The Sandwich Generation – Balancing Work and Care for Dependent Family Members (Children and Elderly)
The label Sandwich Generation has recently been applied to people of productive age who look after their children and their aging parents at the same time. Almost two-thirds of people 45 to 59 years old help their aging parents in their everyday lives and a half of this group feel their help is sought out frequently (Vidovičová & Rabušic, 2003). Given the aging of the population overall, more and more people are going to have to balance their jobs and caring for their children and family members.
Typically, these are women at a late stage of their productive age who look after their teenage children and after their own parents. When interviewed about what worries them the most, they said they were afraid of losing their jobs and about half of them mentioned they would appreciate flexible work arrangements.
Some scholars call them women in the middle. These women might have just reached the midpoint of their life course and they are being called upon by everyone around them. Their husbands, children, aging parents, as well as their employers, all expect them to meet their needs.
Working full time and looking after several dependents may lead to a role conflict. Companies in Western Europe have already responded to the phenomenon by developing measures to support employees who are "squeezed in the middle". For example, employers offer flexible days off (paid or unpaid) that can be used for emergency care or flexible arrangements such as flexible working hours, telecommuting or working from home, which allows employees to stay at home and look after family members if they need. The policies are based on the assumption that the stress employees might experience when their loved ones are at home alone or in the care of others is so distracting that their work would be more effective if they work from home where they could be more directly available. Another example of supportive policies is awareness-raising programs which give employees and their supervisors information about issues people in this situation may experience and where they can find help. Other help is available in the form of self-help groups for caregivers or seminars on care management and different types of assistance.
Company Best Practices
AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, Incl. offers employees six hours of professional assistance for free. This includes face-to-face or telephone counselling by geriatric care specialists. The company also facilitates contact with other professional counsellors and publishes informational materials about care.
The accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers operates a network for employees who look after dependent family members with special needs called Special Needs Caregivers Circle (SNCC). In addition, this firm puts employees in contact with different care specialists. The network provides information, resources and best practices suggestions to its members in addition to providing mentoring opportunities (1).
George Mason University has established a coordinator position dedicated to geriatric care. The coordinator helps to identify the needs of dependent family members of university employees and to find what assistance services are available to them. The coordinator also researches the legal aspects of caregiving. The University runs a self-help group of caregivers who meet once a month. The group holds seminars on a variety of topics such as the legal or financial aspects of long-term care or communication between patients and caregivers (2).
Neil Margaret, Donna L. Wagner (2010): Working Caregivers: Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities for the Aging Network. NFCSP Issue Brief (available on http://www.caregiverslibrary.org/Portals/0/Working%20Caregivers%20-%20Issues%20for%20the%20Aging%20Network%20Fin-Neal-Wagner.pdf, accessed on April 22, 2011).
Přidalová, Marie. 2007. Daughters and Sons Giving Care (Decision I Can Live With). IVRIS working papers No. 07/04. (available here: http://ivris.fss.muni.cz/workingpapers/pdfs/ivriswp005_pridalova_pecujici_dcery.pdf, accessed April 22, 2011).
Vidovičová, Lucie, Ladislav Rabušic (2003): Seniors and Social Care Policies on Aging in the Eyes of the Czech Public. Empirical Research Report. VÚPSV: Research Centre Brno.
Wilken, Carolyn (2008): Balancing Work and Caregiving: Tips for Employees. University of Florida (available here: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy872, accessed April 22, 2011).