Posts filed under 'Overworked and underpaid'

Singled Out: Why should we stay late at work just because we didn’t get hitched?

Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever AfterIf you’ve spent any amount of time on this blog, you know that I’m a champion of unmarried singles and couples being treated the same as their married counterparts. Sometimes I even publish some writing on the topic. That’s why I was thrilled when Bella DePaulo wrote an entire book on the subject: Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, which is essentially a myth-busting, consciousness-raising, totally unapologetic take on singlehood. In honor of the book’s recent paperback release, I asked Bella a few questions about the unbalanced treatment of single people in the workforce. Here’s what she had to say.

Q. Can you give us some stats on how single workers are treated differently by their employers and colleagues?

A. The most important differences are in salary and benefits. Single men are paid less than married men — probably about 26 percent less — even when the single and married men have done the same job at the same level of competence for the same number of years. Now consider health care plans. In many workplaces, a married worker can put a spouse on a health care plan at a discounted rate. That can amount to a very substantial financial benefit. But the single worker cannot add someone important in their life, such as a parent, sibling, or friend, and no other worker can add the single person to their plan.

Readers of Singled Out e-mail me all the time with their workplace woes. What singles complain about most often are the expectations that they should be able to cover the holidays and the travel that no one else wants and to stay late when others go home — the assumption is that since they are single, they don’t have a life, so why shouldn’t they cover for everyone else? The other part of that issue is that when single people explain why they need to take time off, their reasons are dismissed as not good enough. So, for example, a single person can get “the look” for wanting to take some time to help an ailing friend, but their married colleague gets a pass to leave early to meet their spouse for dinner.

Q. What do you think are the biggest myths about single women in the workplace, both childfree and moms?

A. I think that childfree single women are seen as having nothing important in their lives — no important people and no important pursuits. Single mothers are seen as “at risk” for leaving the workplace on short notice to tend to their child, or not showing up on days when their child is sick. In some workplaces, colleagues and bosses look askance at single mothers, and maybe even their children. Fortunately, though, not all workplaces are like that.

Q. Do you see a difference in how single men vs. single women are treated at work by management and their co-workers?

A. In terms of salary, the data show that single men have it worse — most studies show they are paid less than comparable married male colleagues. For women, there is not much consistency from study to study.

In the culture at large, single women seem to be targets of what I call “matrimania” more than men are. Matrimania is the over-the-top hype about marriage and weddings and brides that saturates our culture. You can see it coming down especially forcefully on women by the number of bridal magazines on the shelves, unmatched by an equal number of guides for grooms. You can see it on the “reality” TV shows, in which dozens of bachelorettes vie for the attention of just one bachelor far more often that a truckload of bachelors all compete for the one bachelorette.

I think some of that special pressure on single women seeps into the workplace. I have been taken, though, by the number of single men who have told me their stories of being belittled and dismissed by colleagues. Some of the teasing they describe sounds especially nasty. One man told me about his colleagues who would bring in stories about social science findings showing that married people live longer or are happier (all grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong, as I show in Singled Out), and taunt him with them.

Q. What can singles do about those “lost” workplace rights or benefits?

A. I do think that singles should do what they can to get their issues on the table. Laws and policies can be changed, and awareness can be raised about insensitive and inappropriate workplace behaviors. I have to add a warning about this, though: Colleagues and bosses often react very badly to these topics and the people who raise them. That’s true even (or maybe especially) when the single person is clearly on the side of the angels. Lots of people in today’s society like to think of themselves as open-minded, fair, and non-prejudicial. When a single colleague points out a way in which the workplace has been unfair to singles, the people perpetrating that unfairness can suddenly feel very defensive. Their first reaction can be to lash out at the single person, rather than standing back and saying, “Wow, I never thought of that. I’m sorry. I won’t do that again.”

So another way singles can get these issues addressed is by supporting relevant advocacy groups. For example, the Alternatives to Marriage Project is very good at taking on issues involving all unmarried people (coupled and single).

When singles contact me with their workplace stories of cloddish colleagues or bosses, I often offer to send those clods a copy of Singled Out from Amazon, with no note attached. I think the insensitive ones would reconsider their behavior if they would read it. But I also warn the single worker that this is risky, because if the recipient of the book suspects that the single worker was involved, it will only make the colleagues or bosses even harder to deal with.

There are some small things that should be a bit easier to do. I actually have no problem covering for a colleague, whether married or single, as long as it is reciprocal. So when someone asks you, say something like: “Sure, I’d be happy to. I know there are times when I’ll need to leave early, and I’m sure you will do the same for me.” Then ask, when that time comes.

