A new study from health service Working to Wellbeing has found that under half (47%) of line managers said they would be able to offer support to colleagues with cancer with reasonable adjustments in their workplace.
It was also discovered that just one in four (23%) of UK line managers would actively explain a colleague with cancer’s rights at work to them.
With the Equality Act declaring progressive conditions such as cancer a disability as soon as they are diagnosed – even if the employee is still able to do day-to-day tasks – it is important for employers to be well-versed in how to accommodate for their needs from the get-go.
Click the link below to read the full piece at HR Magazine:
After the discovery and diagnosis and the treatment and recovery, the day finally came: remission. I partook in my last batch of radiotherapy after recovering from my operations, and then finally came the day that I was declared cancer-free.
Oftentimes this might be misconstrued as being back to the version of me I was before the cancer, but I don’t think that’s the case. Remission is what any cancer patient hopes to hear – it’s a sign that you can press play on your personal and professional life again. But it’s important to remember, especially for employers, that as someone begins to recalibrate back into their normal routine, ‘normalcy’ won’t be instantaneous. In fact, they may never be exactly how they were before, but it’s about offering those adjustments to help them transition back as smoothly as possible.
It will take some time for an employee to get their groove back; a great way of reintroducing someone back into work might be by starting them off on a part-time basis. Staggering their return can help get their body get used to the physical and mental stimulation that working requires. It also helps to set the pace; they are not expected to come back and dive right into the deep end.
And for those that do find themselves wanting to get stuck in, there is no harm in reintroducing responsibility bit by bit, just so that they can also see how they fare. The cancer may be gone, but its after-effects are stubborn and can linger. The returning employee may not be sure how much they are ready to take back on in one go, so in this case just being flexible to that can be a great way of ensuring that their return is as productive as possible for both the employee and the employer.
In addition to this, I have found that being able to talk to people who have gone through a similar experience – whether this be having cancer or having cared for someone with cancer – is always a really helpful way of adapting to life post-cancer. The little nuances of remission become things to bond over, and so employers who are able to signpost staff who have had cancer to support groups – or to other members of staff who have had similar experiences – will be helping them assimilate back into working life.
The OrgShakers team have been on this journey with me from beginning to end, and I have been so fortunate to feel that I was able to be honest and open about my entire cancer journey with them. This firsthand support, paired with their own experiences, has made our team experts when it comes to coaching executives and managers on how to properly and efficiently support team members with cancer at every step of their journey.
Every person’s experience with cancer is going to be unique, so when designing support policies around cancer in the workplace, use these as a guidance that can be flexibly applied on a case-by-case basis. This ensures that the individual’s needs are being met, and that they will be able to return as their best self when the time comes.
If you are an employer who is looking to craft or update their policies on cancer in the workplace, or looking for specialized training and workshops around this topic, then please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
After discovering, being diagnosed, and then disclosing my cancer to my workplace, then came the big leagues – the start of my treatment. Once I received my results, I was set up with a treatment plan.
For me, I found a clear plan comforting. I liked that I could see the journey ahead, that I knew exactly where I had to be and what I had to be doing at each step of the way. As someone with a corporate background, it felt shockingly similar to having a mission statement and planning out the roadmap of achieving that mission.
Treatment looks different for everybody, depending on the type of cancer you have been diagnosed with and the stage of progression of that cancer. For me, I was going in for lymph node clearances, and then eventually my mastectomy surgery, followed by reconstructive surgery. This had me bedbound in hospital for 10 days, followed by weeks of recovery at home.
As I mentioned in the first part of this piece, communication with your employee is key during this process. Employers should do their best to be in the loop of surgery dates, wellbeing updates, and just general support and attentiveness during this particular stage of the journey. This is the most taxing part; not just physically from the treatments, but it can be mentally exhausting to be unwell. Especially for someone who enjoys busying themselves and was spurred on by the idea of working – such as myself! Being forced to simply sit and heal can be tricky for someone itching to get back to their normal routine of work and life.
