For employers: The reality of cancer survivorship at work
More people surviving cancer than ever before
34% of the new cancer cases each year are of working age. And more of these employees are surviving cancer than ever before. Many of them want to be able to go back to their normal lives after treatment. Financial considerations aside, the work itself and reconnecting with colleagues can bring huge benefits.
The private sector ‘hasn’t caught up’
But cancer charity Macmillan argues that the private sector “hasn’t quite caught up” with what it describes as ‘the reality of cancer survivorship’. Companies are continuing to fall short of supporting their employees with cancer.
“Recovery isn’t straightforward or quick”
Barbara Wilson agrees. “Many organisations don’t appreciate that recovery isn’t straightforward or quick”, she said. “And they’re relying on generic return to work policies. These are inappropriate when it comes to supporting people recovering from cancer.” The founder of Working With Cancer added, “Bosses and colleagues don’t understand the full impact of cancer treatment. So they often expect people to get ‘back to normal’ work after 6 to 8 weeks. But recovery can take many months.”
Cancer in the Workplace
In this sixth article in the Cancer in the Workplace series, we explore what steps employers need to take to meet their legal obligations. And to do the ethical thing by their employees.
“More employees are surviving cancer than ever before.”
“Financial considerations aside, the work itself and reconnecting with colleagues can bring huge benefits.”
How to meet legal obligations
Cancer is defined as a disability under the 2010 Equality Act. And employees have automatic protection from discrimination from day one of their diagnosis.
To make sure they are meeting their legal obligations, companies must put in place ‘reasonable adjustments’ for employees with cancer. These are to help employees to do their job before, during and after their cancer treatment. And it’s important to note that the legislation also covers employees with caring responsibilities. As well as job applicants and the self-employed.
Making ‘reasonable adjustments’
Some examples of reasonable adjustments may include:
- – Allowing time off for appointments
- – Permitting flexible working patterns
- – Extended sickness leave
- – Changing a job description
- – Moving an employee to a role with more suitable duties
- – Changing performance targets to take treatment side effects into account
- – Giving extra breaks if the employee is very tired
- – Adjustments to the employees physical working environment. For example, making sure employees can access the building if they are using mobility equipment. Or providing computer equipment to help them in their role
“To make sure they’re meeting their legal obligations, companies must put in place ‘reasonable adjustments’ for employees with cancer.”
“Allowing time off for appointments and changing a job description are examples of reasonable adjustments”
Flexibility and communication
Every experience is different
Different employees will need different types of help at different times. An adjustment made for a member of staff on their return to work may not necessarily be suitable a few months down the line. Every experience is different. And so flexibility and communication are fundamental to a responsible approach.
How to communicate without putting your foot in it
In ‘How to have a conversation with someone returning to work after cancer‘, Barbara Babcock reveals that saying the wrong thing is what line managers fear most. And gives you hints, tips and guidelines to help you prepare for a conversation with someone who’s going through a difficult time.
“Saying the wrong thing is what line managers fear most”
Equipping HR and managers
Equipping HR to handle cases of cancer in the workplace is crucial. And having a clear policy on cancer care at work is a good starting point. Training line managers is also key so they can deal with and appropriately handle cancer diagnoses within their team.
Workshops to help employers
Employee benefits provider Unum runs workshops to help employers spot and manage some of the most common causes of sickness absence – including cancer. Designed in collaboration with cancer charity Maggie’s, On Course is proving particularly beneficial for line managers who may not have the confidence or expertise to handle these conditions alone.
Introduce a cancer support service
A third of employees fear no support
Research by Canada Life has revealed that more than a third of employees suspect they would get no form of support from their employer if they had cancer. And amongst those employees living with cancer or diagnosed in the past, this figure rises to 45%.
Drive engagement and build trust
By introducing a cancer support service as an employee benefit, employers are able to support their employees in their time of need. For employers to show they care by having this service in place for their people is most powerful. It drives engagement and secures the trusting relationship they all want to have with their employees. It’s the smart as well as the ethical thing to do.
Access to specialists, treatment, innovation and technology
For example, as part of its offering for Unum Group Critical Illness customers, the employee benefits provider includes a cancer support service. Employees have access to medical specialists so they can get clear about their most appropriate treatment plan. And they have access to treatment, innovation and technology not readily available through traditional Critical Illness or Private Medical Insurance.
Support through diagnosis and treatment
Unum’s Potterton commented, “The need to support people affected by cancer was clear to us. Most employers are onside with the concept of supporting staff through the trauma of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. For all concerned, actually. Cancer is a key part of the health and wellbeing story. And plays well to building positive places to work. It didn’t take long for our customers to start benefitting from this new service.”