Childless women work harder?

A colleague returned from maternity leave this week, and when asked on her first morning back if she was missing her baby she replied an unequivocal: ‘no’. Other working parents could probably concur with this feeling, and appreciate getting back to work or simply just the chance to interact with other adults. Work can be a respite for working parents and carers who want some structure and routine or a change from the demands of home, or a chance to get back to the careers they were building before they had kids.

It’s interesting then that a survey from Red magazine (I haven’t seen the original survey, just this write up from Management Today), says that ‘4 out of 10’ childless women feel they work harder than working mums, and resent providing cover for their colleagues’ holidays and flexible working.

Co-workers without dependents resenting providing cover for their child-bearing colleagues is nothing new, and I’ve seen resentment boil over into outright hostility in places I have worked in the past. But I do feel it’s time we appreciated that diversity in the workplace requires some effort on all our parts to be flexible and to get along.

Different people in the workplace have different needs. Equality initiatives are there to give everyone an equal opportunity, not simply to make sure that everyone is treated exactly the same. And if you don’t really know what your co-worker is struggling with outside the workplace, do you have to make their life inside work miserable as well by seething with quiet resentment?

All workers could do well to realise that there may come a time when they themselves would want to be on the receiving end of the ‘easier ride’ as they perceive it and stop comparing themselves with others (which is a surefire way to make yourself unhappy). Caring for aging parents is fast becoming as much of a pressure on workers as raising a young family, and that’s something that can affect workers a lot more suddenly than planning for a family.

Part of the solution could be the right for all workers to request flexible working as the UK government will introduce in 2014.

That will be a rude awakening for employers who have shied away from dealing with requests until now or confined them only to working parents. But will it stop the comparing and inter-workplace resentment?

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