As of 2016, a full 27% of children lived with a single parent. The vast majority of these parents also work for a living, which means that a sizable chunk of offices include employees who manage to complete their work tasks and raise their children at the same time. Obvious though this fact may seem, office chatter surrounding single parents frequently veers in a less-than-productive (and, sometimes, borderline offensive) direction. Here are 8 examples of comments to avoid around your single-parent colleagues.
1. “You must have your hands full!”
The fact that single parents have busy schedules is well-known, and there’s no need to bring it to anyone’s attention. When made in the workplace, statements like these can give the impression that you don’t trust your coworker to handle their task load, since their life outside of work involves a great deal of activity.
2. “You can’t come to happy hour again?”
In some offices, team outings and weekly “happy hours” are an essential aspect of the work culture. However, even if that proves true in your workplace, parents (and particularly single parents) likely have other responsibilities that must take precedence over optional post-work gatherings, and it’s unreasonable to penalize them for that in any way.
3. “Are you sure that you can take this business trip?”
On the other side of this issue, some workplaces automatically assume that single parents can’t fulfill certain aspects of their jobs, specifically those that require travel. But if the employee in question understands what the job entails and agrees to go on business trips, it’s not their coworkers’ place to question that fact. Trust your colleague to manage their own family and travel situation, unless it’s negatively impacting workflow.
4. “I totally understand what you’re going through; my spouse is out of town this week, and it’s driving me crazy!”
This phrase may seem like an innocuous and relatable bit of chit-chat, but comparing your experience as a “single parent” for a few days while your partner travels to that of a coworker who regularly takes care of their kids solo comes off as tone-deaf and more-than-a-little naive.
5. “Are you allowed to use sick time to take care of your sick kid?”
At many companies, employees are fully within their rights to use their allotted sick time to care for their ailing family members, children included. Regardless, your colleague’s use of their own accrued PTO is really none of your business, so there’s no need to make remarks about it. If you’re genuinely confused about your company’s policy on sick leave for your own use, consult the employee manual or ask your HR rep.
6. “Are you getting child support?”
It’s (rightfully) legal for employees to discuss their respective compensation with each other, according to the National Labor Relations Act. However, there’s no need for you to take an interest in your coworkers’ finances outside of the office. Asking about child support and divorce settlements is rude and irrelevant.
7. “Do you ever wonder about where your career would be now if you didn’t have a kid?”
This question might not feel so invasive if presented by a friend or a family member, but a colleague needs to maintain professional boundaries and should therefore absolutely avoid these highly-personal discussions in the workplace.
8. “You look so tired!”
Honestly, every professional should eliminate this phrase from their vocabularies; no one, regardless of their circumstances, wants to be told that they look “tired”. Unless you have real cause for concern about your single-parent coworker’s health, resist the desire to comment.