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Feeling the squeeze: Why the sandwich generation requires a tailored experience

Nearly a quarter of American’s consider themselves part of the sandwich generation, yet this generation of parents – those caring for children and aging loved ones at the same time – are routinely overlooked.

Just like in recent years it’s become the norm for leading organizations to design experiences addressing parents’ needs as both consumers and employees; it’s now time for organizations to craft experiences to meet the unique needs of the sandwich generation.  Those who do, stand to gain the windfall of meeting the unmet needs of growing market.

Caregiving is an enormous job that comes with unique mental and financial challenges, affecting nearly a quarter of adults today, according to the Pew Research Center.[1] Any organization that serves or employs members of this generation can benefit from developing a stronger understanding of their needs — and then crafting experiences to meet them.

Why businesses can’t afford to ignore the sandwich generation

The sandwich generation is rapidly growing. Thanks partly to lengthening life spans and the aging of the baby boomer demographic, the number of Americans identifying as caregivers rose from 43.5 million in 2015 to 53 million in 2020.[2] On top of an aging population, young adults are relying on their parents more than in the past. Half of adults ages 18-29 were living with one or both of their parents in July 2022, compared with 38% in 2000.[3]

The burdens faced by this growing number of caregivers have real economic impacts. An estimated 650,000 jobs are lost to caregiving, and nearly 800,000 caregivers suffer absenteeism at work, equating to an economic impact of $44 billion.[4] Although large employers increasingly provide paid caregiver leave, a recent survey found only 12% of companies offer elder-care support.[5]

Additionally, caregivers often manage healthcare, financial and shopping decisions for the whole household, and they are more likely to make choices that best support their needs. Businesses that serve older adults, particularly healthcare and financial institutions, must also consider caregivers when shaping customer experiences.

 

Understanding the needs of the sandwich generation

How should businesses tailor their experiences for the sandwich generation? Answering this question requires a solid understanding of the unique challenges faced by this cohort. For starters, upwards of 75% of all caregivers are women[6] resulting in ongoing challenges to handle care across the generations in their home. These challenges tend to fall under the following three categories.

 

Mental Health

Caregiving is an all-consuming job and can fill caregivers with near-constant guilt for neglected or forgotten priorities. Between driving loved ones to appointments, helping children with homework, cooking, cleaning, other caregiving tasks and work, there is little (if any) time left to care for oneself. Caregivers also worry constantly about the health of loved ones who are sick or suffering from chronic conditions. Additionally, they often hold responsibility for making decisions around care or future planning on behalf of their loved ones, which they do not  always feel equipped to make.

It’s no wonder that 14.5% of caregivers reported experiencing 14 or more mentally unhealthy days in the past month, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2015-2017 — before a global pandemic exacerbated caregiving pressures.[7]

 

Financial Stress

Elder care intensifies the financial burden of a generation facing student loan repayment, rising childcare costs and inflation. The expenses of medication, treatment, food, equipment and home modifications add up, not to mention the high cost of senior living and in-home health aids. These time-consuming caregiving duties also often result in loss of work.

A University of Michigan study found sandwich generation caregivers were twice as likely to report financial difficulty (36%) than peers who only act as a caregiver to a parent over 65 (17%).[8]

 

Workload

Tending to the needs of older loved ones changes the family dynamic and bleeds into work responsibilities. One in three caregivers between the ages of 45 and 64 provide more than 20 hours of care per week.[9]  Even with home health aides or other outside care, the time spent deciphering information or seeking outside opinions can be overwhelming.

Schedules change when an older loved one suddenly requires more care, impacting everyone in the household. Caregivers may need to adjust their work schedules or take temporary leave. As they juggle competing demands, they may begin outsourcing services or pay for convenience items to save time, adding to the financial burden.

How to deliver experiences tailored to the sandwich generation

Businesses cannot afford to ignore the sandwich generation, but how should they tailor experiences for this overburdened cohort? Whether developing experiences for employees or customers, it can help to focus on the following six areas of concern:

  1. Information sharing: Caregivers play a substantial role in healthcare and financial decision-making for older loved ones and may require access to sensitive information. Organizations serving this demographic can ease the way by helping caregivers understand what documents must be in place, such as powers of attorney and consent forms, and facilitate easy information sharing. Digital self-service tools can save costs and ease the burden for caregivers.
  1. Education: There is endless material available about how to parent, but not quite as much about how to care for one.
  1. Planning for the future: Nothing induces anxiety quite like thinking about the future for loved ones who are suffering from health issues. Healthcare providers can help caretakers prepare for the unexpected by providing clear information on potential scenarios and ensuring families understand and complete necessary documentation. They can also offer preferred vendor resources for unexpected needs such as home modifications and transportation. Businesses in all industries can help ease the planning burden for employees by sharing resources or subsidizing legal resources for estate planning.
  1. Care: Businesses can help alleviate care burdens for their employees in countless ways. For example, they can provide access to affordable, trusted respite care options and emergency daycare services. Other options include paid time off for caregiving needs, flexible schedules, remote work options and concierge services. Health and wellness benefits are also important to encourage the sandwich generation to use preventative services and self-care to maintain health.
  1. Time management: While it seems like everyone is busy these days, businesses shouldn’t underestimate the significant time management challenges facing the sandwich generation. Employee benefits to help caregivers affordably outsource household tasks and flex their schedules can make a tremendous impact. For businesses serving older consumers, digital scheduling services can eliminate a major stressor for caregivers by making it easier to schedule appointments that meet their family’s needs.
  1. Transportation: When an older adult loses the ability to drive, it places pressure on caregivers to shuttle them to appointments and other outings and adds to expenses. Healthcare providers, in particular, can help address this challenge by offering patients access to safe, reliable transportation options. Retail businesses, too, can win loyalty from older customers and their caregivers by offering affordable delivery services.

 

Winning the hearts of the sandwich generation

With a growing number of Americans finding themselves in the middle of a caregiving sandwich, businesses that cultivate employee and consumer experiences tailored to the needs of this cohort stand to gain substantial benefits. Not only will they cultivate workplaces that attract and retain employees at the peak of their careers, but they will also win loyalty from consumers who influence the purchasing decisions of multiple generations.

If you are ready to reimagine experiences for the sandwich generation, Acquis Cortico-X can help.

Picture of Emily Young

Emily Young

is a Principal at Cortico-X with experience in healthcare, life sciences, government, and consumer products.

Picture of Lauren Rios

Lauren Rios

is an Senior Associate at Cortico-X with experience in financial services, consumer experiences, and non-profit sectors.

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