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Chosing Parents or Work! Choices you don't have to make

Caring for Parents in the Sandwich generation
Caring for Parents in the Sandwich generation
Published on May 7, 2013 : 4 comments

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The phone rings, again, and you know it’s your father. “Sarah, where are my pills, I can’t find my pill’s. Why do you hide my pills”, your 78 year old father announces. You remind him where they are and he abruptly hangs up, until the next call. It comes 5 minutes later, “Sarah where are my pills, I can’t find them?” On most days, he calls only once or twice. Other days he calls hourly, sometimes more. Your boss cautions you about taking personal calls at work. You nodded your head agreeing to limit your calls but you know you will take more.

Our population is aging. That isn’t news anymore. Nearly 28.5% of Americans report providing care for their elderly parents. Alzheimer’s and confusion experienced by the elderly accounted for 12% of the need for caregivers. This is up 100% from 2004 when it accounted for only 6% of those needing assistance. Employees who have the responsibility to provide care are working a second job – on average 18.9 hours a week. What does this mean? Seven out of ten caregivers were employed while providing care. Those demands on employees are impacting the workplace. To ignore it impacts the productivity of the work place and may generate employee relations issues. It’s a topic that cannot be ignored. Employers and employees have to work collaboratively to address this rising challenge.

Employee Response.

You never planned on caring for your father or mother or both! You love your parents and feel it’s the least you can do. Originally you thought your siblings would help but you learned quickly it was falling upon you. How do you survive working, caring for your children, and your parent – you’re a proud member of the sandwich generation. Alzheimer’s is an insidious disease. You see it rob your father of his memories. It steals minutes, days and years from him. You can get him his pills and he won’t remember 3 minutes later that he took them. You dole them out to protect him from taking more that proscribed because he doesn’t retain that he just took them. In your situations it’s this disease, for others it’s one of many illnesses that requires care. Each has different demands on employees.

Separating work from home isn’t easy. There are some things you can do to avoid problems with your employer and to attempt to mitigate or avoid performance issues. The following are suggestions.

Become familiar with your company’s benefits. They may have an Employee Assistance Program. Many times these programs offer support and resources for you to explore to assist in caring for your parent. Some companies are offering more flexibility for caregivers’. Take responsibility to research your company’s policies. If you have questions find out from your friendly Human Resources Department.

If you work for a company with over 50 employees its likely they are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This protects you while providing up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a family member when certain conditions are satisfied. FMLA protects you can you can take intermittent leave (this helps with those doctors’ appointments). Sixty-six percent of caregivers indicated that they left early, arrived late or took time off during the day to provide assistance for their family member.  Employers cannot discipline or terminated you for using FMLA as long as you adhere to the requirements of the laws.

It’s important not to abuse work time. Use your breaks and lunch to take calls and address support.  During other times focus on your job. While it’s tempting to sneak a quick call, run a few minutes late coming back from lunch or stretching breaks – it impacts your credibility and your co-workers might be the ones filling in the gaps.

Be thankful and appreciative to your co-workers who help out when you have emergencies or situations that pull you from the workplace. Don’t engage in an entitlement attitude. If you can take on extra projects or work when time permits, do so. It will be appreciated. By being organized it will help reduce the impact on co-workers, and your work. Take charge of your time, and take the few minutes to organize. You will be glad you did.

Finally, don’t think you can do it all alone. Look into community resources for help. There are organizations that cater to families such as yours. These resources can enrich your father’s life, and yours.  Help allows you to take care of yourself, too. If you aren’t in good health (physical and/or emotional) it impacts the quality of your life.

Employer Perspective

Many employers seek the honor of being an employer of choice:  a place where employees want to work and are engaged and empowered workers. There are many roads to that distinction. Sensitivity to your workers needs for flexibility is away to balance their work/life balance. Employers large and small can explore options.

Flexibility in schedules is an important tool, and can benefit the workplaces productivity, reduce absenteeism, decrease tardiness, and employee performance. Exploring tools such as staggered start/finish times, compressed work weeks, telecommuting, job sharing and/or part-time schedules   are all options. Each employer has to assess what balances their needs with those requests of employees.

Educating managers and supervisors on all relevant laws and company policies related to caregiver issues helps the team. They can be a resource for employees and direct them to community support, Employee Assistance Programs, and agencies who serve the needs of this population.

Employers have to be aware of the many laws that protect employers and their employees. There are laws such as the Americans with Disability Act and FMLA that prohibit discrimination in promotions, hiring, terms and conditions of employment and terminations. Employees that are caregivers may be protected by these laws. Being familiar with them protects you from supervisors or managers inadvertently compromising or acting in conflict with the law.

Another options is employers (if large enough) holding their own support sessions for employees who provide care. It could be lunch and learns, support groups or presentations from agencies on services.

Creativity and innovation is important. Encouraging creative solutions is helpful and empowers your managers and employees to work collaboratively. Employers are reminded that segmentation can be allies. Treating employees’ similarly does not mean treating them identically. Look at your options that meet business needs.

KNicoliniKathleen A. Nicolini, SPHR, MBA President, Favor Human Resources Consulting


Holly (not verified) says:

May 8, 2013 : 11 years 11 weeks ago

Holly's picture

Very well written article and very relevant to the challenges that so many employees face today. I am fortunate that my current boss and others before him were very understanding when needs like this arose but not all employees are so lucky. Always enjoy reading Kathy’s articles - they are concise, relevant,and provide great information for both employees and employers.

Anonymous (not verified) says:

May 9, 2013 : 11 years 11 weeks ago

Anonymous's picture

Perfect timing. It was like this article was written specifically for me!

Kathleen A. Nicolini (not verified) says:

May 16, 2013 : 11 years 10 weeks ago

Kathleen A. Nicolini's picture

I appreciate the kind comments and that it has been helpful. It is difficult situation but with a balanced approach an employee and employer can work collaboratively. Thank you.

Anonymous (not verified) says:

October 20, 2015 : 8 years 39 weeks ago

Anonymous's picture

I fall between the cracks by working as a contractor. The company I work for has no FMLA or Employee Assistance Program. My role is one of leadership and therefore I must exemplify above the standards for the company. Today I came home to my parents house, where I’ve been sleeping on the couch for a year, and my father did not know me for the first time. I’m looking for guidance as this is my first rodeo.

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