I also think that workplace policies should be fair for all workers. So, for example, all workers should have to cover holidays an equal number of times. And when workers have a certain number of days off, they should not have to account for what they are doing with their days off, or justify the days they want to take. That doesn’t mean that company needs are unimportant — of course they’re important — but the personal lives of single workers are also just as important as the personal lives of married workers and should be subject to no greater scrutiny.

Q. Do you see the rift of understanding about lifestyle choices and workplace inequities between singles and marrieds becoming greater or closing up the more these issues get discussed in the media and public eye?

A. I think that at first, the issue will be very hot. People on both sides will feel offended and misunderstood. It is funny that you raise this question, because just recently, I got a fascinating e-mail from a reader of Singled Out. He told me that he put together a carefully prepared audiovisual presentation on the ways in which family-friendly workplaces can be unfair to single people. One of the people in the audience stormed up to the podium, unplugged the equipment, grabbed his papers and threw them up in the air, then marched out of the room! So I think there is going to be some of that sort of thing happening, though perhaps not always so dramatically. Eventually, though, as the topic gets discussed more often online and in the mainstream media, we’ll probably be able to have more thoughtful and calmer discussions. The thing is, I’ve never heard single people say that they want more than what married colleagues get; they just want to be treated fairly. If other people can stop and hear that message, it should be hard to object to. In theory.

Q. In addition to your book, are there are organizations working for policy/workplace change and other resources you recommend singles check out?

A. My current favorite is the Alternatives to Marriage Project. There’s another group that works under the title, Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision For All Our Families and Relationships. Their point is that even if same-sex marriage were made legal everywhere, there would still be many uncoupled people shut out of the 1,138 federal benefits and protections given to people who are legally married. As the subtitle indicates, this is a group that believes in the significance of all of our close relationships, not just our conjugal ones.

3 comments November 4th, 2007

It came from the conference room, part 2

Thanks, everyone, for sending in your best Meeting from Hell stories. Who knew there were so many drunk, stoned, vomiting, conniving, idea-snatching, lobotomized, obsessive compulsive, and three-blinks-shy-of-a-nervous-breakdown managers out there? The PayScale story I wanted them for will be out in November and I’ll link to it here once it’s live. If I decided to use your story, I sent you an email confirming as much. Meanwhile, congrats to Marie, who sent in a tale of a rubber chicken-wielding intoxicated client who used a meeting with her as an opportunity to do his personal car shopping. Complete with phone haggling! With a bunch of car dealerships!

Marie’s getting a signed copy of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide, but there are a couple dozen more where that came from. (Actually they’re in my office, and I’m looking to free up some shelf space.) If anyone wants one — $15 + $5 shipping = $20 US — email me and I’ll tell you how to send me some dough so that I can get you a copy.

1 comment October 22nd, 2007

Can this job be saved? How to know when it’s time to go

Here’s my latest article on PayScale. Enjoy…

We’ve all been there. Sunday night rolls around and suddenly we’re covered with hives. Or we find ourselves frantically searching WebMD for some exotic new disease to call in sick with the next morning. Or we begin entertaining “kill the boss” fantasies that rival the pink-collar revenge scenes in the movie “Nine to Five.”

But suffering from a chronic case of the Mondays doesn’t necessarily mean you should dust off your resume and start looking for greener pastures. Some workplace woes are fixable. The trick is knowing which ones — and how to mend them.

The magic is gone
So you’ve been at your job a couple years and now you’re bored. Or frustrated. Or disgruntled. Sound familiar? It’s possible you’ve just fallen into the age-old workplace habit of griping for griping’s sake, says Cynthia Shapiro, author of Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know — And What to Do About Them.

Instead of pissing and moaning, Shapiro advises, try to tap into what you originally appreciated about your gig and company. If you come up empty, take a long, hard look at your job: Has it changed for the worse since you started? Has the company? Have you changed, perhaps outgrowing the work? If the answer’s yes to any of these, it’s indeed time fly like the wind.

“I hate my boss” syndrome
Sure, a lot of bosses are crummy managers, but only a small percentage of them are sociopathic misanthropes. “If your boss looks like he’s terrible, it’s probably just that you’re terrible at managing up,” says Penelope Trunk, author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success.

The solution, says Trunk, is to tell your boss what you need to succeed in your job — be it more lead time on deadlines or more backup when the workload’s piled sky high. But remember, it’s not all about you. It’s about supporting your boss and doing a bang-up job so that she impresses her superiors. Keep your boss happy and you hold the keys to the kingdom.

“I think my boss hates me” syndrome
But what if you are doing a heckuva job, only to be snubbed when your boss hands out the plum projects, pay raises, and promotions? Maybe you’re constantly getting the difficult clients dumped in your lap. Or your job title’s changed so many times your coworkers have no idea what you do anymore. Or you just received a poor performance review, seemingly out of the blue.

