Avoiding the injustice of 'single syndrome'
Every December I meet up with a group of friends in my home town in India. This is the only time of year I visit my home country and this annual meet up is very important. However I have been told that all the slots for the period I want have been taken up by parents reserving the school holidays to go away with their families. I don't have any children, but surely my needs are as important as every colleague - family or not? MM, Sharjah
Hi MM, don't fret, you are not alone. For years I have suffered the "single syndrome" in many shapes and sizes from hotel accommodation being more expensive through to workplace examples such as less benefits in compensation packages through to allowances such as vacation timings. At least there's a positive in your organisation in that the HR department is transparent and shares the truth and real reasons. The "single syndrome" can be a little frustrating to say the least, yet until I suggested "a mindset of inclusion" it just didn't change. So I took it on myself to educate and communicate and to be part of a solution.
Personally I found I had to start everyone thinking that there really was a situation to be considered. Without them being aware, I'd continually be pushed to the back. I ensured I did not do this aggressively as it would turn them all against me, yet chose to consistently nip away at the topic whenever I could (a bit like a semi-annoying chihuahua, nipping at a ladies' heels).
I saw evidence of this working about a year later when the meeting agenda covered vacation, and it was addressed with an opening remark that fairness across all desires wherever possible was to be a priority that year. With that, I knew I had made some small inroads and continued my crusade.
I also had to realise that black and white thinking never breeds inclusion and collaboration. Either/or just doesn't cut it for this, so from both sides, I saw there was room for change. An expectation of "every year, I …" or "each school holidays, we …" is sure to bring a situation where one wins and one loses. "Give and take" may find many solutions such as both parties take that period yet extend dates on either side, and reduce overlap of time away? Give and take scenarios can play over multiple cycles too, so possibly year in, year out, the allocation is in favour of differing parties.
On the year that you cannot travel at that time, could you offer your Indian friends an alternative as well, providing them a tantalising offer to relocate to your country for the annual meet up, transferring your efforts into the quality of that visit for your guests. You could keep working by day while they do touristy things and by night the socialising hits full swing. If this is not possible, for example if your travel is for a particular festival, there's always technology that can help you to experience the festival, isn't there? As they say, there's many ways to skin a cat.
Importance comes in many shapes and sizes. Children's vacations are indeed importance yet so is yourself. Never forget that. One thing I had to learn to understand was the concept of my sphere of influence. Can I influence when the school holidays are on? Clearly no, so I had to stop focusing on that, as it just continued to reinforce my woes. Once I did that, I found miraculously that suddenly the schools changed dates and even once the country declared official public holidays during the dates I wanted.
Good luck MM - it's worth the effort, and enjoy your vacation whenever that may be!
Remove yourself from the emotion of inequity and put that energy into finding creative solutions.
Debbie Nicol, the managing director of the Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at email@example.com for the Workplace Doctor's advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague