How can employers raise cancer awareness and provide the right support to employees?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

As we move through March we look forward to warmer weather on its way. The daffodils are already in full bloom and spring is well within reach. The evenings are becoming lighter and the clocks will ‘spring’ forward very soon. 
The Health Awareness Calendar asks us to consider two types of cancer in March: prostate cancer and ovarian cancer. These illnesses affect thousands of people across the UK.
Organisations, therefore, have an opportunity to consider the impact of a cancer diagnosis on an employee and their family. 
"125,000 people of a working age will be diagnosed with cancer each year."
Macmillian Cancer Support

Awareness months, such as March, are a chance way for employers to show their employees that they care about an issue that is likely to have affected them all to varying degrees. 

Being there for an employee when they are affected by cancer will make a huge difference as they go through such a difficult time. Your actions can help reduce their anxiety and equip them to manage the effects that cancer may have on their work life. 

Additionally, supporting your employees when they are dealing with cancer highlights your organisation as an inclusive employer of choice. There are a number of ways to help employees that you could consider. However, it’s very important to remember that everyone is different, are facing different challenges and will need different types of support.

An awareness day, week or month is an ideal way to kick-off the conversation. Events throughout the year, from charities such as Macmillan, Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie, are designed with this in mind. They also have a wealth of information available on their websites for supporting employees with the condition. 

Raising awareness can be vital when it comes to early detection and survival rates. Organisations could consider, for example, sending dedicated communications about this topic on awareness days, hosting a coffee morning with an employee bake-off, or organising education sessions on self-detection. 

Upskilling line managers to have meaningful and empathic conversations about cancer, and the impact that it can have in the workplace, will help employees who are affected. Such support will help them to feel more comfortable at work. In turn, this will help with building trust and loyalty to an organisation, as well as improve the employee experience.

There are a range of options for organisations to consider when it comes to best-practice for employees dealing with a cancer diagnosis. These include:

  • Flexibility for appointments 
  • Reasonable adjustments to their role 
  • Flexible/Agile working 
  • Phased return to work 
  • Lighter duties 

“Two of the most important factors in a successful adjustment back to work are a good relationship with the employer and a phased return to work.” - Macmillan 

An Occupational Health practitioner or Rehabilitation Nurse will be able to provide suggestions on reasonable adjustments and help develop a phased return to work plan. 

The government-funded support programme, Access to Work, is also available to support employees. This includes providing specialist equipment which could assist employees in their day-to-day work. It also includes help getting to and from work, if this is something that is a struggle. 

Your employee benefits offering 

The offerings in an employee benefits package could help to ease the burden of having to deal with so much else after a cancer diagnosis.

Benefits such as Critical Illness or Group Income Protection (or sick pay insurance, as it’s starting to become more widely known) can help to reduce financial worry. An employee assistance programme can provide information about the state benefits that employees are entitled to claim, signpost to charities for additional advice and also provide psychological support, with access to counselling if needed.   

“44% of businesses have experienced an employee being diagnosed with, or dealing with, a serious illness, such as cancer, heart disease or stroke.” GRID

Other employee benefits include Digital GP services (which can help employees to access initial appointments with ease), Check4Cancer (a screening service which can be offered out as a flexible benefit) and Reframe (who can provide practical, clinical and emotional support).

By supporting an employee who is dealing with an illness such as cancer, you can help make things easier for them, however small. As an additional result, this will increase the positive view that employees (those who are ill and those who are not) have of an organisation. 

If you have any questions concerning how any of these topics could be relevant to your own organisation from an Employee Benefit, Wellbeing or HR policy perspective, please do not hesitate to get in touch

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