Home Contributors Westchester Mary K. Spengler: Supporting the Sandwich Generation

Mary K. Spengler: Supporting the Sandwich Generation

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Westchester County business owners, executives, managers and workers often struggle trying to find balance between work and home responsibilities. Those that fall in the “sandwich generation,” typically qualified as those in their 30s or 40s, can find themselves with the unique role of bringing up their own dependent children while also caring for their aging parents, all on top of their career.

Multigenerational needs have become even more pressing during the Covid-19 pandemic, with record numbers of adult children moving back home, younger children having to switch to virtual or hybrid learning and elderly parents needing new forms of care.

Sandwich generation caregivers are providing an important source of support and love to family members and these caregivers often experience feelings of satisfaction and meaning in their lives from being in this role. However, many also feel highly strained and overwhelmed due to the emotional, physical and financial burden weighing on them. Implementing positive strategies to better care for themselves while they care for others is even more critical for caregivers during the pandemic.

The challenges of caring for an aging or ailing loved one can impinge on the ability to get work done at the office or spending time with your children. However, a combination of strategies, resources and support can help caregivers continue to focus on their work at the office (even if that is a home office) while balancing the duties associated with caring for a loved one.

Make a schedule. Incorporate caregiving tasks into your daily routine. To map out a feasible daily or weekly schedule, add these duties to other professional and personal responsibilities, such as meetings and events, so you can view all tasks at hand at once. Choose times for caregiving tasks that are least disruptive to your work/home schedule, such as early mornings for processing paperwork and midday for phone and email communication with a loved one’s care team. Try to contact doctors in the early morning to give them time to get back to you during the day. Do not hesitate to drop nonessential activities from your list. Be flexible and use approaches to simplify life.

Set reasonable workday limits and boundaries. When possible, avoid scheduling work-related meetings at times designated for caregiving duties. You may want to even designate certain hours when you are unavailable except in the case of an emergency. Make sure that your support staff at home and at work is aware of your availability for caregiver-related calls to aid with scheduling.

Have a backup plan for work coverage. Developing emergency procedures as well as keeping an organized summary of client and project status will allow staff to keep the office running in your absence. Brief your colleagues so they can fill in if an emergency pulls you away from the office unexpectedly. Store important files on a laptop or portable storage device that you can use while away from the office.

Delegate. It is likely that some of your daily tasks could be taken over by others, both at work and at home. Delegating appropriate tasks to colleagues and family members will leave you with additional time during the day to focus on priority tasks.

Communicate. Explain your situation to your boss, coworkers and employees, and even clients, where appropriate. Ask your boss for input and guidance on how best to handle work issues in the event of a caregiving emergency. Talk with coworkers who have gone through similar situations; they can often provide input and advice by relating their own experiences. Speak frankly with your partner, spouse, siblings and other loved ones about how they can support you. Being open and honest with your child, when appropriate, can also help.

Know your rights and explore corporate benefits. Caregivers have rights under the federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws and may be eligible for paid or unpaid leave under various federal and state programs. Speak to your human resources representative and explore your employee handbook and/or corporate website to learn what options are available to you.

Keep a list of resources. Reach out to family members and friends who have offered to help. Identify community resources, including social workers, geriatric care experts and contacts at the hospital and other health care facilities.

Evaluate your financial options. In home care such as hospice care, palliative care and nursing care may be more affordable and more comprehensive than unpaid leave from work. You may be able to work out a part-time schedule as a way to maintain an income stream and a connection to the office. Sit down with an accountant or social worker to discuss the impact of caregiving on your job, income and lifestyle. Despite your best intentions, you may not be able to make a commitment to long-term caregiving.

Be honest with yourself. Recognize when caregiving is adversely affecting your work or your family life. Take a step back to determine the best balance between work and caregiving and seek out the support you need to protect your own mental and physical well-being. State what you can and cannot do and say “no” when needed. Determine your needs, whether it is a 15-minute walk or a regular video-chat with friends, and be firm about making this happen.

Mary K. Spengler, is CEO of White Plains-based Hospice of Westchester, which has provided comprehensive end-of-life care to Westchester County residents with any life-limiting illness for 29 years. For additional information, visit hospiceofwestchester.org or call 914-682-1484.

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