Balancing home and work can be challenging for every generation, but for one segment of the population this task comes with a unique set of stressors. Meet the sandwich generation, a term that refers to adults ranging between 45 to 64, taking care of aging parents and raising young kids and/or financially supporting grown children.

According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), nearly 55% of Canadians fall under this category[1] and in another study, it’s estimated that they spend an average of 19 hours per week on unpaid care and domestic labour.[2]

From helping children with homework to tending to ailing parents, for a long time, the sandwich generation remained largely invisible. But since the pandemic there has been a renewed focus on this part of the workforce – and this may explain why: juggling work and caregiving responsibilities is a tough job, often leaving sandwich generation employees feeling overworked, overwhelmed and unsupported.

  • 50% of caregivers have seen a negative impact on their mental health. 30% are considering quitting to be able to provide better care to their family member or friend, and more than 50% wish they had more support from their employer. [3]
  • Statistics Canada surveyed Canadians between the ages of 45 and 64 who have both children and parents to care for, and who spend more than eight hours a month on elder care. On work: 35.4% of high-intensity caregivers have changed their work hours; 25.6% have cut back on hours. [4]
  • Women are more likely to assume the role of caregiver (79% versus 22% of men). The pandemic intensified caregiving challenges. In fact, 1 in 4 women left the workforce between 2020 and 2022. [5]

Add all these stats up and you have a recipe for burnout, stress and depression among other poor health outcomes many sandwich generation employees experience daily. For businesses this translates into loss productivity, absenteeism, and high turnover. We know, for example, that the average large employer spends $6 billion annually on costs associated with unexpected absenteeism.[6]

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Click on the tabs below to read about a few steps HR leaders, alongside their businesses, can take to support sandwich generation employees:

Family status is protected ground under the Human Rights Code. For HR leaders this means employers have a duty to accommodate employee needs related to their family status to the extent that it doesn’t put undue hardship or result in a safety concern for the employer.

Of course, this also doesn’t mean employers have to say ‘yes’ to every employee accommodation request. Rather an employer and employee must work together to come up with the best solution.[7]

Employees may be reluctant to open up about the added pressures of caregiving responsibilities to appear capable of handling personal and professional obligations. So, it’s important that HR professionals and employers provide a safe atmosphere where employees can talk about caregiver challenges and discuss their needs (and potential solutions as noted in point number one).

Surveys and polls may also help in determining how many sandwich generation employees make up your workforce and can inform on some of the common struggles that are faced by these group of people.

Work flexibility can make parenting and caregiving duties more manageable. This doesn’t have to result in giving an employee a whole month off or cutting down their hours. It can just be as simple as accommodating an employee who must take their elderly parent to an appointment once a week or pick up a child from school in the afternoons.

Whatever is decided between the employee and employer (i.e. remote work, flexible start times etc.), flex work saves businesses money because turnover is expensive. It also helps employees feel trusted, a key component for fueling employee engagement and satisfaction.

Learn more about creating flexible workplaces at the 2022 HRPA Summer Conference (July 26-28). Here are some related Conference sessions you should tune into:

Employees can alleviate the pressure of caregiving by making sure the right benefits (including supplemental benefits), perks and financial assistances are in place. These benefits may include good medical insurance, a proper retirement plan, a generous amount of paid time off, and an employee assistance program. Other benefits can include disability and long-term care insurance, legal benefits, and care concierge benefits, that connects caregivers with the appropriate providers, resources and services for their mental health, childcare and eldercare needs.

Scotiabank is a real-life example of an employer that’s already offering the type of benefits needed to effectively support caregivers. On April 1st, 2022, in addition to its new fertility benefits program (which provides coverage with a lifetime maximum of $10,000 each for fertility, adoption and surrogacy support), Scotiabank implemented eight fully paid weeks for all parents welcoming a new child and eight additional fully paid weeks for all parents who have given birth to a new child. This new standard will go into effect in Canada next year and will be implemented across 24 other countries by 2025.

HRPA recently spoke with Scotiabank’s Dominic Cole-Morgan, Senior Vice President of Total Rewards, about what kind of impact these new measures have had on their employees:

“The reaction from employees has been really positive. In fact, shortly after we introduced our eight-week program for parents, a fantastic post went up on our internal intranet by one of our male employees, a father caring for his newborn baby. In the post he expressed how appreciative he was of the fact that he was able to support and spend time with his baby for the next few weeks instead having to be at work,” says Cole-Morgan. “We’ve even had positive feedback about this program from employees who would never use these benefits.”

Earlier this year, Scotiabank also extended other parts of its family benefits to include eldercare coverage – and raised their mental health benefits to $10,000. Scotiabank employees can also expense childcare and eldercare related expenses and receive five fully paid days of childcare, in addition to discounts on long-term daycare.

“It was important for us to provide support for people, particularly women, with caregiving responsibilities beyond just childcare. We want to create an organization where everyone thrives, and everyone is able to bring their best selves to work,” says Cole-Morgan. “If I had to offer one piece of advice to HR leaders and businesses looking to do the same, it would be to listen to your employees. I mean, for Scotiabank, that’s how we’ve been able to begin this amazing journey of offering tools and supports that not just help our employees start families but care for their families afterwards.”

Consider how performance and success are measured and determine if these processes are inclusive of caregiving employees.

After all, it’s important to remember that increased performative work behaviours (like how long you spend in the office) doesn’t necessarily equate to increased productivity. This is especially true for sandwich generation employees, who essentially work “double shifts” taking on caregiving and household duties. For employers, it may be better to focus on these employees’ results rather than the hours they spend on work and related tasks.

More on this topic can be found in the Ontario Caregiver Association’s guide Caregivers in the Workplace – Building a sustainable and resilient workforce. This comprehensive resource includes tips, strategies, and templates to support workplace leaders in building a more caregiver-inclusive culture, as well as information on how HR pros and employers can create better evaluation processes for caregiver employees.

Bottom line: As more workers become part of the sandwich generation, it’s important that employers respond to their needs – helping these employees better manage their competing caregiving and work-related priorities.

As an HR leader, it’s not just the right thing to do. Given the boost in employee morale, higher retention rates and reduced absenteeism, it’s the smart thing to do.