The term 'Sandwich Generation' was coined in the 80s to identify caregivers who take care of their dependents, whether elderly parents or young children. However, it is only recently that this community has gained recognition in the workplace. The biggest challenge faced by this generation, composed of individuals in their late 30s to 50s, is maintaining a work-life balance, without compromising on their health and other basic necessities.
More organisations now acknowledge and extend support to caregivers, especially under the sandwich generation, a visible effort of industries’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leaders. In a conversation with Vieshaka L Dutta, Director DEI of Publicis Sapient India and APAC, we explore the role of the sandwich generation, work-culture support and the impact of caregiver policies within the organisation, as well as attracting young talent.
Recognising the duties and obligations of the Sandwich Generation
Vieshaka eloquently explains that “Sandwich Generation is a community of individuals who face the unique responsibility of caring for multiple generations. The primary caregiving roles include looking after ageing parents, which involves providing elderly care and simultaneously fulfilling parental duties in raising their own children. This dual caregiving role is particularly challenging, and it is often assumed that most individuals in this situation operate within a nuclear household, either as a couple or as a single caregiver. The complexity of the situation intensifies if any of the individuals being cared for have distinct conditions. For instance, parents facing medical and psychological challenges, which might be challenging to address since their generation may not be accustomed to seeking counselling or therapy readily available. Moreover, there is a rising trend of children being diagnosed with neurodiverse conditions like autism or ADHD, or facing learning and cognitive challenges. Additionally, life-stage challenges with children are ever-present, further compounding responsibilities of the caregivers.”
"It's important to note that some members of the sandwich generation may also have additional caregiving commitments, such as looking after pets or tending to an unwell spouse, partner, close friend, or community member. This adds further complexity to their already demanding role, as they attempt to balance caregiving with personal and professional commitments.
Addressing these challenges necessitates time, effort, and, in some cases, the acquisition of new skills. For instance, caregivers may need to learn techniques for managing individuals with anxiety or other mental health concerns. This requires a genuine commitment to their loved ones' well-being and often entails emotional, physical, and financial investments. In conclusion, the responsibilities faced by the sandwich generation are far from trivial. Their dedication and efforts in caring for multiple generations while managing other personal and professional commitments are commendable and require ongoing support and understanding from society," she added.
Initiatives for caregivers balancing work and personal life
Acknowledging flexibility is probably the topmost thing that can support a person, thereafter we can define roles and responsibilities. This choice offers flexibility for people, as well as empowering them with a sense of control. Vieshaka added, “I also would say with a sense of psychological safety, people balance work and life choices. And if more people access flexibility, bringing in psychological safety that it's not a bad deal or I will not be judged. So, I think flexibility being the core of ways of work for us is definitely something that is also an established practice to support a caregiver. Apart from that, if they need time off for caregiving, they can take leave for sabbaticals, we have policies in place. And we know a lot of people who have actually taken those options to come back."
"For example, a senior executive in the organisation took her six months off during COVID and she was not only leading a competitive portfolio but multiple portfolios, plus she was also a caregiver for her elderly parents, and children, one of them being neurodiverse and pets. So, when it became challenging for her took an entire six months out, and then returned back to work. Thereafter, she took another little break and joined back again. She is now a full-time, focused and engaged worker. So, as a caregiver, these programmes help a lot."
Publicis Sapient also offers customised benefits for contingencies like financial difficulty or a challenging situation. For example, including parents as well as parents-in-law, in an employee’s insurance policy or covering living-in partners under a smooth declaration process. Moreover, same-sex partner benefits from insurance policies as it covers cochlear treatment, psychiatric treatment, homoeopathy and ayurvedic treatment and more, so as to cater diverse needs of people, so they can pick what works for them. There is huge programmatic support offered for caregivers, as designed by the caregivers only and organised as HR programmes.
"Another highlight is our mental health support policy, giving employee assistance programmes extended to families, so they can call the helplines, or reimbursement for children with autism. There may be support or benefits, that may help the caregivers indirectly, for example, our women's leadership programmes, and our LGBTQ and people with disabilities programme have elements of how to empower a person to take charge of their situation, manage work-life balance. There is a career returnee programme for women who take a career gap to take care of someone else, be it a child or parent-in-law. These women feel intimidated to join a workplace after a long time. Therefore, our support and development programmes focus on building emotional health and mental support for them as they return to work. We encourage gender-neutral parenting, which is a critical part of caregivers' programmes."
