The family-friendly business: Four steps to supporting employees balancing work and caring responsibilities

Advice and top tips

The family-friendly business: Four steps to supporting employees balancing work and caring responsibilities

Life expectancy in the last 40 years has increased, with more people than ever before living to the age of 100 and above thanks to such factors as healthcare advances and reduced smoking rates.

While there is much to celebrate about this increase, it has presented new challenges to society…and in the world of work.

The rise in the number of multigenerational families has resulted in the growth of the Sandwich Generation – adults in their 40s and 50s who support their parents at the same time as supporting their adult children.

For employees who have dual obligations and responsibilities to parents and children, the financial, emotional and physical burdens can be high. Hence the necessity for organisations to respond effectively to their circumstances and needs.

Here, we look at four steps employers can take to support the sandwich generation’s mental, physical and emotional health.

Focus on financial planning support

The ‘cost of living’ crisis has increased pressure on employees having to navigate the financial affairs of an elderly parent, or contending with children’s college or university tuition.

Organisations can help equip working carers with the tools they need to cope by offering financial wellness programmes. These may involve helping employees to analyse their financial circumstances and put in place workable strategies for managing their money.

Effective financial education should ensure employees are fully aware of the financial benefits available to them and understand their value.

Adopt a flexible approach

For some employees, their ability to remain in the workforce can depend on the availability of flexible work patterns. Indeed, as Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitude Survey showed, 39 per cent of employees wanted flexible work to be the key benefit focus for employers.

Businesses can strike the right balance between employees’ needs and the needs of the company by carefully designing flexible work patterns for individual workers. Moreover, it can help to reduce rates of absenteeism. Consideration, however, is needed from both parties to ensure solutions are viable and that the impact on the company is minimal.

A flexible work schedule, which could include job sharing, reduced working hours and remote working, allows employees to fulfil their caring responsibilities without having to take time off.

An emphasis on empathy

Unavoidable demands, such as having to take an elderly parent to a medical appointment, or meeting with a child’s teacher may be inconvenient, but they can also be a cause of anxiety.

Workers may worry or feel guilty about family obligations impacting their work, and how such requests are regarded. This can, in turn, lead to concerns that it may affect their prospects of promotion or result in unfounded fears of disciplinary procedures.

Employees may feel uncomfortable, or even embarrassed, when family matters intrude into their work, and this is an important thing for employers to remember if, for instance, work schedules have to be quickly rearranged owing to a medical emergency in an employee’s family.

Empathy shown by management can be invaluable. A company that offers support and genuine understanding is one that will build an enviable reputation for caring about its workforce.

Care and compassion

Employers should be mindful that it is possible for employees to neglect their own health and wellbeing by prioritising the needs of dependants. To help avoid this, employees should be encouraged to maximise opportunities for self-care.

Physical exercise can help boost wellbeing, but work and domestic obligations often mean time is at a premium. Employers should therefore think practically and provide options that are easily accessible and that do not create additional time demands. These may include access to home fitness programmes, walking lunch clubs, onsite group exercise classes and cycle to work schemes.

Companies keen to support employees with significant family obligations should also place social wellbeing high on the agenda. Employers should be mindful that such employees are often susceptible to feelings of loneliness and a sense of isolation from their colleagues.

Although those who spend more time working from home are particularly vulnerable, it should be acknowledged that those who work onsite can also become preoccupied with the demands and responsibilities of caring for children or ageing parents. Such employees may find it difficult to engage, maintain existing friendships or develop new ones.

As with physical exercise opportunities, activities to promote social wellbeing need to be user-friendly for the time poor. For this reason, breakfast or lunch clubs, team-building exercises and charity initiatives are often recommended.

Counselling services can be invaluable, but organisations should be aware of sensitivities. They could offer employees a range of options – such as face-to-face sessions, text-based counselling or 24/7 support – enabling the individual to select the ones they are most comfortable with.

Leveraging healthcare tech can help promote a self-care approach and boost resilience. The anywhere/anytime capabilities of apps make them particularly convenient and accessible. To help encourage take-up, employers could direct employees to apps that help with everything from meditation and stress management through to relaxing and improving sleep cycles.

A number of vendors also offer corporate solutions for carer support. Lottie, for instance, is a free-to-use digital healthcare marketplace and concierge service that compares care homes and home care providers. Yurtle tracks the welfare of carer employees and gives them and their employees recommendations and resources, while Companiions simplifies the process of arranging in-person, on-demand support and assistance.

Support and understand

The pressures facing the sandwich generation show few signs of abating.

The economic picture continues to look bleak, and the arrival of winter increases the likelihood of longer waiting times for an already overwhelmed NHS – which can add to the emotional – and financial – anxieties of those caring for dependants.

In such a time of acute hardship, workers facing such responsibilities need employers who will provide as much support – and understanding – as possible. Some companies have already responded by offering periods of carer leave to employees.

However, with an average of 600 people a day leaving work because of caring responsibilities1, a more urgent response and universal mind-set shift may be necessary if employers want to create conditions that allow staff to fulfil their potential and remain in the workplace.

1 Carers UK, Impact of Caring on Employment, 2022