I was really excited to be asked to be a panellist at the This Can Happen Empowering Workplace Mental Health Conference, speaking during a session called ‘Caught in the middle: the pressures of the growing sandwich generation’
There are an estimated 1.3m people in the UK who fall into the sandwich generation – defined as those who have to balance care and work responsibilities and often feel ‘sandwiched’ in the middle. I was shocked to learn that the sandwich generation have four hours or less for themselves each week – less than 35 minutes a day.
The panel specifically looked at the intense mental health pressures of the growing sandwich generation, especially in the age of COVID, and it gave me the opportunity to reflect on how I’ve had to balance my responsibilities as a mum, wife, daughter, family member, alongside my career, as well as how I’ve supported members of my team at Ethicon who have struggled with conflicting work and personal demands.
I don’t have all the answers, but here are my top 3 tips/takeaways:
Balance – this is so key but can feel like an impossible reality when things get too much. Feeling weighed down, even just by one area of your life, can cause unbalance everywhere else as it feels impossible to carry everything. It’s important to look at what’s causing the imbalance and think about why it’s putting so much pressure on you. Does it need to? Can someone else help? If you need to focus on that, can something else give? We’re really fortunate at J&J that leadership recognise the important of work/life balance to allow people to thrive and be their best selves at work and outside of it. It’s so important, it’s written into our Credo. It means it’s not just talked about, and we are given tools and resources to help us achieve it, such as exercise reimbursement programmes and confidential access to virtual healthcare and mental health experts.
Expectation – Often, pressure comes from trying to be all things to all people and I’ve realised, more often than not, it comes from the expectation we place on ourselves and think that those around us will hold us accountable to. I’ve seen this in myself and with colleagues as social media has invaded our lives more and more. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to others who in a post, seem to have it all under control, but it’s just not reality. None of us are superhuman! I have to remind myself this regularly and my advice is to allow yourself dedicated time for the responsibilities you have and not let them eat into another responsibility’s time. You cannot be all things, to all people, all of the time – no one will expect you to be, so don’t place that expectation on yourself.
Communication – when things do get too much, it’s often tempting to hide the struggle as we feel like it reflects badly on us as individuals. It doesn’t. I’ll say it again, none of us are superhuman! COVID has of course limited face to face content meaning we can no longer meet with colleagues where we might normally pick up on body language and subtle physical differences, that would suggest something’s not quite right. Now more than ever, it’s so important to check in with team members about how they really are, not just about how a certain meeting went. We have a flexible working policy that we hope means there are always options for people who are struggling. This includes opportunities for reduced working hours, unpaid leave/sabbaticals or changing the working hours in the day to allow time to manage other priorities. Communication is key to finding which of these might be suitable to an individual’s needs. We all have a responsibility to create an environment where people feel safe to speak up if things get too much so the appropriate support can be put in place.
Ethicon GB, part of Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies
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