The jam sandwich challenge

Much has been written about the sandwich generation, so called as they are effectively 'sandwiched' between the obligations to care for their ageing parents – who may be unwell or in need of financial support – and the pressures of raising children.

jam sandwich

There is also a new group that has recently entered the popular lexicon: the JAMs (just about managing). Rising living costs (including housing) and lower wage rises mean that the typical disposable real income of many families is below what it was over a decade ago. These are not the poorest in society – in fact recent research by the Resolution Foundation last year found that those with incomes as much as £50,000 a year could be described as JAMs.

Those simultaneously in both groups – with caring responsibilities across multiple generations and falling real incomes – can of course be called the JAM sandwich generation. The term is rather more amusing than the predicament.

A tricky balance

Balancing both the care and financial responsibilities with the need to continue to earn (while also saving for retirement) and the desire to progress professionally, is becoming increasingly difficult for much of the workforce. The Government is making small waves in understanding the needs of this generation, for example, by revisiting child care tax breaks, regulations around flexible/agile working and shared parental leave.

While every Budget related statement since 2016 has vowed to support these “hard working people” it seems that it’s still not enough. Attention is now being turned to the responsibilities of employers and what they could be doing in this area.

So what can employers realistically do to help? Here are some simple ideas that HR could implement to support employees:

1) Internal forum or support networks

Establish an internal forum or support network for employees to share their experiences with each other. Our research tells us that employees lack information and would welcome ideas on how they can better manage their responsibilities. Work itself can serve as a respite and an opportunity to socialise, commiserate and engage.

2) Identify where additional support is required

Identify other key areas where team leaders need additional support to get the best out of their people. In conjunction with looking at an internal forum or support network, employers can proactively identify support areas. Consider running a series of “lunch-and-learn” seminars hosted by external experts who can provide and assess key tools in managing such challenges.

3) Consider flexible working 

Consider your approach to agile/flexible working – allowing employees to work three days a week, or longer hours during a four-day week allows them to juggle responsibilities and stay in control of their schedules. It is also good for employers; unplanned and unproductive absences are likely to reduce.

4) Help with financial education and support

Provide financial education and support – being JAM sandwiched puts new demands on finances. It is important that employees stay on top of their own financial well-being. Planning and saving for their own goals is not being selfish; the financial stability of the JAM sandwich generation is vital if they are to be able to provide the necessary support to both parents and their children, and continue to be committed to and focused on their professional work.

Employers need to make such information accessible and relevant to employees. There has been a rise in the number of educational and financial tools that are rolled out in the workplace.

With increasing lifespans (which often outlast wealth spans) and employees having children at older ages, we believe there will be a rise in the JAM sandwich generation. It is therefore critical that employers help employees navigate these challenging circumstances, not only for better business performance, but also for the emotional and financial well-being of their employees.

Dipa Mistry Kandola is head of flexible benefits services at LCP.

This article was provided by LCP.

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