The truth about being single at work

20 October 2021 - 1-2 minutes read time
Singles Day, the unofficial holiday for people not in a relationship, falls on 11 November. To mark the occasion, we look at what it means to be single while holding down a career – and dispel some of the myths around living the single life that can sometimes put you at a disadvantage.

Flowers arriving, cards displayed, people discussing their romantic plans for the evening... If you’re single (or even if you’re not), Valentine’s Day can often seem an unnecessary chore in the social calendar, especially in the workplace. 

But if you sometimes find yourself looking wistfully at your single status on social media, never fear. Because Singles Day is here – a time to toast those of us living the single life, and a guilt-free opportunity to treat ourselves to some of that special pampering usually associated with doting couples. 

The problem with Singles Day
Originally dreamt up in the 1990s by Chinese students dissatisfied with the stigmas attached to finding themselves alone on 14th February, Singles Day has since evolved into a major retail holiday in China and beyond, eclipsing even Black Friday and Cyber Monday for revenue.

The premise is pretty simple: Singles Day is a chance for single people to lavish themselves with attention – buy themselves something new, or treat themselves to a luxurious experience. But should those celebrations of singledom really extend to the workplace? And what about the rest of the year? Are single people treated differently at work to those in an ongoing relationship or marriage?

Single and misunderstood – the common myths
There are a lot of different misconceptions about single people in the workplace. Negative stereotypes include that they are more self-centred and only focused on themselves, they are less enthusiastic about teamwork and, being on their own, have more time to devote to their work. You may even have heard a colleague suggest that such and such is perfect for the job because they have no life. All of which are unacceptable suppositions in today’s working environment.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the myths surrounding singledom, how they came about, and why they are patently untrue:

MYTH 1: Single people are natural loners less likely to work well in a team
Hmmm. It’s true that single people are used to tackling things alone. They’ve had to in order to get on in life. But research also suggests they are good leaders who stand by their own opinions, having attained the confidence to do so.1 Some studies also show that single men especially are also likely to participate more than married men in professional societies, unions and organisations.2 In fact, single people do more to maintain their relationships with family and friends than married people, more rooted in their communities, and are better at staying touch too.3 They may not be in a relationship ‘team’, but they are certainly open to working as part of one.

MYTH 2: Singles have more time to spend working
Single people may value their solitude without necessarily the immediate constraints of family life, i.e. children. But that doesn’t mean they are less ‘busy’. They have a life outside work, and demand the same opportunities to enjoy it. And when they are at work, they may have fewer distractions. Put simply, single people get things done. They’re likely to have spent more of their life honing their skills – unlike married people who often divide everyday tasks and master only the ones for which they are responsible. Whereas single people have figured out how to conquer them all.

MYTH 3: Singles should cover for their married co-workers
On a similar note, many single workers may have experienced being expected to ‘fill in’ due to someone else’s family issues, or had their requests for time off superseded by those of married co-workers with children – the old ‘school holidays’ scenario. But is this really fair? Singles still have people in their lives they want to see, who care about them. They’re still ‘family’ even if not in the traditional sense. And what about caring for ageing parents, or sick siblings? Single people are more likely to take up the added responsibilities of those caregiving roles too.4

MYTH 4: Singles don’t need as much pay because they’re just supporting themselves
Irrespective of how many people you’re providing for, life is expensive. The temptation is to view singles as having it easy, but is that really the case? When it comes to paying the rent or mortgage, there’s only one person responsible. The same with food. Cooking for one might seem easier, but as any singleton will tell you it’s often just as time and effort-consuming to make a meal for one as it is for 2 or more, especially if you want to follow a healthy diet.
Thus economy of scale and less likelihood of dependents is no reason for unequal pay.

MYTH 5: Singles aren’t as responsible and are just out for themselves
As discussed above, single people are used to doing everything themselves, not dividing responsibilities, which if anything would seem to suggest they are more responsible workers. In addition, single people are generally more inclined to absorb new thinking, and be willing to learn and grow as a person. And lastly, research also suggests that single people are less likely to turn up just for the salary, and more inclined to value their work as a meaningful part of their life.5 Isn’t that what any employer would want?

These are just some of the common myths around singles in the workplace – we’re sure you can think of more. The truth is that single people are arguably more desirable employees than those of us in permanent and stable relationships. 

So if you are single right now, all the more reason to take care of your own health and wellness, and treat yourself a little this Singles Day. Because even in today’s relatively enlightened working environment, there’s no guarantee anyone else will.