If no matter how hard you shine, you’re ignored or sidelined by management, it’s time to wake up and smell the pink slip. “That is not just job ennui,” says Shapiro. “That is danger — you’re in the exit lane.” And while it may be tempting to sulk, your focus should on looking for a new employer. Pronto.

Want more? Read the rest of the article here.

6 comments October 12th, 2007

It came from the conference room…

I’m writing my next PayScale story, and I need anecdotes about your worst workplace meeting ever! I’ve been in meetings where someone fell asleep (OK, it was me), the person who called the meeting had no idea why we were all there, the meeting went on so long we all had to work overtime to get our daily to-do lists done…but that’s nothing new. What nightmares have you experienced in the conference room? Did the batphone for those lucky enough to telecommute blow up? Did someone have a seizure and yet your manager continued to drone on as though nothing had happened? Was there a Jerry Springer-esque smackdown in which the attendees removed their earrings, shoes, ties, and shirts before beating each other to a bloody pulp with their laptops?

Send me your best TRUE meeting nightmare tales — either in the comments below or via this email addressby Monday, October 8. Let me know if I can use your first name, industry, and city, or if you prefer to remain anonymous (in which case, you will get a pseudonym if I use your horror story in the piece). I will snail mail the person with the craziest TRUE meeting nightmare tale a signed copy of my book. Okay? So start dishing… Thanks.

3 comments September 30th, 2007

Fun with headlines

Hello, Computer!In the media and not to be missed this week:

New research shows that not only are men are better negotiators than women, but women who negotiate higher salaries are viewed negatively by both men and women. Ugh. How this translates: “If a 22-year-old man and a 22-year-old woman are offered $25,000 for their first job, for example, and one of them negotiates the amount up to $30,000, then over the next 28 years, the negotiator would make $361,171 more, assuming they both got 3 percent raises each year.” (Washington Post)

The average employee wastes two hours a day on personal pursuits, aka IM, cell phone, and the web. This study comes out every year, but it never gets old. Plus, this year’s finding have a special new twist: Twentysomethings are the biggest slackers of all. (Inc.com)

And from the recent archives:

NEC Corp. rolled out a pink, crystal-encrusted Hello Kitty laptop for “working women.” Bwahaahaaaaaaaaa! (Associated Press, via MSNBC)

A survey that came out around Mother’s Day found that “20% of women and 25% of men say, ‘I am often left picking up the slack for my co-workers who are moms.’” Many respondents were fathers. Way to go, guys. (USA Today)

Trade school is the new graduate school. If you read the last chapter of my book, you know I’m a champion of this POV. After all, how else is a philosophy grad going to pay the bills? (Minneapolis Star Tribune, via Seattle Times)

Marlys Harris, senior editor of Money Magazine, advises women to marry rich. I shit you not. (MSNBC)

7 comments August 3rd, 2007

Wow, 70 more cents an hour?!

penniesYou’ll be hearing today about how the U.S. minimum wage finally rose from $5.15 to $5.85 an hour, its first increase in a decade and an end to the longest stretch of time without a federal minimum wage hike since the law hit the books in 1938.

BFD. It was hard to live on $12K a year twenty years ago when I was fresh out of school and sleeping on a futon on the floor (with no dependents). Imagine being a single mom trying to feed your kids on that pittance. And to those who say increasing the mimimum wage is bad for businesses, how the heck do you sleep at night, endorsing poverty-level pay? If a business can’t afford to pay an employee a fair living wage, they don’t have any business hiring an employee.

Looking forward to 2009, when the minimum wage rises to $7.25 an hour, which still won’t be enough to live on and is less than many middle-class kids currently get paid to babysit.

9 comments July 24th, 2007

Newsflash: Working moms prefer part-time employment

GooI’m a little late in commenting on this, for reasons I’ll explain later this week (no, I’m not knocked up). But I couldn’t let Friday’s media feeding frenzy du jour slip by without weighing in.

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that the Pew Research Center revealed that the number of working moms who find part-time employment ideal — as opposed to full-time employment, or sitting out the employment merry-go-round altogether –has jumped to 60 percent in the past decade. (It was 48 percent in 1997.) You can read more of the stats here.

On the one hand, is this really news? I mean, doesn’t anyone with multiple responsibilities and to-do lists coming out of their ears want to work less? We’re not our first-wave feminist mothers and grandmothers with something to prove: We now know we can take office work or leave it (that is, if we can afford it, which most of us unfortunately can’t).

