"I thought everyone had heard of sandwich caring"

To mark this year's Carers Week (07 to 13 June 2021), older workers in IHW reflect on their experiences of caring and what IHW can and does do to help

Photo of older person with carer

Caring was one of the most important issues raised by members of the Wellbeing of Older Workers (WOW) Athena Swan group at the inaugural meeting back in 2018.

Older workers often find themselves "sandwich caring" – that is, looking after both parents and offspring at the same time. Some older workers even fall into the category of "club sandwich carers" when grandchildren are added into the mix. Sandwich caring is different from full-time caring responsibilities. It may involve some level of day-to-day responsibility such as shopping for a parent or taking less mobile older relatives or friends to hospital appointments. In recent times, regular visiting to prevent older people becoming isolated has taken on a greater importance. A distinct feature of sandwich caring, however, is its sporadic nature. When an adult child has a medical emergency, parents are often the first port of call. With older workers sandwiched between two (or three) generations who may need urgent assistance, it is not unknown for two or three "situations" to develop in a single day. If the person in need lives at a distance, the situation can be even more difficult to handle.

What WOW members in the Institute of Health and Wellbeing have found helpful is the policy for carers and the extremely flexible and supportive attitude of line managers.

Access University of Glasgow’s Support for Staff with Caring Responsibilities Policy  

It provides for 3 days paid emergency time off to care for dependents and a further 5 days paid carers’ leave (and for these 5 days, and then up to 4 weeks unpaid Carers Leave, staff should be registered as a carer on the Carers’ Register).

The introduction to the policy states that the university is "committed to supporting individuals to meet their caring responsibilities’" The policy encourages line managers to maintain a supportive environment. WOW members have found just that when they approached their line managers when sporadic caring responsibilities arose. Responses included: ‘It is a caring responsibility – you must take all the time you need’ and ‘Just look after yourself’. When one member’s daughter was seriously ill, she was able to take emergency leave for the first three days then was able to work up until 2pm every day so she could spend afternoons at the hospital.

Sandwich caring is a feature of many older workers lives but WOW members have found that a combination of helpful university policies and flexible and supportive line management can ease the load.

Janet Bouttell 
Co-chair, IHW Athena SWAN wellbeing of older workers (WOW) group

First published: 21 September 2020