An aging population means that many young professionals are taking on the role of caregiver to their parents as well as their own children. Members of the sandwich generation feel the financial and emotional burden of mounting responsibility. As a result, work productivity is lost, and absenteeism rises.

By 2031, it’s expected that nearly 1 in 4 Canadians will be over 65, which means the population of people living with dementia and similar age-related diseases will likewise increase. A 2018 study found that 56 per cent of Canadians currently care for, or expect to care for, a family member in the next three to five years.

This heavy responsibility lies on members of a generation who are already caring for their own children, leaving them less time to focus on work-related tasks. Employers that step up and support these individuals can benefit from employees who feel less stress and have more time to devote to productive activities.

The sandwich generation at work

Workers in the sandwich generation feel enormous pressure to handle their mounting responsibilities while appearing calm and collected. Often, they feel hesitant to share their situation with others out of fear of losing their jobs.

Employers feel this pain, too, in the form of lost productivity and higher health care costs. By recognizing the far-reaching effects of double caregiving responsibilities, employers can make a difference.

Offering support to overwhelmed employees not only reduces individual stress levels but also brings financial benefits to employers.

How employers can support overburdened employees

According to Harvard research, 25 per cent of employees who leave a position do so to care for an ill or disabled spouse, partner, or family member. Surveyed employees cited the unaffordable cost of paid help or the inability to meet work demands due to increased caregiving responsibilities as reasons for quitting. What can employers do to relieve some of this burden?

Start a conversation

There is often a stigma around the subject of senior care. Employees may feel that they shouldn’t complain about the additional responsibilities. They want to appear capable of handling their many personal and professional obligations.

If no one is talking about the issues faced by the sandwich generation, employees may fall into the trap of thinking they are alone. Opening up conversations about caregiver struggles is the first step toward positive change.

Review employee benefits

Employers that want to support sandwich generation employees should consider auditing their benefits for new opportunities. Offering child and senior care benefits can reduce some of the fear and anxiety surrounding the issue.

Likewise, employers should ensure that everyone is aware of the benefits available to them. Surveys indicate that about one-third of employees don’t fully understand their health care coverage.

Be flexible

Between work responsibilities, child care, and senior care, sandwich generation employees don’t have much time for all of life’s necessary tasks. As a result, employees often end up making cuts where it hurts them the most: self-care.

Time employees might otherwise spend on personal health care, hygiene, and sleep is instead spent caring for others. Employers can help individuals regain some of this precious resource by offering flexible work-life balance. Managers can work with employees to tailor their schedules around appointments and other responsibilities. Offering work from home options is likewise beneficial.

Despite outward appearances, many workers struggle with personal battles daily. Raising children and caring for older relatives complicates life in ways disruptive to work life. But with thoughtful support from employers, individuals can take control of their circumstances and grow as people and professionals.

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