The sandwich generation – so called due to having dual caring responsibilities and typically associated with working mothers aged 40-55 – is much broader and more prevalent than most employers realise, according to RedArc ahead of Carers’ Week (10-16 June 2019). The organisation’s experience shows that many individuals’ outside-of- work obligations go completely unnoticed or unacknowledged by employers which puts additional pressures on the employee and can leave them feeling isolated.

Older carers identified

RedArc has identified an older ‘sandwich generation’ who have massive responsibilities in terms of looking after their parents or partner, helping to support their adult children by looking after grandchildren, and sometimes doing so whilst being in employment. Although the numbers of over 65s in work now stands at 1.3m, they still only represent around four per cent of the entire workforce, and with a relatively high proportion of those in part-time employment, their voice could easily go unheard.*

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc nurses says: “With women having children later in life and many wanting or needing to go back to work, grandparents are increasingly being called upon to help with childcare but they’ve also got responsibilities of their own. It’s typical of this generation to not want to let anyone down but they can find themselves frantically busy with no time to dedicate to their own wellbeing.”

Working fathers/sons

Christine Husbands said: “It’s not just mothers and older workers who have dual or multi-level responsibilities. Working fathers are often overlooked by employers but the financial, emotional and logistical responsibilities of being the primary care-giver to elderly relatives and also providing for children too, is not information that men traditionally share in the workplace.”

Asking staff about their caring responsibilities is not necessarily easy for employers either as some employees can take this to mean that they are showing signs of not coping. Rather than pinpoint individuals, employers are often best to ensure support for carers is wide-ranging and readily available in the event that any member of staff finds themselves in a caring role.

Types of support often needed by carers of all generations and gender:

  • Mental health support: emotional support to help to look after the carer’s own health and wellbeing so they are better able to deal with all the demands upon them.
  • Flexible working: having an open and supportive culture with flexibility to accommodate time off at short notice.
  • Medical conditions: the health needs of carers are often ignored as they put the needs of other first or don’t take time out for GP appointments. Support to navigate the NHS and get a second opinion on a condition may be helpful – particularly in the case of older carers.
  • Local services: researching information on local services, self-help groups, relevant local charities, social services and other related literature may not only help the cared-for but will also ensure the carers feels less alone in dealing with their situation.
  • National services: expert help to navigate issues via support groups and charities, such as Carers UK, Carers Trust, Crossroads and Care for Carers.
  • Longer term/eldercare: sourcing short-term respite care, help with independent living and, when appropriate, finding long-term care facilities for a loved one.
  • Bereavement: long-term support for bereavement can be helpful, especially where an employee has developed a particularly close care-giving relationship with a family member in the latter stages of their life.

Christine Husbands concluded: “It’s easy to think we can identify those who fall in to the sandwich generation of carers but the reality is large numbers of employers just don’t know how many of their staff have major caring responsibilities for mutli-generations, sick or disabled family members and that’s probably because it’s not a very easy conversation to have. But with people living longer, and more complex family structures with an increased number of second marriages, and siblings living further away, the responsibility for caring often falls on the shoulders of the geographically closest relative.

“Previously, those who could afford it may have just paid for someone else to do the caregiving and those who didn’t have the funds had to give up work. That dichotomy has been replaced by increasing numbers of people wanting to be involved in, or at least orchestrating, the care giving and due to less state support, many needing to continue in work as well.

Absence and quitting work

Each individual’s and family’s situation will be different and that’s why employers need to ensure their support for carers is broad and relevant – one size doesn’t fit all. Without sufficient support, employers may find an increased level of absence among this sandwich generation as they struggle to deal with the impact their situation has on their financial, mental and emotional wellbeing.

In 2018, the charity Carers UK released figures which highlighted that 600 of the worst affected carers were quitting their jobs every day, with many living off a Carer’s Allowance, in order to manage their responsibilities. Employers who don’t want to lose staff can instead work either directly with a provider or source support via insurances or employee assistance programmes, to ensure the needs of their carer-employees are being met and that they can productively remain in employment.