• International Workplace
  • 20 June 2017

Supporting caregivers: the ‘Sandwich Generation’

Most employers expect and plan for their employees to take maternity or paternity leave at some point during their career, and many also expect the occasional minor disruption when, for example, an employee’s child is unwell and needs caring for at home. However, the changing demographics of the workforce is impacting employers in a way that has not been experienced by previous generations.

It is estimated that around 2.4 million UK employees fall into what is known as the ‘Sandwich Generation’ – those aged between 40 and 60 years of age, who have dependent children but also ageing parents who need caring for. When the term was originally coined back in the 1980s, it was mainly used to describe women in their 30s and 40s who were the primary caregiver to their children and parents.  However, with the generational trend of having children later in life, working longer, and life expectancy increasing, the range of individuals this applies to has widened.

Employees in their 50s and 60s, although their own children may have flown the nest, are becoming grandparents whilst still working and are being called upon for childcare to support the working parents. About one in seven middle-aged employees have financially dependent ‘adult’ children, who still live at home and need the support of their parent’s income, as well as ageing parents who they are also providing monetary support for. In other cases, workers in their 30s and 40s are sandwiched between their young children, their ageing parents, and elderly grandparents who still require care. 

Research shows that women are four times more likely to give up work to care full-time for a relative or a child than a man is. As this social phenomenon is likely to increase with time, this raises questions about the effect it will have on workplace diversity and equality in the future. As our parents and grandparents live longer, and we delay starting families until we reach the peak of our careers, will it become financially more sensible to return to the one-income families that were the norm 50 years ago?

The Institute of Education carried out research which suggests that women from older generations were able to give up paid work at 60 in order to care for relatives as they could supplement any occupational pension with their state pension. However, the rise in state pension age means that employees will not be able to draw their state pension until much later in life. In addition to this, with the decline of final salary pension schemes being offered by employers, younger generations will not receive the pension payouts their parents and grandparents may have received. With rising education and property costs, more Millennials are in debt than in any other generation, which means that many do not pay into a pension scheme at all. This can impact the Sandwich Generation, who continue to offer fiscal support to their in-debt children.

With so many demands on employees’ time and money, and with so many contributing factors, there will arguably be a noticeable impact on the overall health and wellbeing of the Sandwich Generation. Studies have shown that anywhere between 20% and 50% of care-givers experience depression, with many others reporting symptoms of stress and anxiety. A hectic home life can negatively affect performance and attendance at work, but many employers are unsure of the legal requirements in regards to supporting these employees, or how best to manage the unexpected time away from the workplace.

As an employer, you may need to support your employees with flexible or remote working solutions to reduce stress and absenteeism. By investing in this approach, you can retain valuable staff.


Pam Loch is Managing Director of HR Advise Me, part of the Loch Associates Group.

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