Why the sandwich generation is prone to stress, depression, and burnout
Picture this scenario. You finish a full day of work, only to have to drive through rush-hour traffic to fetch your children from an after-school club. Once back in the house, you help your kids with homework, prepare and cook them dinner, put a load of laundry on and walk the dog before then heading back out to your parent’s house. Once there, you cook them dinner too, clear up their kitchen, help your father get your mother washed and ready for bed and then create a list of the errands they need help with; food shopping, picking up a prescription and calling their doctor for test results. It’s only after all of this that you can return home once more and try to switch off for the evening.
For 1.3 million people in the UK, this type of day isn’t fictitious, it is their reality, and comes as a result of being part of the sandwich generation; a group of adults that have children but also have ageing or ill parents that need their help.
As a result of the extra responsibilities that come from being in the middle, almost 27% of sandwich carers have symptoms of poor mental health, including anxiety and depression.
As an employer, you might be wondering how you can help your employees that are part of the sandwich generation. Whilst there are certainly things you can do to support them whilst at work or on the clock, there is also a range of options and benefits you can offer them to help them in their personal life, give them back more free time, and reduce the pressures they may feel.
What is the sandwich generation?
The sandwich generation is generally considered to be middle-aged adults, often in their 40s and 50s, who have the responsibility of children and looking after their parents. Of this sandwich generation, 62% are women who take on an informal caring role and 70% of the sandwich generation are either married or in a civil partnership.
75% of sandwich carers are either employed or self-employed and over 18% of sandwich carers provide more than 20 hours of care per week.
With regards to the children of the sandwich generation, they may be dependent (under the age of 18) or be adults themselves who need financial, emotional, or physical assistance.
What is contributing to the stress, depression, and burnout of the sandwich generation?
For the sandwich generation, burnout is a real and much-experienced consequence of their circumstances. It is a state of physical and/or emotional exhaustion that can be caused by a range of factors and situations, but many of these cause feelings of overwhelm and a lack of control and create an imbalance or work overload.
Symptoms of burnout for sandwich generation employees can include fatigue, insomnia, stress, higher susceptibility to illnesses and even heart disease and high blood pressure.
These symptoms can not only affect their personal life but also their work life too. If they experience burnout or other mental health issues as a result of being a sandwich carer, they may be less productive, have longer or more frequent periods of absence or be less engaged with colleagues and their general working environment.
As an employer, it can be beneficial to understand the reasons why the sandwich generation is prone to stress, depression, and burnout, and recognise some of the current world issues that contribute to this.
Juggling work, life, and care
One of the biggest hardships about being a sandwich carer is trying to balance employment, supporting children and parents, running a household, and still having time to dedicate to self-care and social activities.
41% of sandwich carers say they have less free time with 50% providing physical care and 53% giving organisational and logistical support to their children and/or parents. A YouGov survey also found that 40% of sandwich carers feel they don’t have enough time for themselves and over 1 in 4 don’t feel they have enough time for their partner and relationship.
Finances and the cost-of-living crisis
When it comes to being a member of the sandwich generation, it is not just the time implications that make things hard. The financial pressure of caring for two generations also takes its toll. A cost-of-living crisis where the price of essentials such as utilities, fuel and food has risen significantly and 4.8 million 18-34-year-olds still living at home means that those under this umbrella are having to stretch their income further and further.
Loneliness, frustration, and resentment
For 86% of unpaid sandwich carers, their obligations have led them to feel lonely with nearly one third of carers feeling socially isolated at work due to their care responsibilities. A lack of understanding, no disposable income and not being able to take time away from home were cited as causes of this social isolation.
In addition, many of the sandwich generation feel frustrated and even resentful of their situation. This might be because their parents are unable to do the things they used to or have limited interaction with their grandchildren or because they don't have the level of personal freedom they expected to have at their age.
What can you do as an employer?
You may have employees that are coping with the demands of being part of the sandwich generation and not even be aware of it. It is worthwhile making sure that your workplace is well-equipped for supporting such employees.
One of the easiest ways you can support sandwich generation employees is by being understanding of their situation. Create a workplace where they can feel comfortable talking about their life and put yourself in their shoes if they come to you for support, whether it is for time off, to request access to services or discuss changes to their role.
For sandwich carers, the option to have a flexible working arrangement can be invaluable. It means that neither their personal nor working life has to take precedence but instead, they can balance both in a way that works best for them.
Flexible working may be that they can adopt a hybrid working pattern so that they don’t need to pay out for childcare a few days a week, or that they can leave work and make the time up should they need to assist a parent.
Prioritise mental health
With one in four sandwich carers reporting that their circumstances have affected their mental health, and that they feel less satisfied with life overall, supporting their wellbeing is important. There is a range of ways that you can do this:
- Foster an open and supportive environment
- Give employees the option to take mental health days
- Signpost to mental health and wellbeing organisation and support groups
- Offer flexible, remote or hybrid working
- Provide free or subsidised private medical insurance
- Sign up for workplace wellness platforms or apps
Provide valuable employee benefits
Another way that you can support employees financially, emotionally, and practically is by providing benefits that can be used outside of the workplace, contribute to creating a better work-life balance and promote inclusivity and diversity. For the sandwich generation, benefits that could be particularly valuable include those that not only support them but also their family such as:
- Everyday assistance such as running errands
- Pet services such as dog walking or house visits
- Help with household chores
- Appointment chaperones
- Companionship and assistance for older relatives
Meet companiions. We help employers offer employees hands-on, as-needed support for themselves and their loved ones. Whether it's a dad who needs help with the after-school routine or an adult child who needs peace of mind that their elderly parent has someone to assist them during the day, our companiions are here to help.
Learn more about our employee benefits and get in touch to find out how we can help you reduce absenteeism and improve employee wellbeing.