Tess Collins takes a look at how to transition well.
Many of us are feeling the effects of the unexpected events of 2020. People are experiencing increased anxiety, distress, depression, confusion, uncertainty and financial stress. For the ‘Sandwich Generation’; a group that is already stretched thinly, additional pressures provide even more challenges.
The ‘Sandwich Generation’ is a term used to describe people (generally 40-60-year-olds) who are ‘squeezed between generations’ of raising a child and caring for a parent. In recent years, the ‘Sandwich Generation’ has expanded, with people having children later, kids staying in the family home longer and older people living longer.
How the ‘Sandwich Generation’ are impacted:
- Financial – caring for others costs money and often limits income. People who are made redundant in their 50s can find it hard to find a new job, particularly one that accommodates the time they need to spend caring for their children and parents. While for some there may be government subsidies and payments available, the bureaucracy needed to navigate these entitlements can be messy and time consuming. Carers who have lost their jobs in the COVID-19 pandemic may face even greater financial strain.
- Health – time taken to prepare nutritious meals, exercise and attend necessary doctors’ appointments can be three times more when it includes themselves, their children and their parents. In particular, parents with dementia or other serious diseases can cause a great deal of distress for the carer. Women may also be dealing with menopausal symptoms which while completely normal are still somewhat taboo and tricky to manage in the workplace.
- Emotional – different emotional states can arise from dual caring responsibilities. Some may experience depression and burnout from supporting parents and providing household support for children. In contrast, others may experience an improved sense of wellbeing. Financial situations and cultural backgrounds can further influence emotions, with people from different ethnic backgrounds having different norms and expectations about their role in relation to parenting, elders and providing care across generations.
- Social – loneliness and feelings of isolation may be experienced by carers. Research has shown that carers may feel an increased sense of loneliness from not seeking help because of the increased time pressures of juggling the needs of so many. Loneliness can also arise from a lack of support groups with whom they can share their experiences.
As an employer, how to support your ‘Sandwich Generation’ employees:
- Enable flexible work – provide part-time and remote work arrangements so that carers are better able to balance their work and carer responsibilities. While most people in this situation have a legal right to request flexible work arrangements, for many the barriers are still very real. For example, not everyone feels able to ask, and not everyone who asks has their request approved. Ensure you are aware of your legal obligations and encourage flexible work to increase employee productivity and loyalty, and reduce stress and absenteeism.
- Focus on employee self-care – it is important to make self-care a priority in your programming and provide tools for self-care to employees (e.g., wellness programs and webinars). As carers often look after others, it is crucial that they nurture their own supports and friendship groups. It is also powerful to communicate to carers that their non-work roles are both visible and valued at work.
- Provide accessible emotional support – be compassionate and check in to see how employees with dual responsibilities are coping. You may refer them to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), counselling or a coaching service for additional support. Research shows that people who change the way they think about a situation – genuinely align their situation with their values and purpose – perform better and are able to protect their wellbeing.
- Provide financial resources – ensure employees have a financial plan that integrates the multiple demands on them and includes consideration of their own retirement. You may engage services of a superannuation fund or other experts to run seminars, one-on-one sessions or provide other tools and resources to employees.
While the events of 2020 have taken a toll on everyone, the ‘Sandwich Generation’ have been hit especially hard – emotionally, financially and physically. Implementing innovative strategies to support this generation while they care for others is critical.