The Sandwich Generation

The sandwich generation face extra challenges when it comes to balancing work and family responsibilities: they’re sandwiched between children and aging parents, and the extra responsibility can take its toll. Nora Spinks, President of Work-Life Harmony Enterprises, a consulting firm based in Toronto, says several factors have increased the likelihood that Canadians are juggling multiple responsibilities: the population is aging while people are delaying starting families. Increased mobility makes people more likely to be involved in long-distance caring, and people are having smaller families, so there are fewer people to share the load. [/restrict level=2]

Spinks also points out that there is no predictable path anymore. “There are also people sandwiched between managing children, and caring for grandparents, or it may be that you’re working on your second family, and you have an infant or toddler, as well as a teenager. All of that has to do with the complexity of today’s families.”

But there is good news. Although it is demanding, many people say this work is fulfilling, and that it has strengthened their relationships. If managers become more family-friendly they can help their sandwich generation employees deliver great results to everyone who relies on them.

Sandwich generation employees will be happier and more productive when they know they can take care of family. They will be willing to go the extra mile for an employer who is supportive. Spinks adds, “The reality is, we’re all going to be going through this at some point or another because it’s life. So don’t deny it, don’t hide from it, and find ways to do it effectively together. The organizations that wrap their head around it take it seriously and begin to put in place solutions will be happier, more productive, and more able to meet the demands and expectations of their workforce.”

Seven ways managers can help their sandwich generation employees juggle multiple responsibilities:

1. Teach them to fish

Put family-friendly policies in place, but only the individual knows what they need to feel fulfilled. A good manager will encourage employees to communicate their needs, and if they don’t know how, managers should help employees find the tools they need to prioritize.

2. Take it to-go

If it doesn’t matter where the work gets done, let employees work from home, or make up the time later that they needed to take mom to the doctor. Employees need to have policies in place about these issues, because without policies, people just assume the answer is no.

3. Don’t hit the boiling point

Provide access to stress- and time-management training before it’s needed. In 2005 Stats Canada reported that sandwiched workers are just as likely as others to be satisfied with their work-life balance, but are more likely to feel stressed.

4. Use it, don’t lose it

Let them take time off without risk of losing pay, position, or seniority. Spinks says this is a fear she hears from many employees.

5. Provide the recipe for success

Newly sandwiched employees often have questions about where they need to go, what they need to do, and what services are covered, says Spinks. If you can help provide information, resources and support, they can concentrate on other things.

6. Buffet of tasty options

There are many ways to be a family-friendly workplace. Consider whether providing discounted childcare is feasible, or let your workers have “do-not-miss family events”, such as school concerts. Stats Canada also found that a common “wish” for sandwich employees is respite care to enable them to be better caregivers.

7. Not all sandwiches are created equal

Just because something worked for one person, doesn’t mean it’s what everyone needs. Be flexible. Remember that eldercare is a lot less predictable than childcare. You don’t know when you’re going to be needed for eldercare. “It can be a one-time, intense thing for six weeks, or it can be for months… Children go through more predictable stages than elders,” says Spinks. Not all sandwiches are created equal. [/restrict]

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