Many parents in today's workforce find themselves caught between caring for young children while also caring for aging parents. This phenomenon has been dubbed the "sandwich generation," with as many as 1 in 7 middle-aged adults falling into this category. In fact, as societal trends have shifted, so has the sandwich generation — the meaning has evolved over time to include parents who are still supporting young adult children or even raising grandchildren, making the sandwich generation a multi-layered issue impacting millions of workers.
Being part of the sandwich generation comes with unique emotional, physical, and financial challenges. These caregivers are often supporting multiple family members financially while also providing hands-on care. This can take a massive toll in terms of time, money, and mental bandwidth.
As an employer, supporting your sandwich generation employees pays dividends in loyalty, engagement, and productivity. It begins with creating an environment of empathy and caring, cultivating a culture that is understanding of people’s responsibilities beyond the office — which, in turn, engenders people to do their best work.
Want to support caregivers while creating a work culture that recognizes life outside of the office, in-person or virtual? Here are some ways you can support working caregivers:
One major way employers can support sandwich generation employees is by building flexibility into when and where work occurs. Rather than expecting a rigid 9-to-5, 40-hour workweek in the office, consider allowing employees to vary their start and end times, telecommute certain days, or compress their hours. The goal is to structure jobs in a way that honors the value of contributions over set times.
Employees tend to experience reduced stress when they have the autonomy to integrate caregiving tasks within workdays, and employers reap benefits in the form of increased loyalty, engagement, and productivity from workers who feel empowered to balance personal and professional duties. The flexibility to schedule family commitments without compromising job performance is hugely beneficial for both sandwich generation caregivers and their employers.
Provide Time Off
Caregiving duties often require taking time off work for medical appointments, procedures, and recovery periods. Having ample paid time off and family leave policies helps sandwich generation employees manage their obligations without losing income.
Our Beyond Parental Leave study uncovered that a majority of parents — more than 60% — took leaves of absence beyond the infant stage. Most of our employer partners shared that sandwich generation benefits and support have become critical employee priorities this year. Catering to time off needs, while ensuring parents have time to take care of themselves, is an integral part of support.
Provide Means of Support
Chances are you have several employees who are part of the sandwich generation, especially if you’re a large organization. Bring employees together for sessions focused on caregiving challenges. This normalizes their experience and provides a space to share advice and resources. You can provide this through an employee resource group (ERG) or perhaps just a Slack channel where people can offer advice and support.
Offering good mental health support is another area where employers can help. Employer-sponsored Employee Assistance Programs through providers or mental health apps, allowing employees a place to vent and discuss mental health challenges, and hopefully avoid even more taxing and costly health issues.
Promote Self-care and Wellness
For caretakers, there is often little to no time left in the day to take care of themselves, an all-too-common reality that can result in both physical and mental health issues. They tend to suffer from competing role demands, requiring them to choose who takes precedence when all are needy. This push and pull, coupled with feeling like you aren't enough, can lead to feelings of despair, depression, and helplessness if gone unrecognized and untreated.
Encourage employees to invest time in self-care through exercise breaks, counseling benefits, stress management workshops and the like. Avoiding burnout is crucial.
As the population ages, the sandwich generation will continue to grow, and as it does, we will see elevated conversation around ways employers can provide support and benefits as workers juggle caring for aging parents and kids at home. Organizations recognizing the need and offering much-needed support will gain talent favor and loyalty, giving them a strategic advantage in attracting and retaining talent.