How Leadership Can Support Sandwich Generation Teammates

Perspective from Andrew Limouris, President and CEO, Medix

If you are an adult with responsibilities to care for both children and a parent (or other older individual), you are a member of the sandwich generation. There has always been a sandwich generation, but with advances in healthcare and expanding life expectancy, its ranks have grown. A November 2022 blog post from employee assistance program provider, WorkPlace Solutions titled, The Sandwich Generation Needs Balance, estimates that upwards of 10 percent of parents make up the sandwich generation in the U.S., and according to a January 2022 post by Quartz, Google expanded its parental leave to six months. Who’ll be next?, Google reported that as many as 40 percent of its employees were among the sandwich generation.  

People of the sandwich generation hold the distinction of simultaneously grappling with the physical, emotional, and financial concerns of their own and two other generations, and what works for one generation rarely works the same way for all. For instance, the healthcare demands of one’s children are usually vastly different from the healthcare needs of an aging parent. Helping an older loved one remain socially active might not mesh with the extracurricular activities in which children are involved. And financial issues associated with caring for an older adult combined with the costs of raising children can be staggering. 

Since companies are basically vast collections of people, their teammates’ stressors ripple back to them and can affect them in surprisingly similar ways. These challenges include fiscal losses related to a variety of factors, such as the employee burnout that comes from covering for teammates absent due to sandwich generation responsibilities. And when the employee covering for the teammate is living in their own “sandwich,” the ripples spread wider. 

There are two things my Medix teammates hear me say often. One is that companies are built to take care of people, and the other is that the workplace should be the second safest place a person goes, second only to home. I empathize with the challenges faced by our sandwich generation teammates and can only imagine the difficulty of managing the multiple priorities of dependent children combined with the needs of aging parents who are no longer fully independent. 

On any given day, these caregivers might juggle medical appointments for their older loved one, youth sports for their kids, and the paperwork associated with everything from Medicare to daycare. Pivoting from work to family responsibilities can cause anyone stress, but when familial responsibilities are multigenerational, they become that much more frequent and complex. 

At Medix, our benefits packages help. The resources we provide support a healthful life balance and play a part in restoring that balance when it depletes. If we can maintain balance within our lives, we reduce stressors, including burnout and illness which adversely impact not only people, but the companies employing them. Here are the resources Medix put in place: 

  • Six paid mental health days per year in addition to regular paid time off 
  • Hybrid work environment 
  • Robust employee assistance plan (EAP) that offers a dedicated resource of family care service specialists to provide research, education, and referrals for both childcare and eldercare
  • 401k (traditional and Roth options) to help teammates save for their futures and take advantage of investment options to benefit their children
  • Parents at Medix, a parents impact group (often called employee resource groups at other companies) providing support to working parents

Medix feels strongly that providing designated paid mental health days should be a common practice among companies. In the past, mental health days weren’t on the organizational radar in a policy-specific kind of way, but that’s changing. Even though most people feel the need to take a mental health day from time to time, there is often a level of guilt attached, a nagging sense that taking care of one’s mental and emotional wellbeing doesn’t justify a day off. By separating mental health days from other paid time off, we signaled our belief that time to mentally recharge is a valid reason for being away from work.     

And our impact groups are flourishing; we have seven at Medix, meeting regularly to offer members a sense of belonging and reinforcement. Parents at Medix discusses the issues impacting them, and at the very least, everyone there knows they’re not alone. One topic of discussion in this group might be intergenerational differences, where members learn better ways to achieve effective communication among all the generations for whom they have responsibilities. Less obvious benefits are personal and professional development opportunities, such as formal and informal skills training and the passing along of helpful information our teammates can use at work and at home.  

Medix leadership listens to our impact groups, seeking insight into where we can do more, especially in the areas of belonging, fairness, recognition, and feedback. And speaking of feedback, Medix welcomes it from all our teammates every month in the form of confidential surveys. These surveys help Medix leadership identify what works for our teammates and what might need examination. 

What are some things companies can consider to make life easier for sandwich generation employees? 

  • Regular, anonymous surveys encouraging openness about what helps and what hinders individuals as they strive for work-life balance 
  • Willingness to change policies and procedures to better meet employee needs, where feasible  
  • Stipends to help employees pay for childcare and eldercare
  • Paid subscriptions to wellness apps like Breethe, Calm, and Headspace
  • Flexible schedules and a culture that supports using them without fear of repercussions such as the loss of a promotion 

Putting assists like these in place for our sandwich generation teammates won’t solve every problem, but it will solve some. And it will help us be a company that takes care of its people and is that second safest place for them to be, besides home. 

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