Achieving a healthy work-life balance is even more challenging for mid-life, mid-career managers, who are more likely to be part of the “sandwich generation”— the generation of middle-aged people who must care for both young children and older parents living at home.
Improvements in health care and lifestyles have led to a greater number of people living longer. The result is the rise of “sandwich generation” caregivers—caregivers simultaneously responsible for minor children and older (65+) adults. An analysis of the data from the 2015 National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS) and National Study of Caregiving (NSOC)—two national surveys of U.S. older adults and their caregivers—reveals the extent to which the sandwich generation is growing, and the impact of their multiple obligations on their well-being and success.
The analysis, conducted by University of Michigan and Detroit-based Wayne State University researchers, showed that nearly one-quarter of adults providing care to senior parents also had minor children to care for. Sandwich generation caregivers provided as much care to the seniors in their care as did non-sandwich generation caregivers—that is, caregivers of senior parents who did not have the added responsibility of caring for minor children. The level of care was measured based on factors such as total care hours, whether the caregiver was the sole caregiver, and the type of functional assistance provided—such as assistance with mobility (e.g., getting out of bed or moving around the house); self-care (e.g., bathing or dressing); and household activities (e.g., doing laundry or preparing meals).
Providing such care, however, took a greater financial and emotional toll on sandwich generation caregivers than on their non-sandwich generation counterparts. Nearly one-quarter (23.5%) of sandwich generation caregivers reported financial difficulties, and nearly one-half (44.1%) reported emotional difficulties, significantly higher than the 12.2% and 32.2% respectively of non-sandwich generation caregivers.
Sandwich generation caregivers also reported a higher level of “caregiver role overload,” which was based on survey questions related to respondents’ feelings of exhaustion, having more responsibilities than they could handle, having no time for themselves, or having to deal with frequently changing needs of the seniors in their care.
In addition to having to care for minor children as well as senior parents, sandwich generation caregivers were also more likely to be working than non-sandwich generation caregivers (70% to 54%), leading to what the Michigan researchers called the unique trilemma of older adult care, childcare, and employment.
Supporting work-life balance is essential to the well-being of employees and, consequently, the success of a business. Companies that help their people achieve a balance between their work and personal obligations are rewarded with employees and managers who are less stressed, more motivated, and more loyal.
Despite their best intentions, company leaders may overlook the pressures of the sandwich generation—a newer phenomenon in terms of obligations at home—which, demographically, are likely to fall on their mid-life, mid-career managers. This research highlights the extent of the challenge faced by these sandwich generation caregivers. Company leaders will want to be mindful of the added stress and potential burnout mid-life managers might be dealing with as they go home to care younger children and older parents.
Lianlian Lei’s profile at University of Michigan
Amanda N. Leggett’s profile at Wayne State University
Donovan T. Maust’s profile at University of Michigan
A national profile of sandwich generation caregivers providing care to both older adults and children. Lianlian Lei, Amanda N. Leggett, Donovan T. Maust. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (November 25, 2022).
Ideas for Leaders is a free-to-access site. If you enjoy our content and find it valuable, please consider subscribing to our Developing Leaders Quarterly publication, this presents academic, business and consultant perspectives on leadership issues in a beautifully produced, small volume delivered to your desk four times a year.
For the less than the price of a coffee a week you can read over 650 summaries of research that cost universities over $1 billion to produce.
Use our Ideas to:
Speak to us on how else you can leverage this content to benefit your organization. email@example.com