In this week's blog: how caring for both parents and children alongside work poses unique challenges for those in the sandwich generation...

The silent struggle

Sally’s mother had disappeared.

It was a Sunday morning, and no one knew where she was.

After much panic she was eventually found safe and sound, wandering around the neighbourhood – but for Sally, this was the last straw.

Sally’s mother had dementia. And her father had Parkinson’s.

Taking care of them was increasingly becoming a full-time job.

The problem was, Sally – who was 54 - already had a full-time job, as a financial adviser.

The balancing act between her family and work commitments was becoming too difficult to handle.

I’ve been thinking of Sally a lot, as I approach my 50th birthday in February.

You see, over the past few weeks, I’ve been telling you about how I recently put together a plan to give myself new skills and experience…

Your late 40s and 50s tend to be a time of flux. A healthy chunk of your career is behind you, your children – if you have any – are getting older, and the ambitions you had in your 20s and 30s are probably very out-of-date.

Still, you may have at least 20 years of work ahead of you, and hopefully many years to fill beyond that.

So this is the perfect time to rethink your priorities and systematically equip yourself for the next part of your life.

Now, if you look around your workplace, you’ll see many “me’s”…

…people in my general age bracket, whose life circumstances are changing fast, and who are very much not the same people they were 20 or 30 years ago, when they first worked out their career and life priorities.

But many of them don’t have a plan for how to handle these changes – and they don’t have a plan for the kind of life they want to lead in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time.

In fact, they’re struggling. In some cases, this is a time of real crisis.

One example is people in the ‘Sandwich generation’, who care both for their own children and for their ageing and often frail parents.


Sally is just one of 5 million people in this country who try to combine their work with care responsibilities.

Juggling work commitments with medical appointments…

…sitting in meetings while they are sick with worry about the deteriorating health of a loved one…

…waking up in the morning to find that their parent has wandered off during the night and is nowhere to be found.

You can imagine how stressful their life is, both at home and at work.

But it’s not all about carers. I’m also talking about people like 54-year-old Phil, who has run an accounting department for the last 22 years.

In many ways he’s a lynchpin of the business – but his work just isn’t as challenging as it used to be.

Although he’s older, he’s not quite ready to retire, but many opportunities are closed off to him. He ends up feeling demoralised and demotivated at work, which affects the whole way he feels about himself.

Then there’s James, who is a 52-year-old marketing director. He likes his job, but after slogging away for three decades he’s started to hate the frequent travel… and he’s got elderly in-laws to think of, as well.workplace-people

He’s not struggling in the same way as Sally, but he’s not exactly thriving at work any more, either. He feels directionless.

I’m sure you could add many more examples of people just like this – people who still have so much to contribute, and who are eager to carry on working…

…but now they’ve reached mid-age and are mid-career, their needs and interests have changed (as have the pulls on their time)…

…and as a result, their work is suffering.

Leaving these valued team members to work things out on their own comes at a price.

Many will drop out of the workplace or become entrepreneurs, taking their experience and skills with them (and leaving you with the expense of recruiting and training someone new).

Did you know that a whopping 600 people a week leave the workplace to look after a relative?

Others might just continue as they are, leaving you with a distracted staff member… or take unilateral steps to solve their problem, which might not suit you. Of course, none of this needs to happen.

Just like me, these staff members could use a well-thought-out plan to chart out the next few years, so that they can navigate this difficult stage successfully – and eventually move into a happy, affordable, rewarding retirement.

And it’s in your interests to help them develop this plan, so that your mid-career staff remain engaged and energetic – and can continue in post, on terms which suit you as well as them.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll tell you more about how to make this happen. Watch out for those blogs.

Posted by Steve Butler

Topics: Age diversity, Mid-life


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