Most of us have heard of “The Sandwich Generation.” This refers to the phenomenon of people caught between generations, helping their children achieve maturity and independence while also having to assist their aging parents. The pull on the attention of these people, who often have demanding careers and businesses, can not be overstated.
For those who run businesses, the problem is compounded, because they often employ staff with similar issues. Those workers are often in the unfortunate position of having to take time to assist their own family members. Distracted by their outside responsibilities, they may be fearful of revealing their situation to their superiors, concerned that they might lose their position if the true nature of their obligations was known.
With 10,000 people turning 65 every day, and 70% of those aging people destined to experience a long term care event, the numbers of family caregivers will increase exponentially. So the impact of this trend on business and the economy will escalate.
If you have never been a family caregiver, it’s difficult for you to grasp the enormity of the task. Depending on the circumstances, the person giving care can be in deep distress and potential in danger. And it’s absolutely imperative that everyone becomes aware of the frightening potential of this approaching epidemic.
The Meat of the Sandwich
Let’s first look at the basic caregiving situation. In virtually every family, there is usually one person who takes care of everyone else. Usually, it’s “Mom.” But 40% of the time, it’s “Dad” (especially if there is no Mom or if Mom is the one who is sick). Typically, this person works, either full or part-time. There may be a crisis, like a fall, or a critical illness, that requires immediate intervention by the caregiver-in-waiting.
There’s also the “sneak attack” care scenario: aging parents start asking for “favors” from their adult children. They need help understanding something: an unusual piece of mail or threatening phone call; news from a medical provider; a change in service from an insurance provider. Then it gradually morphs into escort services, rides to therapy, picking up items from the grocery store or pharmacy, and before you know it, you have a full-time, unpaid job that eats your life.
It’s not uncommon for these caregivers of aging parents to also have children. The expectation for those with healthy kids is that they will grow up, graduate from school and become independent. That is not always the case. They may have difficulty finding work in their chosen profession, or take a job and leave it, only to return to the nest. Sadly, many develop substance abuse problems, adding another stressor to the mix.
These are just some of the typical situations vying for the attention of family caregivers. These people also tend to have careers and subordinates who work for them (who may also be family caregivers).
So, for the “Sandwich Bosses,” the people who run companies or departments, what are some ideas for improving their lives? Here are some ideas:
- Put yourself first. If you go down in flames, so does everyone else you care for or supervise.
- Hire the right professionals to do the things you don’t know how to do, like wills and estate planning.
- Learn to say “no” when the demands of others are becoming too much.
- If it’s bad for you, it has to be just as bad, or worse, for your subordinates.
- Create an environment where it’s safe for people to talk about their situation. No one should have to fear losing their job for having to care for loved ones.
- Teamwork is essential: cross-train employees to cover for each other so business can continue with minimal interruption.
- Remote work: allowing employees to work from home can go along way toward easing stress on family caregivers.
- Identify resources: there are places people can go to solve a lot of their problems. Being able to provide guidance toward support services and establishing formal policies can be a huge help to everyone involved.
These are just a starting place. Caregiving is complex and different for every family. Understanding what you’re up against, practicing self-care, and supporting valued employees can keep you and your enterprise moving forward as the demands of a growing population of people in need encroaches on your productivity. By preparing for it now, you can meet (meat?) the challenges as they will undoubtedly be delivered at your doorstep.
For more on this important topic, listen to author Tracey Lawrence speaking with Tiana Sanchez on “Like a Real Boss”.