Sandwich Generation

Posted: 6th June 2016

Photo

By: Kay Heald

So who are the Sandwich Generation?

They are employees and workers who are ‘sandwiched’ between caring for ageing parents and their own children. Carol Abaya, a recognised expert on eldercare, coined the term ‘Sandwich Generation‘ ten years ago and has since added a further category, ‘Club Sandwich’, referring to those who care for ageing parents, grandparents and their own young children, or those who care for ageing parents, adult children and grandchildren!

I thought it would be appropriate to write a blog about this growing group of employees and workers during Carers Week (Carers Week is an annual campaign to raise not only awareness of carers in the community, but highlight some of the challenges they face and the important contribution they make to their communities and the wider society we all live in).

Why do employers need to know about the Sandwich Generation?

According to statistics from Carers UK, one in nine employees now care for someone who is older, disabled or seriously ill and around 3 million people combine paid work with some form of caring responsibilities, with the number of carers in the UK set to rise by 40% in 20 years. Over 1 million people in the UK are thought to fit the category of The Sandwich Generation and this figure is only going to increase year on year, as people start their families later, live longer, stay working longer and have reduced options to access or purchase quality care outside the family or home.

Although most employers are probably aware of their employee’s childcare responsibilities, it appears that people are less comfortable disclosing their other caring roles. These ‘secret carers’ juggle a myriad of different tasks and responsibilities inside and outside work, but often receive very little support, making them vulnerable to fatigue, stress and illness.

The impact on businesses can and will be significant. A 2014 CIPD report recorded significant increases in absence levels due to staff struggling to cope with their caring responsibilities outside work, but this was only based on those willing to be open about their domestic situations. The Employers for Carers Forum believes a sixth of working carers will be forced to reduce their hours or give up work altogether, in order to cope with their increasing care responsibilities. Employers need to recognise and support this growing group of workers if they want to avoid it impacting on engagement, retention and productivity levels.

What can employers do to support their Sandwich Generation workers?

Employers need to understand more about this expanding group and the pressures they face both inside and outside work.

Here are a few practical suggestions to help employers support these multi-tasking carers:

  • Build a strong health and wellbeing culture that recognises different ‘caring’ responsibilities
  • Communicate the benefits of flexible working to all employees and managers
  • Look at creative solutions to flexible working, focusing on work output rather than set hours
  • Train managers to have constructive discussions with staff about appropriate support
  • Acknowledge the unpredictability of some caring arrangements, which may require short-notice changes
  • Explore the benefits of an employee assistance programme or healthcare package
  • Provide access and support to financial advice or appropriate counselling services

Workforces are more diverse than ever and proactive employers need to respond to the shifting and evolving needs of their people. If employers don’t make changes to the nature of work and help employees integrate their work and personal lives, they may soon be losing valuable team members.