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Stuck in the Middle: Supporting Employees Dealing With Sandwich Generation Stress

It’s easy to understand the mental, physical, and financial toll of multigenerational caregiving. Sandwich generation caregivers sacrifice a lot for their families, but they shouldn’t forget about themselves.

Mom and daughter sitting on the couch looking at a laptop

There’s strength in numbers.

In the best of times, these are words to live by. In the worst of times, they’re absolutely key to survival.

It’s no wonder, then, that we’ve seen record growth in multigenerational households over the past two years. During tough times, families band together to form strong support systems — whether that means adult children moving back home or middle-aged adults stepping up to care for their aging parents.

One demographic, in particular, has been caught in the middle of this trend. The sandwich generation, as it’s known, consists of adults who are supporting their aging loved ones while raising children of their own. Sandwich caregiving isn’t solely a product of the pandemic; it’s the result of an aging population with an increased life expectancy and mounting financial insecurity mixed with Millennial adults who are having children later in life.

That said, there’s no denying the impact of COVID-19. According to a Pew Research report, more than 1 in 10 adults with a child cared for an aging parent in 2017. Today, nearly half of adults in their 40s and 50s fit into the sandwich generation mold. But as more individuals join their ranks, it raises a valid question: Who, exactly, is caring for the sandwich generation?

The Causes of Sandwich Generation Stress

Sandwich generation caregivers spend about three hours per day performing unpaid labor, and three-quarters of them do so on top of working full-time jobs. That’s nearly 21 hours a week of caregiving outside of the 9-to-5 workday. Much of this work falls upon women, who account for about 60% of sandwich generation caregivers.

Even among sandwich generation caregivers, gender differences are significant: While the 40% of male caregivers spend about the same amount of time per day caring for their aging parents as their female counterparts, mothers average about 45 minutes more per day on child care — regardless of their employment status. Sandwich generation caregivers face numerous challenges, which generally fall into three buckets:

  • Mental: Parenting is already a long-term act of service. How could someone possibly juggle geriatric caregiving at the same time? For many, the answer is “not well.” Sandwich generation caregivers average nearly half an hour less sleep. Approximately 40% of caregivers aged 35 to 54 report extreme stress levels, which affects their romantic and familial relationships as well as their personal well-being. Sandwich generation mothers tend to bear the brunt of caregiving mental stress as they balance the challenging acts of rearing children and assisting parents.
  • Physical: The mind-body connection is strong. As a sandwich generation caregiver’s mental health declines, their physical health follows suit. It’s not uncommon for caregivers to develop chronic stress (i.e., a prolonged, consistent feeling of anxiety). Chronic stress puts caregivers at heightened risk for developing hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
  • Financial: Hiring a full-time caregiver is prohibitively expensive for many American families. It’s why so many people — often women — have left the workforce over the past two years to care for their loved ones. Even then, caregiving is not cheap. Over their time as caretakers, those in the sandwich generation estimate they’ve forfeited more than $10,000. Many others have been forced to dip into their retirement and other savings to make ends meet.

How to Alleviate Sandwich Generation Stress

If your employees are members of the sandwich generation, there are ways you can help them care for their loved ones without losing sight of themselves. Encourage them to:

1. Set boundaries.

Multigenerational caregiving is full of tough choices to which there are no easy answers. For instance, members of the sandwich generation might have to choose between attending their daughter’s T-ball game or taking their mother to a doctor’s appointment. Try to be understanding of these natural conflicts and give employees space to set and maintain healthy boundaries. No one can be everywhere at once — so give some leeway when they need to run the occasional errand during the workday. Know that they’re doing the best they possibly can with a difficult situation.

2. Talk about finances.

Money has always been a tricky subject in our culture, but people at the helm of a multigenerational household need to break down those barriers for the sake of their sanity and pocketbook. It can be awkward for employees to talk to their parents and children about their family’s financial situation, but you can host coaching sessions to give them the confidence to embrace these conversations. Once they get everyone on the same page regarding budgeting expectations, it will help your employees realize they have a strong team supporting them.

3. Take care of themselves.

Your employees might feel like they have to handle everything on their own, but that’s a lie. Remind them that there’s strength in numbers, but make it clear that they will need to ask for assistance from time to time. Help employees see that they won’t be able to take care of anyone if they don’t address their own emotional and physical needs. They also need to feel comfortable sharing those needs — friends, family members, and co-workers can’t read their minds or sense mounting stress. Open and transparent communication will help your employees realize that there are plenty of people willing to lend a hand.

4. Maximize their health benefits.

As we’ve already discussed, the financial burden of sandwich generation caregiving is nothing to sneeze at. Make sure your team is prepared to handle care costs — for their parents as well as kids — by offering a benefit like Paytient. Employees can use their Paytient card to cover out-of-pocket costs and turn them into interest-free payment plans, taking the financial stress out of caring for the whole family.

It’s easy to see the mental, physical, and financial toll of multigenerational caregiving. The sandwich generation caregivers on your team already sacrifice so much of themselves for their loved ones, but you can’t let them forget about themselves. Find ways to help them manage stress, stay healthy, and lay down a strong financial foundation for generations to come — and they’ll reward that support with loyalty down the road.

Healthcare Equity
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