The ‘Sandwich Generation’ Is in a Pickle
If you’ve found yourself reading an email from your boss, fielding an “urgent” text from your 22-year-old daughter, while on hold with your father’s nurse, you are not alone. According to Pew Research, nearly half of Americans in their 40s and 50s are part of the growing “Sandwich Generation,” people “sandwiched” between aging parents and dependent children. What’s more, about one in seven of these middle-aged adults are providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The emotional, financial and time demands of dual caregiving can easily derail personal and professional goals. As a result, the nation’s primary caregivers — women — are turning down promotions and even leaving their jobs.
“We’re working, we’re over-parenting, we’re taking care of our elderly parents who are living longer, and we’re trying to keep our marriages sexy and fun,” said author Sandra Tsing Loh.
“It would be mad to think we could take on all of this stuff and not break down eventually. I know plenty of women who devote half their Weight Watchers points to Pinot Grigio,” Loh told APlaceforMom.com. “Multitasking, caregiving women will start to blame themselves, even though they’re twirling 50 plates.”
A report by MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving shows the financial toll of dual caretaking: Women who leave the workforce early to care for an aging parent lose an average of $142,693 in wages. The average loss of Social Security benefits is another $131,351, and an additional $50,000 is lost in pension payments. That amounts to a whopping average of $324,044 in lost income per caregiver.
Companies’ bottom lines are affected, too. MetLife estimates that failing to support workers with elder-care responsibilities can cost as much as $34 billion a year in lost productivity, absenteeism, disengagement, turnover and increased healthcare costs.
Here are a few suggestions for creating real change that supports the Sandwich Generation and benefits your business:
Flexible work schedules are critical to caregivers — and smart for businesses. Numerous studies show job sharing, flex hours, telecommuting and similar benefits have little or no upfront costs, but realize a significant return on investment through more productivity, better retention, and healthier (less stressed-out!) employees.
A 2014 report by the White House Council of Economic Advisors, for example, revealed that 52 percent of workers surveyed believe they could do their job better if they were allowed a more flexible schedule. Women have been on the forefront fighting for workplace flexibility. The irony? Nearly three out of four teleworkers are men, according to a study by Flex+Strategy Group.
Perhaps surprisingly, small employers (50 to 99 employees) are more likely to offer flexible work arrangements than large employers (more than 1,000 employees), according to the National Study of Employers published by the Families and Work Institute. Small employers are more likely to allow employees to flex their schedules, work some hours at home, choose when to take breaks, and take time off during the workday to attend to important family personal needs — with pay.
Self-care — through exercise, stress management techniques and healthy choices — is critical for primary caregivers. Companies that offer workplace wellness programs are reaping the rewards, according to the Society of Human Resource Management’s Strategic Benefits-Wellness Initiatives report. Nearly two-thirds of the organizations included in the report offer some type of wellness program — to the benefit of their employees and the bottom line.
Almost one half of the HR professionals at those companies said wellness initiatives decreased their healthcare costs. Two-fifths said wellness initiatives decreased unplanned absences. One-third said the initiatives increased work productivity. The most common wellness incentives or rewards: a reduction in employee healthcare premiums (38 percent) and gift cards (37 percent).
Family Care Resources
Much of the searching, emailing and phone calling around family care happens during business hours. It makes good business sense for employers to offer resources that help caregivers trim the time they spend finding resources.
“The more the employer can be a filter on information, it saves so much time that employees might otherwise be spending on elder care websites hunting for what their family needs and how they can get through the day," Ken Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute, told Care.com.
Nearly 40 percent of the companies surveyed by the National Study of Employers provide access to information that helps employees locate child care in the community, and nearly half provide elder care resources. Some companies go as far as subsidizing caregiving options by selected vendors.
More employers are sponsoring caregiver backup plans, which help provide last-minute care for a child or elder parent. A study of 5,100 employees using one such plan, offered by Bright Horizons, shows the benefits. Ninety percent of employees surveyed said backup care enhanced their productivity. Nearly as many said they were able to work at least one day in the previous six months they otherwise would have missed (an average of five days per employee).
As transition planner Stephanie Chan puts it, employers who show they care “will go a long way in keeping employees happy and less stressed when they are likely to be most valuable to your organization.”
NEW believes positive policies and programs can lighten the load faced by the Sandwich Generation. They can also help you keep trained talent, reduce absenteeism, improve morale and boost productivity — and create a better workplace for everyone.
Sarah Alter is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women, Retail and Consumer Goods, a learning and leadership community representing more than 10,000 members, 950 companies, 100 corporate partners and 20 regional groups in the United States and Canada. Learn more at newonline.org.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.