Why You’re Losing Your ‘Sandwich Generation’ Employees: Three Things Businesses Need To Do Differently
23 May 2022
Earlier this year, Google updated its paid leave policy. For me, the most significant change wasn’t the increase in paid parental leave, but the company’s decision to offer up to eight weeks of paid caregiver leave. Google’s move is noteworthy because it specifically called out the importance of addressing this critical talent pool, stating that more than 40% of its employees are in the “sandwich generation.” Is your company in a similar situation?
The “sandwich generation” is a term that refers to individuals who are caught in the middle, emotionally and financially stressed caring for younger children and their aging parents. While most of these individuals are between the ages of 35 and 50, this generation is not defined by the year of their birth but by their caregiving responsibilities. The impact of these responsibilities on workplace performance is considerable.
The last two years only intensified these challenges. While the pandemic has spurred some changes to paid leave policies, many employees remain caught in the middle. Juggling work and dual caregiving responsibilities leave little room for error. A school closure, a client emergency or an ill parent can throw off the delicate balance. The pandemic forced many employees into no-win positions, a challenge felt most accurately by women. Women are more likely to assume the role of caregiver, and as a result, more than 2 million downshifted their careers or left the workforce between January 2020 and February 2022.
As HR leaders, we’re in a unique moment: Companies have more open roles than they can fill, and the competition to land top performers is intense. Yet the very talent we’re struggling to hire is walking out the door because organizations fail to accommodate these employees. It doesn’t have to be this way. These are three steps your business can take today to start closing the gaps in paid leave and support sandwich generation employees.
1. Start the conversation.
Open communication is the first step toward improvement. If employees are reluctant to voice concerns publicly like during a skip-level meeting, consider an anonymous survey. You’ll gain valuable insight into what employees really think about your current policies, including company culture or employee attitudes that may be impacting policy usage. For example, your business may offer flexible hours, but employees could be hesitant to take advantage of this option for fear it could impact performance reviews or promotion opportunities. Perhaps employees need help with temporary care needs, like when a sick child needs to stay home from school. A paid membership to services like Care.com or a monthly stipend for emergency care support could help. The more you learn, the better your team can tailor policies and help shift workplace norms to support sandwich generation employees.
2. Update your leave policy.
At a minimum, employees must understand their options under FMLA, which guarantees job-protected leave for employees who qualify. This leave is unpaid, however, and it’s limited. It’s not an ideal solution for employees who are facing an extended period as a caregiver for a parent and juggling childcare responsibilities. If your company wants to be an employer of choice, follow the lead of companies like Google and offer paid caregiver leave that’s in addition to parental leave. If possible, consider adding flexible leave options. For example, some companies offer options like the ability to take non-consecutive weeks or to take twice as many weeks at half pay. This empowers employees to choose what’s right for their families.
3. Embrace a more flexible workweek.
Extended leave options are most helpful for situations where caregiving responsibilities are fixed to a set period, like end-of-life care. If an employee is acting as a caregiver for six months or longer, however, consider additional options that would help your employee balance work and personal demands. Could they adjust their weekly schedules to have four longer workdays and then have Fridays off? Can they adjust their start/end times to allow for solo work to be completed outside of a traditional 9-to-5 workday? If your company is following a hybrid workweek, consider committing to a set schedule (like Tuesday and Thursdays) that all employees need to be in the office. This makes it easier for everyone since there’s a recurring date for in-person meetings.
Becoming An ‘Employer Of Choice’ For The Sandwich Generation
These past two years have been a powerful reminder that HR is about people—and a thoughtful, intentional approach to paid leave that meets employees where they are can make a tremendous difference.
If your company is still struggling to land top performers, partnering with the right recruiter could help. Recruiters can have candid conversations with candidates that a hiring manager might not. These conversations can offer insight into the caregiving pressures a prospective hire may be facing behind the scenes and reassurances that your company provides the flexibility and support they need to succeed.
Building and maintaining a culture that supports sandwich generation employees means your company needs to take a long-term view. But the results—lower turnover rates, increased employee morale and more productive teams—are worth it.