Sandwich Generation Feels the Press: HR Tips For Supporting Caregivers

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By Stephanie Chan

Most people will care for an aging loved one in their lifetime—be it a parent, relative, or friend. Caregivers wear many hats: cook, driver, handyman, personal assistant, and companion, just to name a few. They also share some common hidden sacrifices: effects on physical and mental health, unpaid time, decreased productivity at work, financial pressures, and reduced time for personal activities.

Statistics Canada estimates that 35 per cent of the working population are caregivers to a family member. Additionally, 20 per cent of the workforce have reported caring for children in addition to an aging loved one. Although caregiving is provided by more women than men, the issue affects both genders, with four in 10 caregivers being men.

Sandwich Generation Pressed…and Growing
The sandwich generation are those feeling the press from both sides— caring for aging relatives as well as children of their own. The demographic will continue to grow due to the aging of the baby boomers, as well as people living longer. From 2012 to 2031, the number of people providing care to an aging parent is expected to double.

Caregiving and Organizational Health
Billions of dollars are lost by organizations each year due to conflicts which arise due to caregiving responsibilities of employees. Helping employees meet their care needs provides key support and can boost employee morale; it can also be beneficial to the company by allowing employees to be more productive.

An employee stretched too thin between work, caring for parents and other household responsibilities may experience employee burnout. This can result in absenteeism, decreased productivity, and mistakes being made at work. The stress felt by family caregivers who also work full-time can lead to them turning down promotions, scaling back hours or having to quit altogether.  Good company practices which help caregivers can help employers retain good employees.

How Employers Can Help
Flexibility, creativity and access to support are among the common touch points that many employers are exploring to address a wide range of caregiving circumstances.

Recognize the Issue: Although most employers recognize the balancing act of caregiving and work as an issue, they may not necessarily be aware of the extent of the issue or the impact on their labour force. Realizing that many employees may be struggling with caregiver issues is the starting point for developing company practices which support the sandwich generation. Recognition of the issue can help employees become more open and feel safe in talking about their personal circumstances with their supervisor or others at work.

Start the Conversation: The topic of providing care to an aging parent isn’t always easy to discuss. Each individual employee’s situation is unique, with a different set of challenges to be faced. Foster an open culture in your workplace about the needs of your employees.  Consider starting an employee forum or conduct a lunch hour seminar specifically meant for those who are family caregivers.  The opportunity to learn from each other or from outside experts can go a long way in boosting morale.

Provide Flex Time: If your company can accommodate it, providing employees with flexible work hours can help those with caregiving responsibilities.  Consider adding more family days off, or provide the option of working extra hours during the work week so that employees can take a flex day.

Focus on Results-Based Performance: Focusing on results-based performance rather than hours can help improve company productivity while providing flexibility to employees. Review your performance metrics that are used to measure employee performance to align them to the right factors.

Be a Resource to Your Employees: Much of the research, planning and communications concerning family care take place during business hours. Having resources at hand for your employees can save them a lot of time and effort, thereby reducing distractions during the work day. These can include:

  • Providing referrals to common services that are typically needed when caring for an aging parent;
  • Providing information about community resources, and health and aging in general;
  • Providing referrals to webcasts and seminars, or host your own; and
  • Providing information about any benefits that are available from your organization’s EAP provider.

Create a Streamlined Process: Having a company protocol in dealing with employees who need assistance or who need to deal with a family emergency can help your company run more smoothly.  Furthermore, clearly communicating what this streamlined process is will allow employees to understand what the company is willing to provide to support them.

Offer Eldercare Benefits: As a company, consider the demographic of your employees and what benefits they may need. Consider providing eldercare benefits as part of your benefits package if they are not already included.

Care For Caregivers Carries ROI
In short, show your caregiving employees that you care about them and recognize the stresses they have outside of work. It will go a long way in keeping your employees happy and less stressed, at a time when they are likely at their peak earning years and most valuable to your organization.

Stephanie Chan is an eldercare advisor and transition planner, helping seniors and families make informed choices regarding senior living. Stephanie founded and operates Home to Home, a care planning and transition assistance business which helps seniors plan and manage lifestyle changes such as a downsize or change in health.

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