It’s About Fairness

I have a very a wonderful family with my husband John, and Daphne. Daphne is a 10-year-old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and she means the world to me. Daphne is fun-loving, out-going and needs regular attention but she is not a human child. Because she is not a human child, I don’t get  the special consideration parents of human children do in the workplace.  
There’s no denying that parents have to make sacrifices in pursuit of their pay cheques. We establish work hours that are longer than the school day so some time with their children is missed. We make them take personal or vacation days to see their child’s program at school. We give them a hard time when they are late for work or have too many unjustified absences.
This isn’t to say that things aren’t changing. Increasingly, we are establishing an outcomes agenda at work, rather than a time clock culture, but sometimes that isn’t possible. There is a whole agenda of work-life balance which is noble but not always feasible.
It is difficult sometimes to be fair. After all, someone has to work the night shift, stay late to finish putting together the presentation materials, or travel to Moose Jaw for the sales meeting. More often than not, fair or not, it is the childless who bear the additional weight.
Recently, I was involved in taking a second look at a company’s vacation scheduling practices.  Not surprising, nearly all their staff wanted two weeks in July or August. There simply weren’t enough slots available for the demand. The company’s management was accused of being insensitive. The issue had become quite heated.  When I asked about whether some of the staff might be interested in bumping to June or September (perhaps even by providing a small incentive), it became clear that there weren’t enough people on staff who were willing to bump, since the kids are still in school in June and September. Worse, if they went to a simple seniority system, those with seniority were more likely not to have the same challenges with school age children.  Also, the younger, childless crowd had indicated that they were growing tired of always having to cover for the person with kids who expected to take their vacation when the weather was at its nicest.
As part of good HR practice, we are taught to keep family status, pregnancy, etc. out of the hiring process.  The challenge is ensuring you are being fair to everyone and that your company can deliver on its promises.  After all, people who feel like they are consistently at the short end of the stick will find a place to work where they are not.
Oh wait, I need to end this blog. I’ve been away for a long time today, and poor Daphne needs me to get home to let her out. Can you cut me some slack? I promise to be back working real soon.

Photo credit Bonni Titgemeyer

About the Author

Bonni Titgemeyer

Bonni Titgemeyer is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. She has been in human resources for 20+ years and works in the international HR arena. She is the recipient of the 2012 Toronto Star HR Professional of the Year Award. You can connect with Bonni on Twitter as @BonniToronto, often at the hashtag #TEPHR.


TNS Employee Insights

Great article! Justice and fairness is such a major component of the workplace that is often neglected. Thanks for posting!

Laura Schroeder

Workplace fairness is such an important topic, thanks for writing about it. I’d like to add to Tamkara’s comments that working moms make up for shorter hours with less pay as well as (thanks to 24/7 connectivity) longer hours as well. But I can see it would be hard for childless people to always have to go on vacation off-season (cheaper too :-). And before I had kids I admit I got annoyed by people who left early to pick up their kids and felt I was picking up the slack for them. Anyway, it’s important to have cards on the table to minimize feelings of unfair treatment. Great post! I hope your dog gets into a good school.

Sherri Rossi

Great post Bonni! I agree with what you have said as well as the comments by Tamkara. Being one of those employees with kids, I am able to see this situation from both sides of the equation.

Technology is amazing and I do greatly appreciate the fact that I can work from home while the children sleep, like I am doing right now in the hallway outside of their rooms!


Thanks Tamkara,

In this case, first-come, first-served was not perceived as fair. As I understand it, the problem is that their groups are small, and so one person being away in one department at a certain time could throw off others from being able to do so (disproportionately). They do use a “deadline to apply” approach.

I agree that we all need to take our turn getting the good vacation slots, but it isn’t as simple as that. In this case, the financial impact of someone having to find alternative child care during certain times of the year is substantial and sometimes difficult, and so knowing this, it places a lot of challenges on “working it out”.

I get what you are saying about people with kids being left out of certain types of assignments out of a perception that they are the weaker players, and that isn’t fair either.

Ultimately, I believe there is more attention that needs to be paid to this subject. Employees have options, and retention will be a challenge if there is perceived unfairness in how good things like vacation scheduling are addressed.

Again, thanks for the comments. Daphne in particular appreciates the compliment. : >


Thanks for a great post…..and Daphne is such a cutie!

I don’t think it’s all sacrifices for those without children. They do get a lot of perks too…..uhumm!!
They are looked upon by senior management as dedicated, committed and are usually referred to as “Hi-Po”.
They also are more likely to get juicy transfers and the exciting opportunities to work on roles that require some travel to exotic locations.

You know, there are times when I might just be willing to travel anywhere even Moose Jaw, if It would provide some respite from afterhours home care responsibilities

While its true that employees sans children may stay behind to tie up loose ends and meet project deadlines , they are not alone in this.
Thanks to internet access, employees with children are also able to contribute just as much by working from home after hours when the kids are in bed. So while they may be working just as hard as their counterparts, In certain work environments, they still bear the stigma of being labeled a clock watcher if they have to leave at 5.

Yes, working parents do get special considerations however the “special” consideration they receive might be neither positive nor welcome.

Life is not fair, neither is it black and white. We need to make allowances for each other every now and then. That’s what team work is all about.
Compromise instead of confrontation. Empathy instead of entitlement.

I was wondering, would a first come first served basis for vacation slots be considered fair to all parties concerned?


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