One of the big worries of working parents is being perceived as slackers when they need to care for their kids — in fact, there’s a name for it: family responsibilities discrimination.
But there’s another side of the coin: The pressure that childless employees feel to work longer hours because they don’t have those same parental duties. In one recent U.K. study of 25,000 workers, two out of three childless women between the ages of 28 and 40 believe they’re expected to work more than coworkers with kids.
Of course, there’s a big difference between lending the occasional helping hand and feeling as if you’re expected to pick up the slack for your working-parent colleagues. Here’s what to do if your situation sounds more like the latter.
DON’T DEVALUE YOUR TIME
Often, childless coworkers may be guilted into working longer hours because what they do during their off hours isn’t perceived as important as what parents have to do. But your time matters. It's a finite resource, and neglecting your work/life balance is a surefire way to bring on burnout.
This is why you have to set clear and consistent work boundaries. Not only are you protecting your time, but you’re also avoiding the potential stress and physical harm that results from working too much: Research shows that logging more than 55 hours per week increases your risk for stroke, and working beyond the standard seven-to-eight-hour workday may double your likelihood of depression.
So the next time you’re being asked to burn the candle at both ends when other coworkers aren’t, be firm about your limitations by saying something like, “I have a hard stop at 6 p.m., but I can work on this project until then,” or “I won’t be checking my email this weekend but can tackle this first thing Monday morning.”
“Try to avoid venting in the office — it could lead to divisiveness, trust issues and hurt feelings.”
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FLEX HOURS
A whopping 80 percent of companies offer flexible work hours, but childless workers may be more hesitant to take advantage of such policies because leaving early to, say, do volunteer work may be frowned upon, while caring for a sick child would not.
But if your company has a corporate policy, it wasn’t designed for a select few. If the policy is formal, know the rules so you can be sure that you’re not abusing them. If you have an informal policy that’s left to your manager’s discretion, then make the case for why a flexible schedule is to everyone’s advantage.
For instance, maybe you have a long commute and would benefit from gaining a few hours to meet a big deadline by working from home once a week. Or perhaps you and your working-parent team members can come up with a plan together: If you stay late one night to help them out, they can cover for you on another night.
BE HONEST ABOUT WHEN YOU’RE OVERLOADED
Let's be real: Sometimes a good venting session is just what you need to release some steam. But try to avoid doing that in the office — it could lead to divisiveness, trust issues, hurt feelings and more. If you feel the urge to vent, it's probably time to get to the root of the problem.
Honesty is your best bet. This doesn't mean sacrificing compassion. Rather, respect your colleagues enough to be transparent about your feelings. Try something as simple as: "I'd love to help you out, but I think I’m taking on too much."
If you're being railroaded, consider bringing the situation to your manager. Unless you communicate your concerns, there's no way for them to understand the depth of the problem. So speak up about how your additional workload is unsustainable. If your manager truly values you, you'll work toward a solution together.