Tuesday 12th June 2012
Phil Hanns discusses how Durham County Council is helping local employers support staff affected by cancer.
It’s generally accepted that work makes a positive contribution to most people’s health. There’s also a strong business case for supporting staff with cancer in getting back to work.
Based on such evidence, Macmillan and Durham County Council developed a vocational rehabilitation service in 2011 to help people with cancer get back to work, and to work with employers in the area.
The employer’s role
Evidence suggests that employers,
particularly managers, have a crucial role to play in making sure that a person’s return to work is successful.
Good communication is essential, but nearly half of managers surveyed had not discussed workplace adjustments or sick pay when appropriate,
suggesting that sometimes this support is lacking.
There is also evidence that some employers become less supportive as treatment continues.
Our experience suggests that positive communication at an early stage makes remaining in or returning to work more likely, but that those initial discussions are the most difficult. This led us to provide training sessions aimed at employers and line managers.
The course content is agreed with the employer and participating line managers. This not only makes the session relevant to them, but helps with ‘buy-in’. Content differs with each employer, but has common elements including: what cancer is; treatments and side effects; communication; and workplace modifications. Participants are also given copies of Macmillan’s Essential work and cancer toolkit.
We are planning to deliver this training to a local snack-foods factory over the coming months. The factory’s occupational health professional has been on a cancer awareness session run by the local cancer information centre, and she is aware of the difficulties and anxieties that line managers have about supporting staff with cancer.
The factory has experience of employees affected by cancer and is keen to be doing everything possible to make sure it is providing support to help its staff get back to work.
While larger manufacturing and voluntary sector organisations have been our main focus, we have been less successful in getting smaller employers in the area to take up the training. As the majority of employees in the UK work within small and medium enterprises, it’s important to deliver within this sector too. Therefore we’ve started developing links with local business clubs.
The service gets feedback after each training session and so far this has been very positive. One line manager contacted us after a session to let us know that it had made it much easier to talk to an employee that he had known for 10 years who had just been diagnosed. The training will be considered as part of a more formal evaluation of the team’s work this autumn.
Cancer in the workplace videos and toolkit
We have five videos that are designed to help employers and managers deal with the situation where an employee has cancer. We also have a pack, The essential work and cancer toolkit, which contains information for employers, employees diagnosed with cancer, and employees caring for someone who has cancer. You can order it free from Be.Macmillan or by calling 0800 500 800.
Contact Phil Hanns, Principal Officer for Macmillan Working with Cancer at Durham County Council, on 0191 370 8764 or email Phil.
1. Johnsson A, et al. Factors influencing return to work: a narrative study of women treated for breast cancer. European Journal of Cancer Care. 2010; 19, 317–323.
2. MacEachen E, Clarke J, Franche RL et al. Systematic review of the qualitative literature on return to work after injury [PDF, 70Kb]. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health. 2006; 32(4); 257–269.
3. YouGov online survey of 1,740 UK adults living with cancer. Fieldwork between 26 July–9 August 2010. Results unweighted.
4. Shewbridge A, et al. Working while receiving chemotherapy: a survey of patients’ experiences and factors that influence these. European Journal of Cancer Care. 2012. 21; 117–123.