Married Vs. Single Agents: Balancing Familial Status In The Office
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In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic. Anthony is the broker-owner of South Florida’s largest RE/MAX office, and a working agent who sells more than 100 homes each year.
This month’s situation: A newly divorced agent is having trouble adjusting to her new “single” status in her real estate office, and what appears to be a culture that only accommodates colleagues who are married and/or parents. How can her broker help with this difficult transition and adjust any legitimate inequities, while also recognizing certain unalterable realities?
As a recently divorced 50-something whose kids are out of the house, my lifestyle has suddenly changed and my eyes have been much opened to how single people are unfairly marginalized throughout society, including in the workplace. It’s not so much that single agents like me are treated differently per se, but those with younger children seem to be accommodated to a much greater extent.
Take my recent afternoon forays into the office, for example. I plan these visits with a simple goal of popping in, making a few calls and checking a few emails, and then getting out quickly.
Unfortunately, the last few times I’ve come in only to find the young children of my colleagues loudly playing games on the computers, essentially unsupervised while the parent is busy. The area is cluttered with snacks, backpacks and so much noise, and I end up leaving frustrated. I want to complain, but this situation seems to be the norm.
Thinking back to my earlier married days when my own kids were small, I suddenly recognize that I may have been blind to, and guilty of this same discourtesy foisted upon my co-workers. I thought nothing of stopping in the office with two children in tow, without concern for the disruption they caused even entering my mind. Now I realize that my colleagues were probably too uncomfortable to say anything.
To be completely honest, the freshness of my single status is probably making me more sensitive than usual about intra-office issues. I am noticing and flinching at inequities that seemed so innocent and harmless before — holiday parties that invariably include a “plus-one,” “family” picnics, and offers to take leftovers from office events first made to those with children.
I can live with those, but the official decisions are where I draw the line. It’s obvious to me that the married staffers at my office (especially those with children) get their time off and schedule requests prioritized, as well as a host of other unspoken benefits. Considering the renewed focus on discrimination in our industry and culture, how is this OK?
In an evolving society focused on individuality and uniqueness, this “singles vs. marrieds/parents” dynamic is yet another complicated challenge for managers to navigate. While it is possible that old habits have created some blind spots, we are doing our best to accommodate all agents and staffers as much as possible while being sensitive about familial status.
For example, our management team typically makes a conscious effort to attend events solo and to interact with everyone — especially those who may be without partners at the event — so they feel seen, heard and welcomed.
As the broker of a large office, however, there are a multitude of varying circumstances to consider at any given time, and very often we must make decisions that work best for most people. That does result in situations where married parents on our office staff get prioritized or leniencies for time off, or preferred meeting dates and times.
While that may seem unfair, the reality is that their schedules are much less flexible than those without spouses or children. (Agents, of course, are independent contractors and are free to make their own schedules without concern for others.) This does not relegate other staffers to second-class status, and as with all policies, it should be open to flexibility and exceptions.
How to resolve
Just as an individual must accept that they can’t please everyone they know all of the time, and that certain inequities will always exist, the same holds true for the broker of a real estate office.
Anyone who has been a single member of a family whose siblings were married with children will know this well.
Is it fair that the single individual provides birthday presents for each family member, but receives only one gift on his/her birthday from the family? Is it fair that invitations from formerlysingle friends trickle to a stop after they get married, out of their concern that the single individual will be uncomfortable around all married couples?
This newly single agent would do well to accept these realties and change their perspective. As a society and team-based office, we all can endeavor to support each other through the many stages of life. This includes singles with and without children, married or committed couples, seniors who may or may not have lost a life partner, and recent divorcees like her. Each stage of life presents specific needs, and requires community support or accommodation.
Rather than feel left out because she no longer has a need for the extra support, she could consider being generous enough to become part of the support for others. In doing this, the agent becomes a part of the extended family the office has become to many agents and staffers. (The community of real estate professionals is special in that way.)
When one is in need, the others step in. We do it for the public we serve, and in many cases, we do it for each other. This sense of shared sacrifice creates bonds and friendships that last a lifetime.
There are also some creative “real world” ways to balance out the privileges that parents and married team members enjoy over single members. One could be to give single workers scheduling leniency and priority during the summer months, when children may be away in camps, and arrangements often become less rigid.
Anthony Askowitz is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty, with offices in Hollywood Beach, Davie, Miramar, North Miami, South Miami, Kendall, and the Florida Keys, where he leads the activities of more than 190 agents. Follow Anthony on Instagram.
NOTE: Askowitz is not an attorney and does not give legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney regarding matters discussed in this column.