Much has been made in the retirement planning community about the challenges facing the sandwich generation — those Baby Boomers who are caring for both children and parents.
Although it’s difficult to calculate exactly how many Boomers find themselves in this dual caregiving role, some estimates have it at 20 million. The Pew Research Center released a study in 2006 that found one of every eight Boomers are raising a child while also providing financial assistance to a parent. Those numbers have no doubt risen in the past four years.
And the toll that this is taking on overburdened Boomers is starting to become clearer. New research released by Hartford Financial Services Group and ComPsych Corp. found that more than 80% of Boomers said they feel moderate to high levels of stress attributed to the support they are giving to children, spouses and/or parents. The burden seems to be especially heavy among younger Boomers between 45 and 54. More than half of respondents in this age group said they have taken time off from work due to their caregiving responsibilities.
In fact, 46.6% of young Boomers said they feel worried about how caregiving is impacting their job. Older Boomers, who are 55-plus, were most concerned about postponing retirement as a result of their role as a caregiver.
“There is a phenomenon that people are doing more at work but also trying to deal with stresses that are going in their lives,” said Marge Savage, the director of total absence management at Hartford’s group benefits division. “Our mortgages, credit issues, all of these things seem to be taking a bigger toll than they have in the past.”
The stresses going on in their lives have brought more stresses to boomers at their jobs. Hartford recently released the Hartford Productivity Advantage, which gives employers a consolidated view of employee absences encompassing disability, workers’ compensation, family and medical leave. Savage said that the program is designed to help both employers and employees with absence management.
“[Employers] want to see who’s absent and why,” she said. “It also allows employees to talk about their productivity. What’s impacting their productivity? Do employers have a program that is available to help employees of this generation?”
According to the research from Hartford and ComPsych, 68% of younger Boomers said they missed work or left early from work due to their caregiving duties in the past six months. Half of those respondents said they missed between eight to 16 hours of work in the previous six months.
Savage said even Boomers who show up to work may admit that they “aren’t 100%” because they are overburdened and stressed out. But while lost productivity weighs heavily on both employers and employees, it remains to be seen whether the boomers in the Sandwich Generation will have to soon worry about holding onto their jobs.
Although younger employees often have fewer caregiving concerns and often come cheaper to employers than older employers, the Boomers are not going to be easily replaced in the workforce. This is likely why employers are starting to show a greater interest in helping them manage their outside lives, in order to make their working lives more productive.
“What we do see is a two-sided sword,” Savage said. “We recognize that older employers have a stronger work ethic and tend to attach themselves to a company longer than younger employees. I would wait to see what the research holds now that this economy has changed. Older workers have the advantage of experience that can’t be replaced.”