We believe in helping people take control of their health by providing reliable information that allows them to make informed decisions.
Reframe has years of experience providing employee support for people coping with cancer. We’ve seen how the positive impact of holistic and personalised support programmes can assist people’s recovery and provide managers with the resources they need to deliver effective and timely help to colleagues.
The understanding and empathy of a person’s ‘work-family’ can make all the difference in helping them manage their illness and make important decisions, such as whether to continue working through treatment or return to work afterwards.
Employees have a lot to worry about following a cancer diagnosis; the last thing they need is to worry about work too. A supportive employer can help to reduce their anxiety and give them the confidence to cope with their illness in the workplace.
Cancer and Employment Law
Employees with cancer are protected from discrimination in the workplace by the Equality Act 2010, which also covers employees with caring responsibilities — a fact that is sometimes forgotten.
As a manager, you will want to be supportive but may not know how to express this — you want to enquire about your team member’s welfare but avoid sounding as if you are pressuring the person to come back to work or questioning their performance.
Under UK employment legislation, cancer is defined as a disability. Organisations have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace for employees diagnosed with cancer.
While there is no fixed description or check-list for companies to follow, examples include:
A phased return to work
Flexible working arrangements
Time off for medical appointments or rehabilitation
Adjusting performance targets to allow for sick leave and side effects
Provide personalised employee support when it is needed most
Different people will need different help at different times. Some won’t feel able to think about work when they’re ill or awaiting a diagnosis, while others will need to retain as much normality as possible to cope with their situation.
Some won’t want anyone at work to know, while others want everyone to be kept informed. Side effects can vary (tiredness, changes in appearance or chemotherapy-related ‘brain fog’), so there may be times when you need to adjust working hours or the person’s work role.
Flexibility and communication are key
What constitutes “reasonable adjustments” will depend on the employees’ needs and the circumstances of the business. As the employee’s side effects and needs change, so should the workplace adjustments put in place to accommodate them.
Your HR department should check that the company’s sickness and absence policies are up-to-date. They may want to introduce a cancer care or critical illness policy too and provide training for managers on how to support employees with long term illnesses, including cancer.
Your role as a manager
As well as supporting the employee who is coping with cancer, you may have to support a broader network of colleagues who are unaware of their workmate’s diagnosis, or who feel awkward and don’t know how to interact with them.
It’s important to have a full discussion with the employee and ask what (if anything) they want other people to know, how they want you and the HR department to treat them etc.
Whatever their wishes and approach, confidentiality is essential. You should not tell anyone about the individual’s diagnosis without their permission, so be sure to agree on a communications plan with them.
Unfortunately, cancer is often a taboo subject in most aspects of a person’s life, especially in the workplace. When a person is first diagnosed, they may be in shock and feel like a burden. In their eyes, they have suddenly turned from a valued employee into a cancer patient who is reliant on support from medical professionals and their work family.
A cancer diagnosis turns a person’s world upside down. They may have been used to being in complete control of their life and their work — then overnight, their priorities have to change completely.
Many employees find it difficult to adjust to ‘normal’ life following a diagnosis of cancer. When people return to work, the rest of the team will be delighted to see them. However, it’s understandable that in a fairly short amount of time they get used to having the person back again and don’t realise that they may be feeling tired or have other symptoms or side effects as a result of treatment.
A job can give someone a sense of normality in their life, restore social contact and income, all of which helps with recovery. A well-attuned HR team combined with supportive managers and wider work-family can make all the difference in helping vulnerable employees stay at work, and ease back into work following treatment.