Supporting the Sandwich Generation

Supporting the Sandwich Generation

As a nurse case manager, I provide guidance and support to employees as they deal with personal challenges, such as illnesses or injuries. But the tables have turned, and I now find myself on the receiving end of support from my HR department.

I’m part of the sandwich generation — a portion of the workforce that may be caring for their children (or, in my case, spending time with my adorable grandchildren), but also are responsible for their aging parents. As the health of my out-of-state parents decline, I’ve become responsible for everything — from their finances to who is hired to be a home health aide — decisions that are big, stressful and emotional.

As I go through this experience, I’m reminded of how important it is for employees to have someone to advocate for them, and as an HR professional, you’re in the perfect position to offer that type of assistance. Based on my current experience, here are a few recommendations for how you can help an employee as they cope with caring for family.

Offer reminders about available services

Part of my job is telling employees about services that may be available to help them through their disabling illnesses or injuries. So when my HR manager reminded me about our Employee Assistance Program (EAP), I had to laugh. How did I not think of that? It just goes to show that when a person is stressed, a friendly reminder can help.

Just because I’m not the one personally dealing with the illness doesn’t mean the EAP can’t help me. Do your employees know that their EAP can likely offer referrals for elder care? Or that the EAP’s website may offer access to important forms, like advanced directives? And, of course, EAPs can assist the employee with stress management as they cope with their situation.

Be compassionate and flexible

Because my parents live in another state, there have been times when I’ve needed to travel and be with them in person. I’ve worked with my manager to transition my job role to one where I have more flexibility to work off-site. This benefits everyone, because not only am I able to be with my family as I’m needed, I also can still be productive from afar.

One of the things I didn’t expect with caring for my parents was the amount of phone calls I’d need to take. While I’m able to complete most of these calls before or after work, that’s not always the case. In my office building, there are a number of very small meeting rooms that employees can use for privacy. This has alleviated some of my stress — a simple accommodation that I believe is well worth it.

Use your managers to bridge the gap

It can be difficult to advocate for your employees if you don’t know how they’re doing, and you may be out of the loop if you don’t have much one-on-one time with them. Keep in contact with your company’s senior managers to understand how the employee’s situation is evolving and to help the manager proactively determine the best solution for the employee.

As an advocate for your employees, it’s amazing what you can do to make a difference. Your support and guidance will be valuable as they manage new stressors and big decisions.

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