Supporting carers in a multigenerational household

Advice and top tips

Supporting carers in a multigenerational household

Caring times?

With multi-generational living on the rise, Willis Towers Watson considers how businesses can support their ‘sandwich carers’.

Multigenerational living has been on the rise in recent years.

Soaring household costs, pressures on family finances and concerns over loneliness and isolation among older people have combined with an increasing cost burden for elder care.

The Covid pandemic has also served to heighten awareness of the risks of cross-transmission within care homes. As a consequence, in our post-Covid world we can expect to see the numbers of people taking over the caring responsibilities for elderly relatives continue to rise in the months ahead.

At the other end of the generational spectrum, soaring house prices has made it notoriously difficult for young people to get on the property ladder. These factors have combined to increase the number of homes accommodating three, or in some cases, even four generations under one roof.

The case for supporting employee caregivers

The cohabitation trend can not only result in more employees caring for elderly family members, but it can also lead to some taking on extra childcare responsibilities.

Juggling work and caregiving, for young or old, can put enormous physical and emotional strain on employees and, in some cases, can lead to burnout. The pressures can become all the more pronounced for ‘sandwich carer’ employees – those who find themselves regularly looking after the needs of both children and elderly relatives.

Furthermore, the strain on workers in multigenerational households can, in some cases, be exacerbated for those whose homes have also become their working environments – a trend accelerated in no small part by the Covid 19 pandemic.

Current estimates suggest there are around five million people in the UK combining working and caring responsibilities. With this number set to rise further, HR teams should ensure they have appropriate support systems in place to help relieve the burden these workers face.

By doing so, they will not only be taking a best practice approach as a responsible employer, but will also be helping to improve business outcomes by reducing levels of sickness absence, boosting employee morale and productivity while improving recruitment and retention – keeping that all-important talent pool in their workplace.

Unlocking the door to open communication

Taking stock of a workforce to identify the caring pressures facing employees, and how these differ among different generations and demographics, is an important first step to developing a strategy for addressing the issue.

And at the heart of all stratagems to support the emotional and psychological wellbeing of those feeling the burden of their responsibilities should be an open and honest corporate culture.

Employees should feel comfortable disclosing details regarding their personal home environments, the pressures they face and asking for help when they need it most.

A clear policy that reinforces the company’s commitment to supporting carers, including relevant benefits and flexible working arrangements, should be established and circulated to help reassure employees and encourage this open communication.

Training for line managers is also key part of the process to enable them to fully understand the implications of caring responsibilities, to communicate effectively and to appropriately help. This training is fundamental to establishing meaningful two-way dialogue and should, in turn, help employees to feel more supported and less guilty about balancing their work and caring duties.

Online resources should not only provide helpful advice around key topics such as sleep, nutrition and stress management, they should also help signpost specialist support services.

For large organisations, internal peer support networks that facilitate carers connecting and engaging with one another to share knowledge and experiences, whether via face-to-face meetings, workshops or social media groups, can also prove beneficial.

A spotlight on childcare

The number of working mothers has increased dramatically over past two decades, shining a spotlight on business support for working parents.

The Covid pandemic, which forced many working parents to increase their childcare responsibilities, has brought the issue into even sharper focus. Some have found themselves working early or late into the evening to balance their work and care duties.

The financial burden of childcare can be considerable, and it can also be time-consuming to arrange and manage. Employers, however, can support working parents by offering onsite daycare and crèche facilities or, if this is not feasible, by offering schemes that help subsidise the burgeoning cost of childcare.

Family-friendly working hours should also be a priority.

Flexible working arrangements

Although any employee that has worked a minimum of 26 continuous weeks for their employer has the right to request flexible working, policies and initiatives that go above and beyond this statutory entitlement can have a significant impact in easing the demands on employees’ time and the impact on their wellbeing.

Employers have the legal right to turn requests down and make a case for flexible working having a negative business impact – but this can prove detrimental to both parties and ultimately lead to staff quitting their employment.

Flexitime, remote working and condensed hours, have important roles to play in allowing carers to structure their working time around their caring commitments.

Flexible leave, meanwhile, can help carers manage any unexpected crises. While this may be taken on an unpaid basis, employers should consider ways they can continue to pay staff and enable them to make up the time at a later date.

Addressing the mental health challenge

Stress, anxiety, financial worries, and lack of sleep are commonly reported concerns among workers shouldering caring responsibilities.

Consequently, while mental health support has become a matter of increasing focus for all employees, it must be front of mind for this particular workforce demographic.

Stress assessments for these employees can help in identifying the type of work adjustments and support that is most needed.

Financial education programme, for example – covering everything from benefits, such as share plans and pensions, to tax planning and savings strategies – can help by enabling the ‘squeezed middle’ to better manage and make the most of their money.

Eldercare benefits, meanwhile, such as access to helplines and specialists who can advise on, and manage, the needs of relatives with specific health conditions such as dementia, can also play a role in helping to relieve the mental burden.

Moreover, counselling sessions, in the shape of confidential support from trained mental health professionals, will offer more than just coping and management techniques, they can help affected employees to better understand the options and support services that are available to them.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) offer an extremely valuable tool in this regard, providing access to experienced counsellors and telephone helplines to help address a wide range of mental health and care-related issues. Employees can use the services for themselves or their families and significantly, they are available 24/7, making them accessible whenever convenient for busy carers who are invariably in need of support that extends beyond the workplace.