Facing the Challenges of the Sandwich Generation

Employees who care for both kids and parents have a lot on their plates. Here's what you can do to help.
September 11, 2012 There’s a new, growing challenge for business owners—employees who are caregivers for both kids and parents. Dubbed the "Sandwich Generation," these 45- to 65-year-olds (60 percent women, 40 percent men) often suffer in silence as they struggle to balance their work and personal responsibilities. The stress and time required affects their work, which in turn affects your business. However, there are steps you can take to help your employees and protect your company.

The Problem

High levels of work-life conflict result in a reduction of job engagement and productivity, and stressed out workers are more prone to accidents and illness. A Canadian study found that one in seven sandwiched workers had to reduce their hours and one in five had to shift them. That all has a bottom-line impact on your business.

Research by MetLife suggests caregiver absenteeism costs employers almost $2,500 a year per employee because management has to replace employees who are absent, handle workday interruptions they cause, and otherwise deal with lost productivity. The total estimated cost to U.S. employers for all full-time, employed caregivers is an astounding $33.6 billion.

For employees, the responsibility of caring for kids and parents can mean poor health, missed promotion opportunities and lost income. The Canadian study found, for example, that the sandwich generation had 10 percent lower income, on average.

The statistics on this trend are sobering:
  • The number of employees who care for both kids and parents has tripled over the past 15 years
  • One in eight Americans are now part of the Sandwich Generation
  • Almost half (47 percent) of employees provide either childcare or eldercare
This isn’t a transient issue. The factors that are fueling it aren’t going away. One in five employees currently provide eldercare; one in two expect to have to shoulder the responsibility over the next five years. Why?
  • Our population is aging
  • Life expectancy is increasing
  • Family formation is being delayed
  • Eldercare is cost prohibitive for most
At the extreme, the only option for some people is to quit working. That’s costly for you—75 to 200 percent of salary, depending on what costs you include. And those 45- to 65-year-olds have experience that is hard to replace.

Proactive Solutions

Given all the costs associated with the problem, finding ways to help your employees cope is in your own best interest.

Arm employees with information about the problems they’re likely to face. Put together a collection of resources and assemble a list of quality caregivers. Offer planning and counseling resources. Let them know you want to help and that they don’t have to make a choice between their job and their family.

Flextime. This is the most direct way you can help caregivers. Over 75 percent of people who call in sick aren’t because rigid schedules force unscheduled absenteeism. In fact, job satisfaction jumps when people are offered flex options even if they don’t use them. And job satisfaction means less turnover, more engagement and higher productivity.

Telecommuting. Working from home has been considered just a perk for upper management, however it is become a key strategy for controlling costs, improving productivity and better meeting customer needs. It’s clear that working with a kid on your lap or a parent looking over your shoulder isn’t effective. But it does make it possible for caregivers to be nearby when they’re needed and to work when they’re most effective. Coupled with results-based management, telecommuting can make the work-life balance equation good for both you and your employees.

Job sharing, sabbaticals and part-time options. These perks can go a long way toward reducing caregiver’s stress, too. Some 25 percent of workers say work/life fit is more important than wages or job security. What’s more, two heads are better than one, and that leads to productivity increases, continuous job coverage, and can help you keep people who might otherwise quit.

Resources for Employers and Employees

If you and your employees are part of this growing trend, here are five resources worth checking out:

Tom Harnish is a serial entrepreneur. Always on the bleeding edge of technology, he learned what works (and what doesn't) leading projects, products and companies to success (mostly).