Juggling act: How to thrive, not just survive in the sandwich generation


If you make up part of the UK’s sandwich generation, you might find that life can increasingly resemble an emotionally and financially pressured juggling act; with more and more balls constantly being added.

Not only do you have to deal with your own personal and professional dilemmas, but you also have to manage the pressures of supporting several dependents, often including children and parents. This is a heavy load for many, and the financial and emotional pressures can sometimes be overwhelming.

According to a recent Social Market Foundation report, the sandwich generation now number 7.6 million. This is a significant portion of the workforce, and if it continues at current rates, we may see one in five employees acting as carers very soon. It’s a squeeze that spells considerable consequences for the workplace, from higher absenteeism and lost productivity to greater distraction and burnout.

This may be especially true in professions like accountancy where employees are often expected to work overtime or study for professional exams outside of their day job.

It’s currently estimated that one in nine carers in the workforce combine paid employment with caring for a loved one.  However, the significant demands of caring means that many are forced to give up their jobs altogether due to a lack of flexibility alongside quality and cost of care services elsewhere. Too often, you may find yourself pulled in every direction. This can cause your finances to come under pressure, working lives to suffer, and health to bear the brunt. As a result, managing to balance work with caring for family can feel near impossible.

Consequently, being part of this generation can sometimes make you feel more like a ‘flattened panini’ than a well-rounded employee, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Being a carer can be physically and emotionally draining, and on top of this you need to make time to look after yourself too. Keeping your mental and physical wellbeing in shape will reduce the risk of you being unable to look after your loved ones. Below are some tips on keeping healthy and making sure you strive for a positive work-life blend, looking after your own needs along the way.

Look after your emotional wellbeing

Caring for others is hard work and while nothing will take your stress away completely, sometimes just talking to someone else can help. Speak to a local carers’ organisation, other carers, friends or family members about what you’re dealing with. You’ll often find that other people are going through similar situations and you can act as a support system for one another.

Don’t forget your finances

Your parents took care of you, so you may be tempted to do the same for them. And when it comes to your children, your instinct may be to put their needs ahead of your own. While the desire to support your loved ones is understandable, it’s important to make sure doing so doesn’t undermine your own financial wellbeing. Think about it like this: if you are the financial foundation for your family unit, weakening that foundation is bad for everyone in the long run. If you’re not already, start putting some money aside each month into a separate pot so you always have a safety net if needs be.

Take a break

It’s okay to take some time for yourself. This will help you to recharge your batteries. Dedicating time to yourself, to focus on your own interests helps to prevent feelings of burnout, stress and anxiety. Put yourself first at least once a week to give yourself respite, and then come back to your caregiving duties with a clear mind.

Talk to your employer

If you’re newly ‘sandwiched’, it’s likely you’ll have questions about how to request flexible working, what assistance is available through your employer and who you can go to for support. You’re not going to get help that you don’t ask for. Why not start by creating a plan showing how you can accomplish your work tasks whilst also managing your other commitments. By talking to your employer, it shows you care for your job and are dedicated to the company whilst also making practical arrangements that everyone is happy to agree on.

Look after your physical wellbeing

Eat properly, try to get some exercise when you can, and make sure you get regular check-ups from your doctor. It’s well-known that exercise boosts endorphins or ‘happy chemicals’ in your brain, meaning physical activity is a great outlet for stress. Caring can have a significant emotional toll, so it’s important to remedy stress, and physical exercise is perfect for counteracting the negative effects.

Thinking ahead and planning creatively can help you to manage your situation. Otherwise, it can be easy to fall into a monotonous trap, leading to negative feelings and a poor state of health. Pursuing a balanced work-life blend is difficult in any situation, let alone when you’re sandwiched between children and parents whilst potentially juggling a career. You’re only human and it’s important to remember that. The famous saying, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, certainly rings true, so remember to talk to someone if you start to feel stretched – it’s important to remember that carers need to be supported too.


CABA is the charity that supports the wellbeing of ICAEW chartered accountants.

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