On the other hand, only 12 percent of the working dads Pew surveyed thought that part-time work was ideal for them. Sure, most single- or dual-parent families can’t live off a part-time salary (or two). But why are today’s dads so much more squeamish than their female counterparts about sitting out a couple days of office work? Is it that they don’t want to get “stuck” at home changing diapers and folding laundry? Are their identities — even in this sensitive-DIY-male day and age — so wrapped up in being the manly breadwinner? Or is it just that they (wisely) can’t get past the hits in pay, benefits, and even career advancement that often come with part-time work? (And since women can get past all this more often than their male counterparts, are we just a bunch of suckers? Or are we simply more disposed to putting quality of life first?)

Hopefully studies like this will continue to drive home the need for more fair ‘n flexible work options for parents and non-parents alike. And for parents, my hope is that more and more couples will continue to take that long, hard look at the division of household/financial labor when weighing who should work and who should stay home (if that’s even a financial option). And hopefully the next time someone does a big fancypants study like this, they’ll bother to ask the non-parents what they think, too. I, for one, would love to see the number of non-parents who prefer part-time work. I have a sneaking suspicion they’d be similar across the gender lines.

7 comments July 17th, 2007

Fun with headlines

headlinesWorking wives enjoy lasting marriages, studies show (McClatchy News Service)
Take that, Michael Noer!

Why working less is better for the globe (Alternet.org)
“Americans are working harder than ever before and at a greater cost to the environment. Research suggests that practicing a more simple lifestyle made people happier while using fewer resources.”

Be cool in the cube (Seattle Times)
“Restrain yourself from popping gum, clipping fingernails, cracking knuckles, smacking while eating, singing, drumming fingers or nervous tapping of any kind — or refreshing your cologne.”

Economist believes taxing women less could help everyone (Seattle Times)
“Want to reduce the overall level of income taxes and see more women taking home paychecks? Lower income-tax rates for women while raising them for men, according to Harvard University economist Alberto Alesina, who calls the idea ‘discrimination, the good kind.’”

More companies allowing employees to nap at work (NorthJersey.com)
“An article in the January issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine says fatigued workers cost employers $136.4 billion each year in health-related ‘LPT,’ or lost productive time. It’s at least part of the reason companies such as British Airways, Nike Inc. and Pizza Hut International allow their workers nap breaks and found productivity increased as a result. A NASA study found that a short nap can boost workers’ output by as much as 34 percent.”

2 comments May 23rd, 2007

How does your employer rate?

9-to-5-just-aint-normal.jpgThere was a verrrrrrry interesting article in my hometown paper, the Seattle Times, on Sunday: “Who says 9 to 5 is normal?” It’s about local employers who recognize that giving their employees flexible work options is a smart move. (Happier employees = better worker retention = lower turnover = lower costs. Duh.)

I also appreciate the article’s implication that trusting your telecommuting and flextime employees to not act like fifth graders or JDs boosts morale. If one of your staff violates that trust (say, by cleaning their garage instead of delivering the McWhatever report on time), you don’t kill the flex program, you give that individual the boot.

If this hits home in a good way, won’t you post the name of your employer, their location, and the details of your excellent flex package in the comments below? If we continue to praise those companies who make worklife more bearable, maybe other employers — ever-eager for positive PR and shiny new recruits — will want to make “the list.” In fact, if I get enough comments, I may see about doing something else with this list on the web.

4 comments May 3rd, 2007

Speaking of sick days…

sick dayLast week Charlene asked how freelancers deal with sick days. (Answer here.) If you think self-employed people are the only working stiffs who have it rough when they’re sick, you probably didn’t see the ABC news report on Friday about how 59 million U.S. workers have no paid sick days and 86 million get no paid days off to care for a sick kid. A juicy nugget from the piece:

Of the 20 most competitive economies in the world, according to research by the World Economic Forum, the U.S. is the only one not to require businesses to provide paid sick days.

What’s more, according to this NewStandard report, the shortage of sick days hurts women the most and hits part-time workers the hardest, given that only one in six of them gets paid sick days. Behold:

The [Kaiser Family] Foundation found that 49 percent of working mothers report they must miss work when a child is sick with a common illness, compared to 30 percent of men, and half of working mothers do not get paid time off spent caring for a sick child.

None of this is surprising, given our country’s crappy work-life balance offerings. The good news is that change is afoot. San Francisco now requires businesses to grant paid sick days, and according to ABC news, “similar bills are pending in Madison, Wisconsin, and in the states of Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont.” Congress is even holding hearings on a federal mandate for paid sick days.

What do you think? Have you ever gone to work with a fever or brought a sick child to work because you needed the cash? Should smaller businesses that squawk that paid sick days hurt their bottom line be bitch-slapped? Should the government foot the bill for workers who have the flu? Do tell.

7 comments February 27th, 2007

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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