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23 Nov 2022
by Mark Till

Are you doing enough to help the sandwich generation?

Employees with young families and parents to care for need all the support they can get. Here are some tips for employers

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The UK’s population is ageing. When King Charles was born in 1948, women in England and Wales had an average life expectancy of 70, while men lived to an average of 66 years old.

Almost 75 years later, women are now living to an average age of 83, while for men life expectancy is almost 80, according to the Office for National Statistics. At this stage of life, many people understandably turn to their children for day-to-day support.

At the same time that these unpaid carers – their children – are facing a cost-of-living crisis, rising interest rates and energy bills, they are also frequently busy raising their own families. The knock-on effect is that hard-pushed workers juggling the responsibilities of caring for elderly parents and dependent children are really feeling the strain.

6 million workers in the squeeze

According to Unum’s 2022 Opinium poll, it’s estimated that more than 6 million people in the UK workforce (more than one in five workers) consider themselves to be members of the ‘sandwich generation’.

As the pressures on these compassionate children and parents begin to stack up, the impact on their health and wellbeing is evident. According to our research, 20% say they are less productive at work and 13% have felt compelled to leave an unsupportive employer.

Unfortunately, 21% of sandwich generation workers said their employer did not offer support to help balance their work and home responsibilities. But a better understanding of employees’ needs, combined with helping them engage with benefits packages can make a huge difference to these workers, improving productivity, loyalty and retention.

Top tips to help support your sandwich generation employees:

1. Talk about it. Although most sandwich generation workers said their employer understands their needs, 31% said their employer has a poor understanding of their responsibilities. Clear and open two-way communication channels are vital for line managers to provide emotional support and make adjustments to lighten the employee load.

2. Mental health support. 35% of surveyed sandwich generation workers said their dual responsibilities have affected their mental health and more than a quarter (26%) wanted employers to improve access to mental health assistance. Many employee benefits packages now include mental health support services, such as counselling and online resources, at no cost to the employee. All Unum Group Risk customers have access to Help@hand, its health and wellbeing app, which provides access to mental health support as one of its six key services.

3. Be flexible. One of the positives outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic was the introduction of hybrid/remote work, which has featured heavily on HR agendas and has given many employees flexibility about where, how and when they work. Flexible working is the benefit most valued by the sandwich generation. Unum’s research revealed almost a quarter (24%) have needed time off to manage their caring responsibilities, with a further 16% saying it led them to take sick leave. Flexible working might include:

  • Flexi-time – a requirement to work within ‘core hours’, but flexibility in how total hours are completed.
  • Job sharing – usually two employees sharing the work of one
  • Compressed hours – working total hours over fewer working days.

4. Signpost benefits and resources. Make sure workers know what benefits and resources are available. A comprehensive employee assistance programme provides confidential tools and resources on life, money and wellbeing, often available 24/7 to employees and immediate family. In addition, 35% of employees surveyed want a specific sandwich generation support programme, so consider creating one, including clear signposting to resources such as toolkits, webinars and external support services like Carers UK.

As life expectancy continues to increase and economic uncertainty lingers, it’s more important than ever that employers respond to the health and wellbeing needs of their sandwich generation employees. Good general working practices and the diligent use of employee benefit added-value services could prove key to these workers staying well and staying in work.

In partnership with Unum Ltd

Putting people at the heart of employee benefits

Contact us today