Carers & Sandwich Generation

The 'Sandwich Generation’ describes people that have the dual responsibility of caring for elderly parents as well as their children. In this section we explore the challenges for those in this situation as well as some options and support available, and look at the strategies employers should take to support staff facing these dual challenges.

In this section:

What is the sandwich generation?

The phrase was coined to describe adults that are ‘sandwiched’ between the need to care for their children and the demands of looking after older relatives.

That’s the definition for the sandwich generation, and its members are typically aged between 35 and 55. Women are twice as likely as men to be looking after the elderly. In most cases the children are living at home, while the older relatives might live elsewhere. In many ways, this can be more challenging than having all dependants under the same roof.

In most households in the UK both parents work, and so the pressure of childcare, supporting the older people and to perform well in your job can be very challenging.

Challenges faced by the sandwich generation

Clearly, having enough time to devote to children, older relatives and work is a major challenge to those in the sandwich generation. But money is also a challenge.

Trying to create more time to manage your responsibilities can be expensive. You might need to reduce your working hours – and consequently your income – to do everything that’s needed.  Alternatively you may need childcare resource to give you more time at work or to visit your relatives. Or, you can pay for support for your relative such as care visits.

Whatever solution works best, there is always a lot to consider and many tasks and worries to address on a daily basis.

Sandwich generation burnout

This constant psychological load can affect your mental health. Research from the Office for National Statistics found that one in four sandwich generation carers reports symptoms of mental ill health – and the severity worsens with the number of hours’ care that they provide each week.

A major factor is ‘sandwich generation guilt.’ With so much to think about and manage, it’s inevitable that you sometimes feel that you are not doing our best with the children, at work, or for your older relatives.

This can cause stress, worry, tiredness and even complete burnout – which can have a big knock-on effect. More than 43% of carers feel that their responsibilities are affecting their work.

Managing the demands of the sandwich generation

If you’re facing sandwich generation challenges it’s important not  to suffer indefinitely. Don’t sacrifice your own health in looking after others.

Take some time to explore the options. It’s interesting that one of the big stressors for carers is that not living with the person they’re looking after means that they don’t get the support they need.

Charities like Age UK and Carers UK are a great source of both advice and support, and also important services such as respite care – to give you a well-earned break – and guidance on benefits and social care that could help you financially.

The sandwich generation and work

Many people in this situation feel that their only option is to leave work or reduce their hours. Yet employers are increasingly aware of the sandwich generation challenges and many aim to be understanding of the issues, and find solutions that work.

You might find that instead of leaving you can work more flexibly – with less rigid hours, perhaps, or the option to work from home more often to balance your responsibilities. Plus, employers may prefer to retain your experience and skills on a part-time basis rather than lose you altogether.

The best solution in overcoming your challenges is to talk – to your partner, to your employer, to relevant charities and to others that might be able to support you.

Sandwich generation resources

There are lots of ways you might be able to improve your situation.  First, look into local support options by talking to your local authority and seeing if you’re eligible for the Carers Allowance.  Seek ways to make sure your relative is cared for when you’re unavailable, perhaps with a personal emergency alarm or a meal service.

Carers UK also has lots of useful practical support on everything from getting the equipment you need to end-of-life planning.

If you need to make changes to how you work such as reducing your hours, or finding more flexible work, there is lots of useful information on this site.

And never ignore symptoms of stress. Carers UK has useful advice on this, and you can also source good support from Mind and the NHS.


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