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Tips for Sandwich Generation Caregivers to Return to the Workplace During Covid-19

For parents who care for their own parents, transitioning back to on-site work requires creative thinking.

A woman preparing her work outfit.

Lisa Weitzman, LISW-S, is the WeCare Manager of Business Development at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging

Covid-19 has presented a host of challenges for people in all walks of life. Needless to say, it has compounded many stresses that already existed. This is certainly the case for innumerable caregivers of the so-called sandwich generation, meaning those who are responsible not only for their own children’s care, but that of an aging parent or other close family member, as well. Under normal circumstances, this form of caregiving demands a special type of juggling, especially when the caregiver has a job. Feeling pushed and pulled is the name of the game. Covid-19 has only added to the crazed juggling act. If you are a member of this group, it’s important to make your own well-being a priority in order to avoid burnout and continue to be an effective caregiver.

In recent months, you may have adapted to an altered lifestyle—working from home, wearing a mask when you leave the house, physical distancing and facing the reality of social isolation. But you still may find it difficult to come up with ways to balance your older loved one’s—as well as your children’s—need for independence with public health recommendations encouraging them to outsource their errands and have food and prescriptions delivered to their home. And just when you are growing used to home as your new work landscape, school in some form has started up, a number of employers are transitioning workers back to on-site environments, and you’re suddenly left wondering how to handle your older loved one’s at-home care. As US News & World Report commented, “[T]his pandemic just handed us a whole new set of fears, restrictions, burdens, and things to feel guilty about.”

The issue, of course, is that life is not opening evenly across the board. Somehow, many employees are expected to handle increased job demands while concurrently managing home schooling and the continued closure of all on-site programming for older adults. For some families, grandparents may have contributed to childcare, but that may not currently feel like the safest option, as we all try to protect our older loved ones from unnecessary exposure to the virus. How should you proceed?

Wherever feasible, creativity and flexibility should guide you. The following tips may help you to find your way:

Have a discussion with your employer about flexible work options. Would it be possible for you to keep working from home or to flex your hours? How will you create a safe work environment for yourself?

Make things easier on yourself by changing up normal routines:

  • Consider using paper plates and other disposable items at home, at least for a while, to cut down on  clean-up time. 
  • If you’ve been doing everything on your own, reach out to other family members or home care professionals for help with any household and caregiving tasks that you can no longer handle. Maybe one of them can take over daily activities like bathing, dressing, and/or cooking for your older loved one, enabling the two of you to share time without being distracted by your to-do list.
  • If you’re too tired or stressed to put together meals during the transition, try simple prep or home-delivered meal options, and/or takeout from local restaurants.
  • Put your work outfit together the night before to save time and cut down on stress in the morning.
  • Have a running shopping list on your phone so that you can pick up needed items as you drive to and from work instead of having to head out again after you get home.
  • Make self-care a priority, by scheduling personal time into your routine. No approach will be successful if you are not physically or emotionally healthy enough to put it into action.
  • Explore the supportive options offered through your workplace Employee Assistance Program. For example, WeCare…Because You Do, a service provided by Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, offers direct support for family caregivers of older adults with chronic conditions, helping to ensure that they have the information and resources to manage the needs of everyone who relies upon them. During this especially stressful time, having a personal coach or guide to help you navigate the daily demands can be vital to your well-being.

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