Do you have Employees who care for children as well as aging relatives? You may even shoulder this responsibility yourself. If so, you and those Employees are members of the ‘Sandwich Generation’.
With couples starting their families later, adult children living at home for longer, and increases in life expectancies, the ‘Sandwich Generation’ term applies to both men and women, typically aged between 40 and 65 years old, who simultaneously care for young children and elderly relatives, financially, physically and emotionally, and is one of the fastest growing segments of modern society.
Charity Carers UK estimated in 2018 that there were 2.4 million people in the ‘Sandwich Generation’, with that number expected to grow.
Becoming a part of the Sandwich Generation often involves a significant financial burden, as families find themselves having to financially support three generations at once. It can also affect their own physical and mental health, with reduced time to pursue personal leisure activities and develop their career as perhaps once anticipated. These restrictions can lead to life becoming overwhelming for the ‘Sandwich Generation’ with a potential risk of stress, physical burnout, depression and anxiety; this can lead to resentment, feelings of isolation, marital strain, and guilt over being torn in two directions.
But How Does This Affect The Workplace?
The ‘Sandwich Generation’ primarily affects those aged 40 to 65 – a time when an individual is usually at the peak of their career, and of significant value to their Employer and colleagues. But ‘Sandwich Generation’ members may find themselves having to turn down career development opportunities, or step down from their roles altogether, in the pursuit of the time and flexibility needed to carry out their carer roles. Additionally, stress, depression and anxiety can lead to lost productivity, absenteeism, and even if the Employee is physically present, mentally they may be elsewhere.
So, with more Employees joining the ‘Sandwich Generation’, should more be done to support them in the workplace? Or do we accept this is the way of the future and adopt a ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘just get on with it’ attitude?
Reasons to Care
Although the quintessentially British ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘just get on with it’ approach of the past can produce results in the short term, it doesn’t provide a good long-term solution. Standards of health, family structures, costs of living and lifestyles have changed significantly over the past fifty years, and often the onus is on Employers to roll with the changes and support their workforce where possible.
Having a diverse workforce comprising a range of ages and experiences creates higher levels of productivity, transfer of skills and greater retention – all essential as Carers UK reports that UK businesses lose around £3.5bn per year in lost productivity, recruitment and replacement costs.
Therefore, there is wisdom in Employers making moves to better understand the needs of their ‘Sandwich Generation’ Employees and develop support programmes that enable them to stay in work, while providing adequately for loved ones.
Flexibility, Access, Advice and Support
Under Flexible Working legislation, Employees can request changes to their working hours and more flexible working arrangements to help with carer commitments. The right to make a request extends to all Employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service, where they have not made a request within the last 12 months. However, in early 2019, the Government-led Flexible Working Task Force urged Employers to advertise roles of all levels and pay grades as flexible. Most recently, in summer 2019, a new Flexible Working Bill was introduced into Parliament. If implemented, flexible working would become a default position for all Employees. Indeed, many new job applicants search out roles that advertise flexible working options, rating it highly on their list of essentials. However, the rising number of people giving up work entirely to care for family members indicates that there is a need for more support.
To complement flexible working arrangements, we’ve come up with 3 areas in which we believe Employer support can prove beneficial, and even life changing:
Access to Information
There are many services and benefits available to carers that can ease the burden on them. Yet, it’s surprising how many of these are a well-kept secret! As an Employer, get fully informed of these benefits and make the information available to eligible Employees, a good starting point is https://www.gov.uk/carers-uk. Provide access to personalised guidance and advice on navigating the care system itself. You could also consider inviting representatives from care-focused organisations or community groups to give talks to Employees about the services and options out there to help lighten the load.
Financial Advice From the Experts
Supporting three generations at once can bring a huge financial strain. Provide Employees with access to personalised financial advice, which can also comprise long-term financial planning, adjustments to insurance arrangements, and management of existing pension plans. The peace of mind it can bring and subsequent loyalty to the Employer through appreciation and confidence can prove priceless.
Being a part of the Sandwich Generation can bring with it feelings of stress, burnout, guilt, isolation, overwhelm, depression and anxiety. The effect of these on the workplace should not be underestimated – having an Employee physically present is of little benefit if they are mentally absent, or unable to function to their best. Provide access to emotional support services, such as carer or community groups, private online discussion groups, counsellors and therapists, while encouraging a supportive atmosphere within your workplace. Some usual websites are:
The ‘Sandwich Generation’ is here to stay and expected to grow. Recognising it and providing support, wherever possible, can go a long way towards keeping your valued Employees in work, sustaining them in caring for their families and themselves, and getting the very best long-term results for your organisation. If you have any questions relating to this subject or would like to put in place a robust Policy to support your Employees, do not hesitate to contact a member of the Su Allen HR team on 01582 883299.