The Sandwich Generation refers to the group of people who provide care for their own children as well as their aging parents. It was a heavy burden to carry before COVID-19, and now these individuals are even more stressed in both roles.
There is a version of this Sandwich Generation in the workplace, too. These are the key leaders responsible for developing employees while still aspiring for career growth of their own. They likely find themselves stretched in two directions at work: They are leaders expected by some to have all the answers, even as they may not be directly involved in setting organization-wide strategy and struggle to find more information themselves. Just like the Sandwich Generation, this group of employees is experiencing increased pressure, and often feels torn between– and powerless in– two distinct roles.
A great representative of this Sandwich Generation in the workplace may be your branch manager. This key member of your team oversees essential front-line employees who deliver direct care to your members and is likely viewed as a sort of localized CEO of his, her, or their own branch. Branch managers and department heads are likely the most available and visible resource to your essential front-line employees. They are working to serve their members, their direct reports, and their own managers—sometimes without real-time information available to more senior members of the management team.
This is a defining time for your organization’s culture. People are watching how your leaders behave and how your employees are treated. It will impact how you are perceived as a workplace well into the future. Every person who manages another must be at their very best.
Consider how these three management ideas can turn up the support for the members of your Sandwich Generation in the workplace:
- Information Flow: Knowledge is Power
When you give employees the responsibility of leading others, you must also give them the tools to do this successfully. This includes a high level of access to information. During times of crisis, the importance of transparency is illuminated: Uncertainty breeds even greater fear. If your organization has regular strategic updates with senior leadership, anticipating that a regular flow of trickle-down communication is sufficient, consider instead the value of opening those updates to anyone who manages another employee.
Knowledge is power. While a permanently flat structure might not be right for you, giving your employees access to more information during a time of ongoing uncertainty will better equip your Sandwich Generation employees with the tools they need to lead.
- Training Opportunities: People Don’t Quit Bad Jobs, They Quit Bad Managers
I have left many good managers in my career, but there is a reason this expression resonates with so many. Regardless of whether you accept the idea that a manager completely controls employee turnover, one cannot argue about the impact a manager has on an employee’s engagement and fulfillment at work. How have you helped your employees become great managers?
Many Sandwich Generation managers are first-time managers who were promoted because they excelled in their last position. Often, they have not had formal management training prior to taking their current positions. While training employees to manage crisis in the midst of it might seem like too little, too late, now is certainly a better time than later. Remote trainings that provide managers with information about emotional intelligence and empathy, working with unique personalities, and communicating in crisis can equip managers with necessary support strategies. More technical trainings like navigating new technology or understanding your credit union’s employee benefits can also make managers more effective almost immediately.
- Social and Psychological Support: It’s Lonely at the Top
Sandwich Generation employees might not be first to come to mind when you think about “the top,” but in their branches and departments, they are shouldering tremendous responsibility. Their team members are looking to them for answers and support. They balance caring for the emotions and fears of employees with continuing to deliver great member service and they may feel they are alone in this. Under typical circumstances, these employees are likely meeting in peer groups on a regular basis and discussing their concerns. Consider how to continue those important collaborations, while also providing more direct support that acknowledges the additional pressure placed on team members at this level of the org chart.
Continue having (or introduce) regular one-on-one check-ins with each of these critical leaders. Provide them with the opportunity to talk about their own experiences and challenges (not just those of the teams they lead), listen for and suggest opportunities to keep them growing, and ask for specific examples of how you can support them.
How your leaders behave throughout COVID-19 will be a defining point of how your culture is described. This is a key time to invest in the management skills of every person in your organization responsible for overseeing another.