can post your comments here anytime.

On another matter, I just wanted to let everyone know that I always read your comments and e-mails. When you ask about a topic that I know little about, I try to find others with expertise and do a Q & A with them. Watch for more of those in this space, and thanks again for your suggestions.