The financial realities of today’s world means that finding a work-life balance is harder than ever. It’s equally as difficult for those entering the workforce for the first time as for those leaving it. But it’s middle-aged adults stuck in the middle of their careers who are seemingly seeing the worst of it because not only is work more demanding but their home lives are becoming increasingly complicated.
Americans in their 40s and 50s are not only raising young kids but also increasingly caring for aging parents. That means that they are working 40-60 hours a week at the office, another full-time job at home, and then dedicating extra labor helping their parents adjust to new limitations. Their to-do list never ends — and it also costs increasingly more money to provide for everyone who needs help.
What kinds of stress is the Sandwich Generation facing, and how are employers working to provide benefits that truly cater to their needs? As it turns out, flexibility is key to both supporting these workers and helping them reach their full potential at work.
Are you a member of the sandwich generation?
The Sandwich Generation is a group of adults (primarily middle-aged) who find themselves increasingly caring for both their parents and their children at the same time. At present, about 15% of middle-aged Americans are currently supporting both aging parents and kids financially. The number of adults who fall into this group is growing exponentially because, by 2030, all Baby Boomers will be over 65.
However, the growth in the number of adults caring for both parents and children isn’t solely a product of aging Baby Boomer parents. The big financial strain is coming from adult children.
For a generation where financial stability is largely a pipe dream, many more young adults need more financial support into adulthood than before. It’s not so much a matter of coddling as it is of survival, and parents increasingly recognize that. Among adults in their 40s and 50s with children over 18, 73% of those parents have supported at least one of their children financially (either because their adult child is in school or for other reasons). And for those who are separated or divorced and grow their families with different partners, supporting those children — young or older — can be even more complicated.
The impact of stress on sandwich generation employees
It costs more money than ever to raise kids, particularly as those children need financial support well into adulthood. More and more people are also helping their parents navigate dwindling retirement funds and rising health costs. At the same time, those added responsibilities aren’t just financial. Sandwich Generation employees are also providing extra emotional and even physical care. Plus, if one of the people they need to care for is managing a chronic illness or a mental illness, the care can become even more complicated.
So even though employees in this position need to miss more work, scaling back your working fewer hours isn’t financially feasible. Sandwich Generation workers are stuck between a rock and a hard place, which can compound the stress that already exists in everyday life.
The impacts of stress on a person’s mental health and physical health are well-known. Stress can lead to problem habits like a bad diet and poor sleep, which can, in turn, lead to chronic conditions. It’s also intimately linked with depression, which often requires further treatment. Dealing with stress can similarly result in a significant impact on employee’s performance at work. When workers get stressed (either because of the job or because of outside stressors), it not only impacts their ability to engage with the job but it can lead to injury at work. The poor health brought on by stress generally can also impact productivity and performance.
How employers are helping employees deal with life
De-stressing after work is tough when there are so many things calling your attention at home. How can employers help their team members deal with their ever-increasing responsibilities at home? But as the resource notes, it’s not impossible. Deal with it by logging off from work completely once your daily hours are done. One of the most important ways an employer can help with this is by offering a flexible schedule. Flexible schedules are already a modern working trend, as demanded by millennials and Gen Z. But they can be truly invaluable for stressed workers.
When employees are stressed, it often results in absenteeism and increased Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits. Add in the demands pulling them in different directions at home, and studies found that caregivers miss an average of 6.6 days of work per year. As their parents continue to age, that figure will likely grow.
When employers force employees to choose the all-or-nothing route rather than allowing them to come in late and leave early as needed, they put extra pressure on the employee. Removing the hard decision means that while they may not lower workers’ stress, they aren’t contributing to it. And that can be a huge relief.
Employers with significant numbers of Sandwich Generation employees can also go further by offering supports that cater specifically to these employees. Some of these might be resources that help employees deal with caregiving, financial planning, and even support groups.
Ask for help when you need it
The key to finding a semblance of a work-life balance as a member of the Sandwich Generation may not be quitting your job or working to the point of complete and total burnout. Instead, it’s important to talk about your needs with your team and ask for help when you need it.
As more and more people find themselves looking after young kids, adult kids and their parents, more and more workers will find themselves in this position. Thankfully, workplaces are becoming increasingly flexible places. So, talk to your boss about your work-life balance. You might be surprised at how willing they are to accommodate you so that you can be your best self at work without making sacrifices at home.
About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who has a particular interest in social justice, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @ HamiltonJori.
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