According to the US census, more than 110 million Americans over the age of 18 are currently unmarried. That’s 45 percent of the adult US population.
And yet, many employers have been slow to adjust their benefits to support modern lifestyles. As a result, a significant value gap has emerged between the benefits offered to married employees and those offered to their single counterparts.
New research from Thomsons Online Benefits asked 300 US HR decision-makers about the differences in their benefits programs as related to employees’ marital statuses. Shockingly, 90 percent of companies are offering additional benefits to employees who are married, leaving those without a legal partner out of pocket. Disparities between single and married coworkers can be seen across the entire benefits ecosystem, with everything from PTO and healthcare to flexible work arrangements affected by this imbalance.
Losses in PTO, Pensions, and Healthcare
The discrepancies between benefits for single and married employees have real, significant monetary impacts. Married employees receive, on average, 3.6 more days off than single employees — partially because 22 percent of organizations offer employees additional PTO for weddings and honeymoons. Assuming a median household income of $56,516, or $217 per working day, single employees are missing out on around $775 in PTO value.
In terms of healthcare, the average monthly contribution to the healthcare plan of a married employee is $461.80 versus $344.35 for a single employee. Over 10 years, that difference would result in a loss of $14,094 for single employees, compared to the healthcare support their married counterparts receive. Additionally, married employees get extra pension contributions from 34 percent of employers.
Lack of Support for Single Caregivers
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, approximately 39.8 million caregivers are providing care to adults (aged 18+) with a disability or illness in the US. These caregivers may not be caring for their children, but they still need support from their employers.
Unfortunately, the needs of these caregivers are not currently reflected in most companies’ benefits programs. According to the Thomsons report, 70 percent of companies offer paid family leave to employees with children, while only 44 percent offer that option to employees who have other family caregiving responsibilities.
Inflexible Work Arrangements
The gap between what is offered to parents and what is offered to their single counterparts can also be seen in how most companies handle flexible work arrangements. Fifty-six percent of employers offer four-day workweeks to employees with children, while only 36 percent offer that option to employees without children, according to the Thomsons report.
At many organizations, there is a strong — if unspoken — belief that married employees, and especially parents, should be prioritized over single employees when it comes to flexibility. In fact, 69 percent of the HR decision-makers surveyed agreed that flexible work is more important for colleagues with children.
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At the same time, employers do recognize the risks they run by not extending flexible work opportunities to all employees. Eighty percent of HR decision-makers said flexible working arrangements are important in terms of driving talent retention — but many have yet to make these options equally available across their workforces.
The Importance of Personalization
HR decision-makers are aware the disparity is a problem. More than 60 percent agreed that the benefits system as it is currently configured works best for the traditional nuclear family and that “it’s unfair that colleagues without partners don’t receive the same flexible benefits as those who have partners or children.”
Eighty-three percent of HR decision-makers agreed that all employees should have access to the personalized benefits that suit them best, but only 59 percent said they offer personalized benefits programs to all employees. Even more concerning, of those respondents who do not yet provide personalized benefits programs, only 15 percent are planning to invest in personalization in the future.
It’s time for companies to do better when it comes to personalizing benefits to support all employees, regardless of marital status. Organizations must recognize the diversity of lifestyle choices and family structures in their workplaces. Offering benefits that only give advantages to some employees will breed resentment in the workforce. The importance of flexibility, choice, and personalization for all employees can’t be overemphasized.
Providing employees with personalized benefits keeps them happy and engaged while supporting efforts to attract and retain top talent. Fair treatment needs to be extended to everyone so that organizations don’t unintentionally discriminate against subsections of their staffs.
Companies can begin to take steps in a more equitable direction by collecting data on employees’ personal needs, analyzing this data, and then using the resulting insights to create benefits offerings that are truly valuable to and inclusive of all employees.
Matt Jackson is vice president of client solutions of Thomsons Online Benefits.