There’s a growing challenge today’s businesses are facing. Employees in the “sandwich generation,” who were once merely juggling the demands of the office with caring for their children, now have an additional responsibility: caring for their aging parents.
This group includes nearly half of all Americans in their 40s and 50s who are in their peak earning years and have a level of professional expertise that is critical to their employers.
It’s no surprise that being pulled in both directions can lead to stressed-out employees. Many are experiencing distraction, absenteeism, declining health and lost productivity, among other disruptions in their lives. For employers, that leads to retention issues and problems in managing the workplace. In other words, we as employers have a vested interest in helping our employees cope with the stress of being “sandwiched.” Recognizing the scope of this growing workplace issue is the first step.
When work and caregiving collide
U.S. Census data show the numbers of seniors are swelling. By 2030, there will be about 72.1 million people over the age of 65, more than twice their number in 2000. While people are living longer, they’re not necessarily healthier. Sandwiched caregivers are spending roughly 20 hours a week, more than 1,350 hours per year, on caring for aging parents, according to a National Alliance of Caregiving study.
Some of those hours inevitably fall during the workday and businesses are paying the price. Nationwide, employers face estimated costs of $17 billion to $33 billion annually when workers are absent, shift from full- to part-time status or leave their jobs because of their caregiving responsibilities. Sandwiched middle-aged adults are managing a vast array of support services, from shuttling aging parents to doctors’ appointments and managing their medications to helping with day-to-day shopping and cleaning.
How employers can help
At United Hebrew of New Rochelle, we have seen our fair share of caregiver stress, both in the families that come to us for help and among our staff of 700 employees. Stress-related symptoms may include sleep loss, weight gain, depression or anxiety.
While we can’t change the trends fueling the growth of the sandwich generation, there is much we can do to help our employees navigate their challenges to maintain both their emotional well-being and their performance at work.
1. Lead with compassion. We train our department heads to recognize the warning signs of stressed employees: Are workers productive? Leaving early or coming in late? Handling a lot of personal calls at work? Creating open lines of communication, showing empathy and listening to our employees goes a long way in creating a culture where the employees’ needs are balanced with the needs of the organization.
2. Provide flexibility. Over half of all employed caregivers say they must make some sort of workplace accommodation, such as leaving early, taking a leave of absence or dropping back to part-time. Depending on your company’s policies, when possible, offer flexible work hours that will accommodate caregiving responsibilities such as taking a parent to a weekly doctor’s appointment.
Is it feasible for employees to work extra hours on one day to take more time off on another or perhaps work a four-day, 40-hour work week? Flextime can help reduce unplanned absenteeism and reduce distractions at work because it allows employees to stay in control of their schedules.
3. Provide facts and information. Company leaders should be aware of trusted resources for information on aging and the elderly in Westchester. For example, the elder care experts at United Hebrew can support adult children searching for care at home, or looking into residential care services for their parents. Pointing your employees to knowledgeable information sources saves them time and effort, and reduces distractions during the workday.
We can also help employees to understand the services available in the marketplace to help care for their parents. Many in the sandwich generation are not ready to give up their role as caregivers and they seek information on supportive care services, whether in the home or in a long-term care setting. For those who have parents with increasingly fragile health or who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, it will help to learn about long-term and assisted-living options in the area.
4. Help employees understand that even if they solve today’s crisis, other crises may occur. People’s needs evolve as they age and the level of care must increase. The elderly often require a continuum of care—transitioning from independent living and assisted living to possibly memory care and long-term skilled nursing. Organizations that can provide stepped-up care at the same location, such as United Hebrew, can help your employees plan ahead for care if it is needed.
5. Recharge with respite care. With the unyielding responsibilities of caregiving, sandwich generation members may need to temporarily take step back from their role in order to rest and recharge. Respite care, in which adult children can arrange short-term overnight stays in senior living communities for their loved ones, can provide much-needed relief from caregiver burnout. Respite stays can also be a way to experience what a senior living community has to offer, should assisted living or long-term care become necessary down the road.
As sandwich generation employees feel the pressure from work and home, employers feel the effects as well. Supporting this growing group will help us all in the long run.
Rita Mabli is president and CEO of United Hebrew of New Rochelle, a multiservice campus of comprehensive care in New Rochelle. She can be reached at 914-632-2804 or .