Westfield Health column: The sandwich generation – what does this mean for businesses?

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We’re an ageing population, with more than 20 million of us expected to be over 60 by 2030, according to Age UK.

This trend has inevitably contributed to the upsurge in working carers in the UK.

Westfield Health chief executive Jill Davies explores the impact this could be having on employers.

Known as the ‘sandwich generation’, the group of people who look after their own children as well as older relatives is a rapidly growing demographic.

The average age of carers is 40-54 years, and the majority are female with children aged 11-15. Most people who fall into this category will be at the peak of their careers, so it can be a difficult time of life – both financially and emotionally.

Three million workers are currently juggling employment with caring for sick or older relatives, according to the Office for National Statistics, and this figure will continue to rise due to the increasing retirement age and life expectancy of our parents.

Today, people are caring for longer periods of their working lives, which may result in them being unable to work as many hours as they’d like, therefore limiting their earning potential.

In fact, 74 per cent of employees say that caring for their own children as well as for older, ill or disabled loved ones has negatively impacted on their ability to earn, say Carers UK.

At the same time, Age UK states that 66 per cent of people believe standards of elderly care are ‘poor’. This, combined with the cost of social care, may cause more employees to choose to balance caring responsibilities with their jobs.

And the subsequent impact on your business may be greater than you think.

One in five working carers say their jobs are affected by tiredness, lateness and absence, while 84 per cent say they feel stressed. Two thirds of those who give up work, retire early or reduce their hours report that the stress of juggling work and care was a contributing factor, according to Carers UK.

So how can we help staff who have challenging dual responsibilities?

Firstly, managers can learn to recognise the symptoms of stress in working carers, including fatigue, weight loss, headaches and tearfulness. They can also promote a culture where staff can discuss problems openly without the fear of being stigmatised.

Introducing an employee assistance programme could help ease the burden on carers by providing 24-hour access to counselling services.

And a flexible working policy could help employees cope with their responsibilities at home while enabling them to do their job to the best of their abilities.

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