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Employers overlooking workers with double care duties

A sandwich generation of employees – those supporting both young children and elderly parents – are being neglected by their employers.

A fifth (21%) of sandwich generation employees reportedly do not get support from their employers to help balance work and home responsibilities, according to new research from benefits provider Unum.

Almost a quarter (24%) of these workers have had to use annual leave to manage their caring responsibilities, with a further 16% saying a lack of support pushed them into taking time off sick.

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Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Howden Group, said employers are creating a culture where workers with multiple caring responsibilities feel uncomfortable revealing their status.

He told HR magazine: "Working carers are often reluctant to formally record their dual status with their employer for fear of being passed over for promotion or discriminated against in other ways.

"Employers should firstly seek to establish an open and inclusive culture where working carers can voice their concerns, and should then ensure that all the health and wellbeing tools available are deployed to help those individuals."

Although 38% of those surveyed said their employer offered flexible working options, less than 33% of employees received help from their employer in the form of remote working, emergency leave to care for ill dependents or an employee assistance programme (EAP).

Herbert added that there is a risk to employee health and wellbeing when they are under pressure because of work and care duties.

He added: "The reality is that any employee that seeks to balance work and unpaid caring duties faces an extremely challenging situation. Increased worries and stress, higher expenditure, and far less free time are a toxic mix that has the potential to damage both mental and physical health if left unchecked."

Age UK's charity director Caroline Abrahams said companies should give elderly care the same respect that they give childcare needs. 

She told HR magazine: "Many employers have become used to staff needing some flexibility to care for their children, but they are often less accustomed to the difficulties facing their employees when older people close to them require additional support. They are less familiar still with the complex lives of 'sandwich carers', and what it takes for them to stay in work.

"However, with an ageing population, it is foreseeable that many more members of the workforce will require their employers to recognise their caring responsibilities and be prepared to help them manage them."

The strain of balancing work and care has affected the mental health of 35% of sandwich generation workers.

A further 29% said it had affected their financial health, and 25% said it had affected their physical health.

Unum UK CEO Mark Till warned employers not to be dismissive of the needs of working carers.

He told HR magazine: "Companies need to consider adjusting their wellbeing, HR and employee benefit strategies to take this important demographic into account, especially during today’s cost-of-living crisis. Employers risk losing top talent if they don’t start recognising and reacting to the needs of their employees stuck in the sandwich generation"

It is estimated that over 6 million workers in the UK juggle work and care responsibilities. Unum's survey sampled 2,000 adults during 4-8 March 2022.