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Almost two-thirds of us are working more than 45 hours a week – 50-per-cent more than two decades ago. Work weeks are more rigid, with flex-time arrangements dropping by a third in the past 10 years. To top it off, only 23 per cent of working Canadians are highly satisfied with life. That’s half as many as in 1991. (Ryan McVay/Thinkstock)
Almost two-thirds of us are working more than 45 hours a week – 50-per-cent more than two decades ago. Work weeks are more rigid, with flex-time arrangements dropping by a third in the past 10 years. To top it off, only 23 per cent of working Canadians are highly satisfied with life. That’s half as many as in 1991. (Ryan McVay/Thinkstock)

'Sandwich generation' increasingly trapped by work-life overload Add to ...

Eight in 10 caregivers say their partner also spends time each week on family care, “a finding that suggests that caregiving is now a shared responsibility for most Canadian families.”

Tasks differ by gender. Men still have longer hours in the office, and women tend to spend more time on childcare per week than men, while both genders spend roughly even amounts of time on eldercare. Women take on more “high-energy” roles than men. But male caregivers are more likely to provide financial help and do yard work, and – surprisingly – more likely to provide personal or nursing care than their female counterparts.

What employers can do

Employers keen on attracting, retaining and engaging knowledge workers may need to adjust their strategies – and understand that more men, too, are becoming caregivers. Right now, “very few employers are providing any form of support to the knowledge workers in their workforce with caregiving demands,” the analysis says.

The report recommends companies introduce or expand flexible working hours and offer compressed work weeks, where an employee can, for example, work their hours over four days instead of five, leaving them one weekday for family duties.

Companies should ramp up workplace seminars and offer more employee-assistance programs, the study says. Employers that already offer subsidies for daycare should consider support for eldercare.

Managers should be empathetic about the emotional toll of caring for multiple family members, and work to remove stigma about those forced to take leaves, the study suggests.

Holly Tuokko has been sandwiched between caring for her son and her elderly parents – and had to drop work at times to care for them. She’s the director of the Centre on Aging at the University of Victoria, and predicts employers will change in the years ahead.

“Some are already taking steps as part of their policy and benefits package. ... That will grow in the future because the population of older adults is growing, so families needing to take time to deal with issues will also grow,” she said.

That means flexible hours and new types of leaves for dealing with family emergencies, which will make organizations in turn more attractive to potential employees.

A personal tale

Prof. Duxbury, who has researched shifts in the workplace for more than two decades, knows first-hand what it’s like to be in the sandwich generation. She teaches, researches and supervises grad students at Carleton, and also has parents in their nineties (whom she phones every night or two) and a 22-year-old daughter.

Three years ago, her father broke his hip and required surgery. She dropped work to fly to his hometown, while at the same time tried to help her daughter map out career options.

She stresses that she’s luckier than most – a sister and neighbour who helps with her parents, an understanding spouse and workplace. Nonetheless, “I felt overwhelmed, really anxious ... these are situations where you have no control and that’s what it makes it particularly challenging.”

 

 

THE DEMOGRAPHICS

Aging population

The number of Canadian seniors grew at more than double the pace of the whole population from 2006 to 2011 – 14.1 per cent vs. 5.9 per cent. By 2036, seniors are expected to make up 23 to 25 per cent of the population.

Need for care rising

One out of every three seniors will be 80 or older by 2036 – the most significant age group for needing care.

Shift from formal to informal care

At the same time, growing strains on the health-care system mean the elderly will need to rely more on family members. The study cites shorter hospital stays, longer wait times and higher costs for nursing homes and other professional services as contributing factors.

Supply of informal caregivers decreasing

Smaller family sizes mean fewer family members to share the responsibilities of caring for older parents, aunts, neighbours or in-laws. Add into the mix delayed parenthood among many professionals, and it looks as if more employees will become part of the sandwich generation.

 

THE PRESSURES

Overload

Forty per cent of the 25,021 employees surveyed report high levels of overload – both at work and at home.

Bringing work home

 

About 25 to 30 per cent of the caregivers interviewed say they cope with the pressures of work and family by bringing work home, giving up on sleep and trimming social activities on a daily basis.

Stalled careers

Twenty per cent of male and female employees who are caregivers say they have turned down promotions because their plates are too full.

Increased stress

Sixty-three per cent of caregivers report emotional consequences from juggling work and looking after family – stress, anxiety and frustration.

Sources: “Balancing work, childcare and eldercare: A view from the trenches”; Statistics Canada

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