The American workforce is aging—by 2024, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 25% of the labor force will be comprised of people ages 55 and older, 13 million of whom who will be ages 65 and older.
Workplaces are changing as a result: HR departments are adjusting benefits packages to reflect the needs of older workers, and employee teams are developing new ways to strengthen cross-generational communication. But this new generational dynamic signals more than simply older workforces—it will fundamentally change the types of support employees expect from their employers.
Empathetic employers would be wise to focus their attention on one particular group impacted by this trend: the sandwich generation. Defined as those who have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older), this group makes up nearly half (47%) of adults in their 40s and 50s.
Members of the sandwich generation face a host of responsibilities outside of work. Day-to-day life is likely to include preparing children for school, a full day of work, and an evening with the competing responsibilities of family life and caregiving for aging parents, either in or outside the home. Put simply, this life stage can cause significant strain on any individual, particularly those without the benefit of a solid support system.
As demographics increasingly shift, and more sandwich generation members become caregivers to older relatives, it’s more important than ever to understand what this means for the workplace. Employers can implement a variety of tactics and cultural shifts to develop a supportive environment for these employees:
- Do the research. Often, the first step towards fostering empathy is listening. Before instituting any programs to support caregivers in the workplace, it’s key to understand how much of your workforce is responsible for caregiving, and what they need to be successful. This can be as straightforward as an annual poll about family makeup and responsibilities outside of work. Keeping this poll broad and anonymous, and crafting messaging to explain how the responses will be used—to guide the development of stronger benefits packages—may help you get more responses. You may learn that employees are feeling emotionally distressed, or that they seek greater empathy from managers.
- Ensure resources are in place. Employees in caregiver roles often experience a strain on their resources—it’s not paid work, after all. For those in the sandwich generation with children older than 18, 73% report having provided them with at least some financial help in the past. And for caregivers, it’s estimated that they spend an average of roughly $7,000 annually to support their loved ones. Ensuring that your benefits package includes resources for financial wellness can help employees plan for these costs. It also means the difference between an engaged workforce and employees who come to work distracted by their bank accounts.
Financial resources aren’t the only ones to consider strengthening, however. Two in five (38%) regular caregivers report their caregiving situation causes them emotional stress. The proportion increases to 46% amongst those spend more time caregiving, and all the way to 53% for those who feel they didn’t have an option in choosing their caregiving role. Emotional well-being programs in the workplace, such as medical coverage for mental health programs, or resources for stress management, can provide the support these individuals need to process their feelings and approach life—at work and outside of work—in a balanced way.
- Offer flexibility. Fortunately, resources for flexible work arrangements have become more robust in recent years. If you don’t have one already, consider introducing a flex-time policy, in which employees can modify the start and end of their workdays depending on outside demands. Working from home can allow employees to manage family and work simultaneously. If you already have a policy in place, ensure employees have the proper resources to help them work effectively, such as remote communication tools and portable equipment.
- Remain committed to an empathetic culture. After listening and taking action, an empathetic employer can go even further to ensure that strategies offered to caregivers become the norm. Announcing and discussing these policies broadly will normalize their utilization—after all, what good are benefits if no one takes advantage of them? For younger workers looking to the future, knowing your company supports employees at all life stages can encourage longer tenure. Above all, being adaptable with your empathetic practices leaves room for you and your workforce to grow together in a healthy way over time.
Explore additional practices to support employees in our latest empathy study.