Outreach of caregiver’s policies
Publicis Sapient has effective listening mechanisms within the organisation for soliciting inputs through various surveys, focus group discussions etc. as well as a core group called the Caregivers Business Resource Group. This is an employee-led group community. They work fairly independently in chartering - Top pick up of the year, action plan, and DEI support and leadership support. Moreover, the caregivers are also a part of the BRG including the leads. For example, one of the leads is a mother who has joined back after a maternity break, and the daughter is about two years old. Therefore, the range of people and their experiences is wide. BRG also have career returnees in the core group, who design, and curate programmes as per the experiences of their community.
Overall, the programmes extend support to parents managing children with autism, ADHD, and neurodiversity as people expressed their interest.
"Running campaigns also result in insightful responses from subscribers like focus questions that helps in curation," says Vieshaka. "We conduct sessions attended by top leadership, who also sponsor these programmes. Moreover, people from the executive to all career levels actually are a part of these BRG efforts as team members. For example, celebrating a family day with nearly one thousand people, wherein employees participated with their grandparents as well as their children. To celebrate cultural moments like Caregivers’ day, Mother’s day, Father’s day, grandparents’ day, children’s day etc., we send emails and design policies to communicate different programmes and initiatives within the organisation. Moreover, the pet parenting topic came alive in a BRG only. The team floats the information, and creates systemic practices, so caregivers can be in different spaces in the organisation. To support different communities like the pet parenting community, children with a neurodiverse community, a caregiver community, so that people can find a sense of belongingness and community within the organisation."
Work productivity with caregiver’s policies
Sharing insights on the cost and productivity concerns, Vieshaka said, “Any organisation that has the maturity to understand would pre-define things in which a person can operate. So, when we have a flexibility policy, it is not in isolation. It is also curated when somebody takes a sabbatical, rules like how will they return to work are discussed. For example, If a person takes six months off, all the responsibilities, roles, career level, and other formalities will be discussed with the person beforehand. So, there is no negative impact of their sabbatical leave. The option is open to everyone including founders and leaders. It is a part of the framework and definition, subjective to the decision of people only. Therefore, a person going on sabbatical leave defined work management and how they will balance it once they return to work. The impact of these programmes is visible through surveys and conversations at the organisational level. Also, insights from the communities also help manage it like sharing video stories internally, as well as blogs and articles where people talk about the impact of these programmes on them. This is so that everybody learns about the challenges and how to overcome a situation. How team members and leads support the person, as part of the work culture of the organisation.”
Attracting Talent: Gen Z and caregiver’s policies
Vieshaka shared, “There is enough research over the years that says 65 to 70 per cent of the next generation, Gen Z wants to work at a place that has inclusive policies. In fact, we sometimes get calls from tier-1 college students from different communities showing their interest to join Publicis Sapient because of its inclusive practices. This is very prominent within the LGBTQ community and within our people. So, it helps us attract the right talent. In our career returnee programme, we create psychological safety by not just offering them to join back, but offering them to join with a job, and not another training where they have to prove themselves. A majority of them have actually joined back in full-time roles and yet we provide them with integration of six months etc."
"So, we're attracting talent, that is happy to join us, and we will be able to retain them for the long term. It is also true that all of these people ultimately contribute towards making our systems, practices, and policies better. When designing these programmes, we know there are people who may not be caregivers today, but stereotypically, you will think of a fresher who's not a part of the sandwich generation or this life experience right now, but all the women feel the society’s expectation and the conditioning that they are future caregivers. As well as, the men from different communities also have growing hope and faith in the organisation, for if they may need a sabbatical in future, their organisation will support them. So, these policies, not only help attract the right talent but also, retain the talent, and grow the talent because as the leadership gets integrated into this core thought process, they make better decisions for people and organisations. And I think the better decisions for people always entail the right decision for the business as well.”
“Additionally, there are lots of moments, and a lot of stories coming out of our career returnee programme, which is a very strong group that we look at from my caregivers' point of view. I think we were looking at hiring someone with almost 10-plus years of a gap at some point in time. But within three months, she was among our group of career returnees, and got recognition from our leaders, in an organisation-level celebration. Ten years of graph and then three months of achievements. It is truly an example of the sandwich generation. With our caregiver’s policies, she got such support that she was shining in three months. So that was a very heartwarming experience. Moreover, when we started conversations to support pet parenting and create awareness, it made me much more aware, as new pet parents shared their learnings and experiences forward. My personal experiences as a single mother and supporting an elderly parent have contributed to making these caregivers’ policies equally effective.” Vieshaka concluded.