How to survive 'in a sandwich' - supporting people of the 'Sandwich Generation'
Until recently, media had paid little attention to the struggle of people of the so-called 'Sandwich Generation'. Let me clarify that the term "Sandwich Generation" refers to a life situation rather than the picnic trash can or activities in the kitchen. It means that demographic developments have put an increasing number of middle age people in a situation where their family members – dependent children or elderly parents – need their care. Research indicates that it is usually women who assume this responsibility. A fifty-five year old woman looking after her children as well as after her or her husband's parents is a typical example.
In order to meet the needs of her close ones, she must reduce or drop her income-generating and leisure activities. These lifestyle changes and the demands of personal care represent a great psychological burden which may lead to fatigue, feelings of being overwhelmed, even to a fear for the life and health of the people she looks after. Resentment and other negative feelings towards the dependents or other family members who do not take equal part in caregiving may also occur. Limited opportunities for self-realization can also make caregivers feel less important, competent or successful than before and undermine their self-confidence. In addition, the fact that the health of the aging dependents tends to get worse despite the care they receive and that they eventually die can result in the caretakers feeling as if their work is pointless. Particularly production-oriented people struggle with the fact that they are not able to do as much work as they used to.
I am not going to describe all the potential solutions to these problems in this text. However, I hope to inspire the readers by suggesting ways to alleviate the burden often felt by caregivers and their colleagues. First of all, they must remember that they cannot really help others unless their own needs are met. Fatigue and lack of sleep, nourishment or opportunities to socialize are all real barriers to effective care. Caregivers need to remember that securing their own well-being is not selfish or cowardly but that it is crucial in order to do what they have taken upon themselves. It is necessary to find and use help, to be proactive about relaxation, to plan time well and to utilize all the resources and relief provided by family members as well as professionals. This is the only way to effective, sustainable and sensible caregiving.
As I said earlier, most people looking after children and elderly dependents are also employed. In this situation, employment might turn into a source of stress – people are less willing to work overtime, they frequently take time off, find it hard to concentrate and tend to be afraid of failure. On the other hand, the job can also function as a source of support – caregivers take on different roles and focus on different tasks than at home and thus take a break from caregiving. Employers ultimately make the decisions on how to approach these new situations and what atmosphere they create in the workplace. If the employer's attitude to caregiving employees is friendly, the workers can share their problems and openly discuss their needs and solutions. Their work satisfaction and productivity grows if the company provides legal counseling and crisis support, for example, or flexible working hours or telecommuting options. The employer's attitude to the different forms of dependent care and the relevant policies should be openly communicated. In general, friendly company policies toward the people of the Sandwich Generation bring benefits both for employers and employees. In the face of the current demographic trends, by improving the way we work with the people of the Sandwich Generation there is nothing to lose.