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21 Nov 2022
by Lucie McGrath

Four ways employers can ease weight on the sandwich generation

With people living longer, more employees will find themselves caring for parents as well as children. There is much employers can do to support the ‘Sandwich Generation’

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Improved working conditions, reduced smoking rates and advances in healthcare have all contributed to people living longer.

Latest available figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that life expectancy for males in England has risen from 73.7 in 1991-92, to 79 in 2020. In the same period, life expectancy for females rose from 79 to 82.

The result of this is the growth of the ‘Sandwich Generation’ – adults in their late 30s to 50s who support their parents at the same time as supporting their adult children.

While there is much to celebrate about the increase in the number of multi-generational families, it has presented significant challenges to society – and the world of work.

For employees with dual obligations and responsibilities to parents and children, the financial, emotional and physical burdens can be high. Hence the necessity for organisations to respond effectively to their circumstances and needs.

Here, we look at four steps employers can take to support the sandwich generation’s mental, physical and emotional health.

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1. Factor in flexibility

A flexible work schedule, which could include reduced working hours, remote working and job sharing, allows employees to fulfil their caring responsibilities without having to take time off.

As Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitude Survey showed, 39% of employees wanted flexible work to be the top benefit focus for employers. For some employees, this could be key to whether they are able to stay working.

Designing flexible work patterns for individual workers can help ensure businesses strike the right balance between their needs and the needs of the company. Moreover, it can help reduce rates of absenteeism. Consideration, however, is needed from both parties to ensure solutions are viable and that the impact on the business is minimal.

2. Facilitate financial planning support

Having to navigate the financial affairs of an elderly parent or contend with children’s college or university tuition fees – while managing personal finances – can be stressful.

By offering financial wellness programmes, organisations can help equip working carers with the tools to cope. This may involve helping employees analyse their financial circumstances and put in place workable strategies for managing their money.

Financial education should ensure employees are fully aware of financial benefits available to them and understand their value.

3. Care for carers

Prioritising the needs of dependents can mean it is all too easy for employees to neglect their own health and wellbeing. To help rectify this, employers should maximise opportunities for self-care.

Physical exercise can help boost wellbeing, but time to engage in such activity is often in short supply. Employers should, therefore, think practically and provide options that are easily accessible and that do not create additional demands on time. These may include walking lunch clubs, cycle to work schemes, onsite group exercise classes and access to home fitness programmes.

Social wellbeing, too, should be high on the agenda for companyies keen to support employees who have significant family obligations. Employers should be mindful that such employees are often susceptible to feelings of loneliness and a sense of isolation from their colleagues.

This is particularly applicable to those who spend more time working from home, but those who work onsite can also become preoccupied with the demands and responsibilities of caring for children or ageing parents. Such employees may find it difficult to maintain or develop friendships.

As with physical exercise opportunities, activities to promote social wellbeing need to be user-friendly for the time-poor. For this reason, breakfast or lunch clubs, team-building exercises and charity initiatives are often recommended.

Counselling services can be invaluable, but organisations should be sure to offer employees a range of options – such as text-based counselling, face-to-face sessions or 24/7 support – so that the individual can choose the one they are most comfortable with.

A self-care approach can be promoted though healthcare technology. Apps are particularly convenient and can help boost resilience. Apps can help with everything from relaxation and stress management through to meditation to improving sleep cycles.

4. Show empathy

As well as as having to take an elderly parent to a medical appointment, or meeting with a child’s teacher being inconvenient, they can be a cause of anxiety.

The more diligent the worker, the more likely they are to worry or feel guilty about their family obligations affecting their work. This could lead to unfounded fears of disciplinary procedures, or concerns that it could affect promotion prospects.

Empathy shown by management can be invaluable. A company that offers support and genuine understanding is one that will build an enviable reputation for caring about its workforce.

Too important to ignore

The pressures facing the sandwich generation show few signs of easing as life expectancies continue their upward trajectory and many parents continue to have children later in life.

Employers can ill-afford to neglect the needs of this employee demographic. To do so could result in depleted workforces and a decline in workers’ abilities to perform to their full potential.

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