Related topics

Is Childless Employee an Orphan?

October 6, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ In corporate America, you hear about kids all the time.

Their parents’ benefit plans, and increasingly their work hours, are structured with children in mind. Because they have youngsters, some employees are exempt from travel requirements or from overtime.

But what about the ``childless″ employee, the single or married person who doesn’t have guardianship of anyone under age 18? Are they office orphans?

The question arises because there are so many of them. Their numbers grow each day, and many feel their interests, concerns and needs aren’t adequately represented in employee benefit plans.

Worse, some of these employees feel they subsidize benefits for working parents _ an attitude that seems in conflict with that of benefits advisers and employers, who think the childless are well taken care of.

The latter attitude, revealed in a study by The Conference Board, a nonprofit, largely business supported research group, found that 57 percent of employers feel they adequately address the needs of childless employees.

While that leaves a large percentage of employers, who themselves might question the adequacy of their effort, the real problem is still developing. It’s because most workers happen to be ``childless.″

Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show more than 60 percent of the U.S. work force fits the category mentioned above; that is, they don’t have full or partial guardianship of children under 18.

Statistics such as these caused Deloitte & Touche, the corporate accounting and consulting firm, to caution clients that failure to address the issue can mean ``overlooking the concerns of most of their work force.″

The change seems to have been gradual. During the past two decades, for example, there has been a doubling in the number of never-married men and women between ages 35 and 44 years.

Moreover, the empty-nest trend is expected to continue. The Census Bureau foresees the most common type of household after the year 2005 will be comprised of singles or married couples without children living at home.

Any failure by corporations is hardly because of a lack of benefits to offer. As many employers hear at contract time, the list is both long and creative, with tuition assistance probably at the top.

Other possibilities that score high are personal days, wellness programs, employee-assistance programs and, destined to become more popular as the population ages, elder care information and referrals.

What these possibilities suggest is that while jobs might be more financially rewarding than they were a few decades ago, life is becoming so complicated it can’t be handled by cash alone.

The resources of corporations _ that is, their knowledge, buying power, organizational abilities and influence _ are likely to become more important to employees even as employers seek to curtail benefits.

And if demographics mean anything, future corporate benefits are likely to involve more than children.

Update hourly