Managing cancer in the workplace overview
More than 100,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer in the UK each year. There are currently more than 700,000 people of working age living with a cancer diagnosis. Many will continue to work after or even through their treatment.
Many people living with cancer tell Macmillan that work is important to them. A job can restore normality, routine, stability, social contact and income. Not only that, but for people with ill health or disability, remaining in or returning to work can actually help to promote recovery and lead to better health outcomes. Being able to work is also important to carers for similar reasons.
At Macmillan, we know that employers play an important role in supporting people with cancer and their carers. But as an employer or line manager, you may not always feel confident about how best to support them. There are challenges at the time of diagnosis, during treatment, at the time of returning to work and afterwards. We also recognise you need to meet the needs of other individuals in the workplace and your organisation as a whole. In these difficult situations, you yourself may be affected in both a practical and personal way.
This guide gives information and practical advice about how you can support employees affected by cancer, including examples of best practice. It also covers your responsibilities as an employer and your employees’ rights. We have more information in the work section on our website.
Throughout this guide, we’ve included quotes from people affected by cancer in the workplace. These were sourced during research carried out by Macmillan. Names have been changed.
Small steps – big difference: the benefits of best practice
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Supporting employees diagnosed with cancer makes business sense for employers. By making reasonable adjustments, you can retain your employees and allow them to perform to their potential. And by being confident about disability issues, you can avoid legal risk as well as enhance the performance of the organisation and the individuals within it.
Taking some simple actions such as these can make a big difference to your staff and your organisation:
allowing time off for medical appointments
making reasonable adjustments such as offering flexible
organising a phased return to work.
These changes are not normally difficult to implement. Many adjustments have no cost at all. Where there is some cost, it’s usually small, and grants from the Access to Work or Access to Work (NI) scheme can cover some or all of it.
More than 70% of organisations that make workplace adjustments consider them to be easy.
Benefits of supporting employees with cancer
There is a clear business case for supporting people affected by cancer to return to work. Here are some of the many benefits:
Efficiency – Employers can retain valuable skills, knowledge and experience, and maintain productivity.
Saving time and money – You avoid the cost of replacing and training employees. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development estimates the average cost of recruitment to be £4,333 per employee, with an average recruitment time of 6–16 weeks depending on the position.)
Being more inclusive – Supporting someone with cancer gives an employer more understanding of the needs of diverse groups.
Employee engagement – By supporting an employee with an illness such as cancer, you’ll foster a greater sense of loyalty from them and their colleagues. This will naturally have a positive impact on employee engagement.
Morale – Retaining experienced employees can reduce pressure on those around them who might otherwise have to take on more work or train new recruits.
Positive image – A company or organisation that’s seen to support employees with cancer is more likely to become attractive to job applicants and customers.
Fulfilling your legal obligations – Meeting the obligations of the Equality Act 2010 in England, Scotland and Wales, or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland, will help avoid potential discrimination compensation and all the associated costs of management time, legal fees and potential damage to reputation. The median average award for a breach of disability discrimination law in 2011–12 was almost £9,000, but there have been awards of more than £2million.
Almost four in ten people (37%) who return to work after cancer treatment say they experience some kind of discrimination from their employer or colleagues.
Helping your employee
Being supportive of your employee affected by cancer will make a huge difference to them as they go through this difficult time. You can help reduce their anxiety and give them the confidence to deal with cancer at work.
Macmillan research has shown that 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.
Other things you can do
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Raise awareness of cancer
Whether you have an employee with cancer or not, you may want to raise awareness of the condition in your organisation.
You could highlight the support you can offer if an employee is affected by cancer in the future.
This may simply involve putting up a poster, observing cancer awareness months or encouraging people to take part in fundraising.
Order The essential work and cancer toolkit to share with other employees at your organisation. It includes a range of resources designed to help employers support people affected by cancer.
Remember, everyone is different
It’s essential to work with the employee. Everyone has individual needs and aspirations, and employers need to treat each case independently. For example, flexible working can be as simple as allowing the employee to come in late occasionally if they’re feeling unwell. Maintaining good communication between the employee and the line manager is crucial.