Never has the squeeze been more readily felt for those stuck in the middle; the aptly dubbed ‘sandwich generation’ – caught between caring for young children and growing teens while at the same time having responsibilities towards ageing and less able relatives. The flight of these talented professionals from the workplace is a real concern for employers that can stem the flow with next-level support.
A GROWING WORKFORCE OF CARERS
A recent OnePoll survey of 2000 working parents with children aged 18 or under reported that as many as 40% of working parents have contemplated quitting due to overwhelming responsibilities. While at the other end of the scale a report published by Charity Carers UK[AH1] shows that with an ageing population comes rising responsibilities for those with dual caring responsibilities. Already the average person has a 50:50 chance of caring by the age of 50, long before they reach retirement, for women this falls at an even younger age of 46, with half of females providing eldercare by this time. This is no longer an issue for people who are about to leave the workforce.
THE SANDWICH STRESS FACTOR
This is putting a huge strain on those who are holding down jobs that are mid-career and potentially growing in responsibility, not only financially but also in terms of time and energy levels. Employers need to look beyond helping individuals with their wellbeing as professionals without any other caring responsibilities, it goes much wider than ‘I’. Nearly everyone has responsibilities and circumstances that are personal to them.
CARERS LEAVE ACT – WILL IT HELP?
We are fast approaching the advent of the Carers Leave Act, April 2024. This will mean that one week’s unpaid leave from day one will be an entitlement for planned or unforeseen caring commitments. Companies need to think about how they manage this – and importantly – have the right culture and support to help people navigate challenges to enable them to either remain in work through challenging times or reduce the time off they need. While this is a positive move towards recognising the valuable role that carers do, for many, it doesn’t go far enough because of the limitations of unpaid leave. People don’t really want that, not with the cost-of-living crisis. It’s important that employees can understand what support is available to them, especially as the problem is that when money in a family is tight, the employees who are already struggling could go down even faster.
IS IT AN EMPLOYER’S PROBLEM?
The short answer is yes. Family is always going to win and more and more women are dropping out, it’s significant that 60% more females than males leave the workforce over men. Yet, it shouldn’t have to be a choice, we need to get better at giving people the right tools and most importantly when they need them, not six months after the pressure has become too much. Getting the right supports in place not only helps to prevent the loss of key and valuable talent but also ensures that recruitment gets on board the best staff. Absenteeism is a problem when carers are feeling the squeeze and particularly when policies don’t offer time off with pay. With 70% of employees thought to have caring responsibilities, supporting employees through different life stages and family challenges also supports DE&I initiatives and can help reduce the gender pay gap by creating a strong female leadership pipeline.
It’s also about being sensitive as an employer, some caring responsibilities are obvious, including caring for a young child while others are harder to spot, for example, caring for a relative. Added to this is that the employee may not identify as a ‘carer’ and they might feel they are in an environment where they may not feel comfortable sharing that. It’s unlikely an employee has a picture of their grandmother on their desk who has dementia, for example, so employers need to provide support channels for all situations and additionally be champions for inclusivity when it comes to the wider remit of caring scenarios and responsibilities.
MEANINGFUL FLEXIBLE WORKING POLICIES
One problem I am noting is that when flexible working is offered it’s often done so with the assumption that time off is allowed to do the school run for example, but then that is expected to be made up in the evening and into the night. It’s as if some employees are being punished for having a child. Yet, this impacts family life in the wrong way. Stress, anxiety, and guilt all build up and add to the day’s pressures if time is expected to be replaced. Meaningful flexible working policies that are consistent, inclusive, and genuinely act as family supports, boost morale, productivity and help to bolster carers’ own well-being.
The challenges of the sandwich generation are set to continue as our ageing population continues to grow. Employers that can tune into next-level meaningful support will allow employees with caring responsibilities for both young children and elderly relatives the chance to manage their dual responsibilities, plan ahead, keep their job performance optimum and importantly manage their own levels of stress, anxiety and wellbeing – preventing potential burnout and at worst a flight response from the organisation when the crunch points arrive, which they inevitably will.
Lindsey Doe is an entrepreneur in the care sector, specialising in business growth, change innovation and leadership. Having spent years building teams, Lindsey now helps other businesses retain talent through family care support. She is the MD of Vivup's FamilyCare, a Non-Executive Director to My Ohana, a childcare business, and a Board Trustee to PACEY, a professional association in childcare.