Organizational Wellness

The Sandwich Generation: What It Is and How to Support These Individuals

Sep 19, 2023
Last Updated May 22, 2024

Balancing all of your obligations is pretty difficult at any phase of life. Members of the sandwich generation, though, have some pretty high level obligations for caregiving pulling them in multiple directions at once — which can be difficult when they also have responsibilities in the workplace.

Supporting your people is an important responsibility for the HR department. You’re in a unique position to learn to use human capital management practices to build and develop your company’s people. Learning to identify sandwich generation team members is a great way to find more tailored ways to support your workforce. 

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What Is the Sandwich Generation?

Let’s start with the basics: what is the sandwich generation? The sandwich generation is anyone who has financial or caregiver responsibilities for aging parents and for children of any age at the same time. These individuals are essentially “sandwiched” between two generations who both need their help. 

The sandwich phenomenon came about due to several different factors. One is because of increasing lifespans and having children at an older age. Those two factors together can lead to sandwiched adults having children to care for and their elderly parents to care for. 

In addition, it’s more culturally acceptable for adult children to return to living at home with their parents, which can lead to more adults having children in the house. A majority of young adults (52%, in fact) live with their parents — more than in any generation since the Great Depression. 

Layer all this together, and you have a sandwiched generation. 

Understanding Who the Sandwich Generation Is

So who is a part of the sandwich generation? One in seven adults are considered part of today's sandwich generation by the Pew Research Center. These American adults are usually aged 40 to 60, though the designation can include anyone with responsibilities to both parents and children. 

There’s also the added stress for people who are part of the “triple decker sandwich,” often in their 60s, who are caring for their grandchildren in addition to their kids and parents. This is on top of managing their ongoing careers and saving for their own pending retirement.

Let’s look at what the sandwich generation can actually look like in real life. Consider Rhonda, who’s 42 and building a career as a software engineer. Rhonda had her oldest child at age 30 (the national average these days) and another child at age 32. Today, she has a 12 year old child and a 10 year old child at home with her. At the same time, Rhonda’s parents are in their 70s and suffering from health conditions that keep them from caring for themselves. So while caring for her own two young children, Rhonda also needs to financially support her parents’ care. 

Let’s consider another scenario. Isobel is 63 years old and still a few years out from her own retirement. Her parents are in their nineties and need at-home nursing care that she’s helping pay for. In addition, she’s got a 29-year-old son at home, and she’s helping care for his 1-year-old daughter while he works. She works remotely to help care for her granddaughter and to provide for her son and parents. 

From these two scenarios, it’s easy to see how people caught in a ‘sandwich’ are facing some difficult and unique challenges. When crafting policies to help them, it’s important to remember that each individual in this situation has unique circumstances that can’t be adequately expressed in numbers. While both Rhonda and Isobel are part of the sandwich generation, they are facing slightly different challenges and could use support in different ways. 

Challenges Facing the Sandwich Generation

Let’s look at some of the challenges facing the sandwich generation that are important to be aware of as the employer of people in this generation. 

  • Financial. Taking care of children is expensive. Parents can expect to pay $15,438 and $17,375 a year to raise a child. Caring for elderly parents can vary in costs, but family caregivers often spend $6,954 annually. If someone has adult children at home, it’s probably about $459 a month. In addition, these individuals need to save for their own retirement. At age 40, they should have saved 2 to 3 times their income. All together, these are a lot of financial obligations to juggle at once. 
  • Physical. Sandwich generation individuals (especially the mothers) experience extra stress. The American Psychological Association outlines some of the physical challenges that come with excess stress: muscle tension, headaches, risk of asthma attacks, long-term heart problems, stomach pain, and nausea. The effects of stress also affect your company. There were 17 million work days lost to stress in 2022 from the physical effects of stress. Focusing on your employee health also means looking at how to reduce stress.   
  • Mental. WebMD outlines some key effects on your mental health from stress: increased anxiety, increased feelings of hopelessness, increased depression, loss of motivation and focus, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. These mental health symptoms also affect the individual’s work: after all, 200 million work days are lost to depression alone. 
  • Emotional. Caring for an elderly parent can leave someone feeling stressed, anxious, fearful, and even angry—and this is compounded for those in the sandwich generation. Caregivers with more support, though, feel better emotionally though. 

How does sandwich generation stress translate into workplace challenges? We’ve touched on lost days due to stress a little, but there are more. Here are some 2021 sandwich generation job stats to consider: 

  • 53% of sandwiched employees have to take time off, leave early, or come late.
  • 15% have to transition to fewer hours (leading to 4% losing work benefits).
  • 8% have received performance warnings.
  • 7% have needed to turn down a promotion.
  • 6% have needed to leave the workforce.

When individuals are often pulled in multiple directions at home, it can quickly lead to challenges in the workplace and with the employee experience

Lessening the Burden

The sandwich generation faces some unique challenges that can also lead to challenges at work. What can be done? Let’s dive into some ways your company can lessen the burden on your sandwiched employees to help them succeed in the workplace—and to help you avoid the lost days and potentially lost employees.

  • Provide options for flexibility. Already 53% of employees are working in some kind of hybrid environment, and most employees prefer it. A hybrid workplace provides flexibility for your team members to work from home some days or adjust their schedule in a way that aligns with their caregiving responsibilities.  And hybrid isn’t the only flexible option. You could offer flexible scheduling, condensed work weeks, shift swaps, or unpaid time off. Having options is a way to lessen the burden on your sandwiched team members. 
  • Offer some kind of leave. Most people are familiar with parental leave but what about grandparental leave? Grandparental leave provides employees with unpaid time off to care for their grandchildren, and it’s already proved to help with employee retention
  • Have an open door policy. Communication is key. As we mentioned earlier, every individual in the sandwich generation has a different experience, and the only way to know how to help them specifically is to talk with them. An open door communication policy means that your team understands they can come and talk with you about what benefits and support they need to be able to carry out their duties well. 
  • Provide great benefits that support employees’ wellbeing. Benefits are a way to generally support your employees, and they’re a way to support your employees facing the challenges of the sandwich generation. Wellness programs and benefits lower employee stress, which is a key way to help your sandwiched employees. You might offer therapy benefits, meditation classes, yoga classes, gym passes, financial counseling, exercise programs, and more to begin supporting your employees and reducing stress.  

Supporting the Sandwich Generation with Wellness Programs

Your sandwich generation employees are providers for both their parents and their children. They face some complex challenges, but your organization is in a great position to help support them—both for their benefit and your own. 

Employee wellbeing programs are a great way to alleviate their stress. Providing access to meditation or yoga classes can help them master mindfulness, while a gym subscription lets them get their endorphins pumping. And such initiatives can have a major business impact — there’s a reason 100% of HR leaders say wellness programs are important to employee satisfaction

Wellhub’ subscription to thousands of in-person and digital wellbeing partners provides the customizable support members of the sandwich generation need.Speak with a wellbeing specialist today to get started!



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Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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