In this sense, having that accessible line of communication open will help to keep the employee feeling involved as they undergo this treatment. If they are like me, they will still want to know what’s going on and feel up to date on working matters; however, if the employee feels they just need to shut off from that until their recovery is complete, then this should also be respected.
It’s all about finding the perfect balance, and the only way of finding that is by asking what they need. Whether they want to jump back in the moment they are in recovery mode or whether they would like to be back to full health again before they begin their re-assimilation back into working life.
And another thing that employers need to be considerate of is being flexible to those caring for cancer patients who are in recovery. In the immediate weeks after the operations, I found that I needed help doing the most basic of things – hanging up washing, cooking, taking a shower. During this period, the person caring for you is going to need to be afforded the same flexibility and understanding as the person in recovery, and so as an employer it is key to ensure that these reasonable adjustments can be made for all involved.
In the final part of this series, I am going to be exploring the remission and return to work stage, and what employers should be doing to make this process as smooth and as effective as possible.
In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the coaching and workshops we offer around cancer support in the workplace, please get in touch with me at email@example.com
In one way or another, we’re all deeply familiar with cancer. There was an estimated 18.1 million cases worldwide in 2020, and so oftentimes if you ask someone if they have a ‘cancer story’, the answer will be yes.
Back in January of this year, I was over in New York meeting colleagues and networking (pictured below), and I suddenly got a stabbing pain around my heart. Immediately, I assumed the worst, and took myself to a walk-in clinic. When I was being seen to, I was taken off-guard by the doctor asking when my last mammogram was, to which I told him it was August 2022, and he quickly dismissed the pain being anything to do with my breasts.
A few weeks after my return to the UK, I felt the same pain again. I went to get myself checked, and when I did I asked specifically if I could have a mammogram done. Despite the doctor believing that this wasn’t necessary, she agreed. After my mammogram, I was then invited to do an ultrasound, and then a biopsy all in the same day. Weeks later, I was given my diagnosis of breast cancer.
This was when the reality of my situation really hit me, and what I’ve seen throughout my journey with cancer is that every person’s experience with it is entirely unique. For me, being told what was wrong just immediately put me into action-mode. I wanted to create an action plan of how to get rid of it, I wasn’t really letting the weight of the word be felt. It was only when you have to navigate telling loved ones, friends, and colleagues that it became harder.
A cancer diagnosis is undoubtedly going to affect your working life. It is also going to affect your personal life in a number of ways depending on the context of your situation, and this will no doubt have trickle down effects into your professional life as well. In a situation like this, when someone receives a diagnosis of a long-term illness, the line between professional and personal is forced to blur, and how an employer responds to and supports someone through this is a very key part of their journey.
Whilst I was fortunate enough to have a great support network around me, including family, friends, and colleagues, for others this situation can be very different. For those who have a smaller network, or for those who live alone, something like work can play a huge role in their life and act as an important factor to getting them out of bed in the morning. With a diagnosis comes treatment, and this inevitably means having to go through months of recovery, and this can result in a lot of loneliness and feeling like you lack purpose.
In the same breath, a cancer diagnosis can be straining on relationships. Some find that their romantic relationships break down during this time, and this is going to have a great effect on someone as they embark on their journey.
What I am trying to highlight is that the context of cancer is always going to be different, and so for an employer, the best thing they can do in this situation is communicate with their staff member. Ask them what support they need, what they feel will best help them, and take it upon themselves to become familiar with what it looks like to support someone with their specific diagnosis – as each cancer is entirely different.
In addition to this, regular one-to-ones and check-ins just as a standard practice are a great way of ensuring that managers remain up to date and consistent. I could not believe how many people felt embarrassed or ashamed of having to tell their employers about their diagnosis, to the point where they wouldn’t even disclose it until their surgery date had been set. Having these regular check-ins as standard practice is much more likely to result in employees feeling they can be honest and open about something like this.
In the next part of this series, I am going to be discussing what role the employer can play in supporting a staff member who is going through the treatment and recovery process of their cancer journey. In the final part, we will explore the remission and return to work, and the best ways for employers to make this re-assimilation as smooth as possible.
In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the coaching services and workshops we offer around cancer in the workplace, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org