Supporting the Sandwich Generation isn’t just a matter of corporate responsibility; it’s a smart business move. Unsurprisingly, women have taken on most of family care, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s time that companies start supporting women and unpaid caregivers instead of punishing them. We’ll define the sandwich generation, the current issues they face, and how employers can effectively support them. By doing so, we can cultivate workplace cultures that value diverse needs and experiences.
What is the Sandwich Generation?
Generally speaking, the Sandwich Generation is defined by adults who take care of their elderly parents and children. Not every country has the same age range for the generation, and there are a few nuanced terms.
For instance, a Traditional Sandwich Generation includes adults in their 40s to 50s supporting elderly parents and adult children. Then there is the Club Sandwich Generation for adults above 50 years old or younger than 40 years old supporting elderly parents and children. Next is the Open Faced Sandwich Generation for adults who are not professionally involved in elder care. Finally, the Grand-Sandwich Generations extends to adults caring for both elderly parents and grandchildren.
No matter what type of sandwich, these individuals make up 23% of the U.S. population. They are struggling between a rock and a hard place trying to support their families physical, financial, mental, and personal needs. If corporations want to increase retention and cultivate inclusive workplace cultures, they must reconsider how to assist employees.
The Issues of the Sandwich Generation
Putting aside what kind of dependents they handle, the sandwich generation has an enormous amount of financial strain. The monthly median nursing home expense is $7,908, the average hospital bill for a day is around $2,873, and child care can cost over 10% of a household’s income.
These expenses pile on fast and the pandemic only fanned the flames. Women do an average of 75% of the world’s unpaid-care work and have increased the amount of hours they spend on family responsibilities. Plus, half of adults between 18 and 29 years old currently live with one or both of their parents, which is significantly more than it was ten years ago.
On top of all of this is the issue of paid time off. One third of Americans do not have access to PTO and, even if they do, nearly half of the employees on PTO will work during it. It has become nearly impossible for the sandwich generation to obtain a healthy work-life balance.
How Employers Can Support
1. Offer Part-Time Schedules (Without Pay Cuts)
One way employers can ease the burden on the sandwich generation is by offering flexible part-time schedules without reducing their pay. This flexibility allows employees to better manage their caregiving responsibilities without compromising their financial stability. By acknowledging the need for work-life balance, companies can retain valuable talent and reduce the stress faced by employees trying to manage it all.
2. Paying for Child Care
While it’s true that many companies don’t directly pay for child care, they can explore partnerships with local childcare providers to offer discounted rates or subsidies for employees. Additionally, companies can help employees navigate the complex world of childcare by providing information on available resources, tax benefits, and local or federal government assistance programs. Here are a few companies who expanded their benefits to support child care costs.
3. Compassionate Recruiting Processes
Since COVID, many individuals, especially women, have gaps in their resumes or had to leave their company and are reapplying. Recruiters and HR leaders should be understanding and supportive when it comes to hiring or rehiring. These gaps were due to caregiving responsibilities and employers need to value the skills and experience these individuals bring to the table.
4. Embrace Hybrid Offices
Hybrid office arrangements offer the most flexibility and benefit the sandwich generation by giving them greater control over when and where they work, making it easier to accommodate caregiving duties. Plus, trusting employees to complete their tasks regardless of their physical location fosters a healthier work-life balance. Many managers implement automated systems to help track project completion that allows them to monitor employee progress without micromanaging.
5. Better Paid Leave Policies
Taking inspiration from countries like Sweden, companies can enhance their paid leave policies. Offering extended parental leave and paid leave for caring for sick children can significantly reduce the stress faced by sandwich generation employees. Punishing individuals for taking more time off to care for loved ones only hinders your company culture and community.
6. Offer Mental Health Support
The constant juggling of responsibilities can lead to burnout. Many women struggle to find time for self-care when they are taking business calls in ambulance bays, or rushing out of the office to pick their kids up from school. Employers need to provide sufficient mental health days and resources for employees to seek help when needed. The more we destigmatize mental health issues the better we can support each other.
Caring for aging parents also often involves coping with the loss of loved ones. Employers can offer grief counseling services to help employees navigate these difficult emotional experiences. They can also provide resources from employees to connect with grief specialists like Michelle Thornhill. She is the founder of Legacy and Hope LLC, which supports individuals and organizations with grief, loss, bereavement, end-of-life care, legacy plans, and helping children with loss.
“Time does not heal wounds; actions do. I firmly believe that individuals can reach a level of satisfaction when given specific tools to maneuver their way through three transitions; moving beyond the pain that comes with grief and loss, living their best life, and planning for the inevitable.” -Michelle Thornhill
8. Additional Benefits
To further ease the burden on the sandwich generation, employers can offer additional perks such as free financial and legal advising, higher matching percentages for 401(k) contributions, and extensive health insurance can also make a significant difference in the financial and emotional well-being of these employees.
Supporting the sandwich generation is not just about implementing one-off policies but adopting a holistic approach that addresses their unique challenges comprehensively. By offering more support, employers can create a more inclusive and caring work environment.
Women Supporting Women
It is during times like these when we need a community of support around us most. Liz O’Donnel, the author of Working Daughter: A Guide to Caring for Your Aging Parents While Making a Living said, “Your reputation will take a hit, so keep leaning in, as challenging as it may be. Continue to build your network and your skills in order to stay relevant and marketable.”
You can build your network, skills, and more with the International Association of Women. Find a community of women around the world and in your neighborhood who support you professionally, provide strong friendships, and benefit from the IAW membership Perks.