An insurance company has urged employers to take care of the wellbeing and mental health of the time-poor “sandwich generation” of workers — warning that millions of British workers with caring responsibilities for a dependent child and an adult relative have less than 35 minutes a day to themselves.

In an increasingly competitive skills market for companies, where retaining the best staff is more important than ever, the insurance company Aviva has shared recent research which shows the following:

  • Almost four million UK adults are “sandwiched” between a dependent child and an adult relative who requires care.

  • Around half (47%) of those in the sandwich generation have four hours or less for themselves each week — less than 35 minutes a day — because of the dual challenges of caring for younger and older relatives. Almost one in 10 (7%) said they have no free time whatsoever.

  • Around two-fifths of people questioned (42%) said they spend at least 10 hours a week caring for family members.

  • About one-third of time-poor “sandwich generation” adults feel that their caring duties have a major impact on their wellbeing, negatively impacting their mental health and quality of life.

Commenting on the issue, Caroline Prendergast, Aviva’s Interim Chief People Officer, said, “Millions of people are juggling careers and caring duties — often with responsibilities at both ends of the age spectrum. This can be physically, emotionally and financially exhausting and all too often has a serious impact on the carer’s wellbeing”.

Sarah Brennan, from Bristol, works as a Risk Manager for Aviva. She has been a single parent to her son since he was seven weeks old. He is now 18 but her mother is 85 and requires extra support.

She said, “For me, flexibility at work isn’t a choice or a luxury — it’s essential. Without it, I’d probably have had to leave work to be there for my mum and son”.

How can employers address sandwich generation burnout? Advice from Health Assured, Associate Director of Clinical Services, Nicola Jagielski.

Caring for family members is undoubtedly a tiring business. It can be emotionally draining, and sometimes a lack of concrete reward can make the struggle harder.

It’s essential that someone with these problems feels supported in their role at work — and employers owe them a duty of care. So, what can a manager do if they suspect an employee is heading for burnout?

There is no quick and easy answer. However, there are a few ways to ensure the sandwich generation of workers in the workforce know they have the organisation’s support.

Consider flexible working

Childcare and caring for an adult is difficult. There are many factors to juggle — time, expense, travel — and someone on a standard 9–5.30 contract may find it becomes impossible to fit in with those standard working hours.

Changing someone’s patterns, even just by an hour a day, can make a world of difference. Knowing that they can start work at 10am, for example, opens up plenty more options for a harassed carer, and makes it easier for them to settle both children and parents before work.

Similarly, a day a week working remotely is often an enormous help.

Ensure workloads are manageable

Because their schedules are often set (ie the after-school club finishes at 6pm on the dot), having to stay late to finish a task can ratchet up the stress for the employee. Make sure workloads are realistic, and that workers are able to complete everything on time. This ensures their work-life balance stays manageable and lessens the risk of burnout.

Communicate openly and often

Ask the employee how they’re feeling. Tell them you’re available to listen. Caring for multiple people is incredibly stressful, and sometimes a friendly, listening ear is all that’s needed for someone to feel a bit less pressured. If the organisation offers an employee assistance programme, this is can really help — a worker who feels uncomfortable talking to a manager or co-worker about their worries can find it much easier to talk to a qualified counsellor over the phone.

All of this advice is about lessening pressure and stress. By staying open and being reassuring to the parents who work for the business, managers will find that making their lives a little bit easier reaps rewards.

Last reviewed 1 May 2019