Norwich City Council on Macmillan at Work

Norwich City Council worked with Macmillan to help improve the support they offered to staff affected by cancer.

Norwich City Council undertook Macmillan at Work training as they felt it was important to ensure that they were effectively supporting employees affected by cancer. They also wanted to ensure managers had the confidence and tools to support team members affected by cancer.

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Norwich City Council on Macmillan at Work training

We experienced an increase in employees affected by cancer either directly themselves or as a carer, and as such we commissioned four Macmillan at Work training courses for the HR team and line managers. The training was very effective in providing managers with a greater understanding of cancer, giving them the confidence to have conversations with employees and the tools to know what support is available both inside the organisation and outside via organisations such as Macmillan. 

From an HR perspective it gave us the increased confidence and reassurance that our approach was effective in supporting employees. Our increased knowledge meant that we could collate information relating to this type of support in one place for managers and employees to access on our self-serve online resource, where we have uploaded relevant FAQs, links to a variety of Macmillan leaflets, useful videos and links to other support.

Following the training, we have implemented the ‘cancer in the workplace’ guidance and featured cancer regularly as part of our quarterly health and wellbeing events in order to raise awareness of support available and to create a culture of openness where people feel comfortable to talk about cancer

We recognise that telling people at work about their cancer may not be easy. However, if the council is aware, we can help the employee find a way that is right for them. We can also help by providing support and information about rights and entitlements. The council can also make sure that the employee has time off if needed and that the employee receives the sick pay they’re entitled to, and can also arrange cover to minimise the impact on colleagues. By reducing the concerns over how their diagnosis will impact on their work, staff affected by cancer can instead focus on themselves and their treatment.

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Read about training and support for employers

Case study one

I supported an employee returning to work following a one year absence due to cervical cancer; she had a full hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She was not well enough to be in work during the course of her treatment, and reasonable adjustments were made to support her when she was ready to return to work.

In order to be able to support the staff-member who was affected by cancer, I undertook training with Macmillan at Work to understand how cancer treatment affects people, and how this can affect people long term. This helped me to identify what support Norwich City Council could provide.

I sought advice from our occupational health service to identify how best to support the employee with cancer and met weekly with the employee to monitor their progress for returning to work. I also utilised the occupational health service to guide me as a manager, and spoke with my HR officer and my manager too, which helped me share how I was feeling at the time. 

We set up a phased return plan for 7 months, utilising the organisation's phased return procedures and outstanding annual leave. The employee was also given flexibility in terms of late starts or early finishes on days when she was very tired and needed more support, and we adapted her workload and phased taking on duties that she felt most comfortable with. Colleagues took on additional work to support too.

As a line manager, it's important to understand how a person's cancer treatment might have affected him or her, and the likelihood that it will take several months if not years to recover. It is also important to listen to the employee and arrange regular checks with them so that they feel supported and that any changes that may be needed are picked up quickly. I now use the Macmillan at Work toolkit to help other colleagues who may also be supporting staff affected by cancer. 

It’s important to listen to the employee.

Manager at Norwich City Council

Case study two

I supported a team member through their cancer and it was a strong desire of my team member to continue working as long as possible. We supported this until they took the decision to stop working themselves. Consideration needed to be made around the health and safety for the individual and adjustments were made to the role to ensure this.

I agreed with the individual that they could take short notice days off when they became tired. When their health deteriorated and they were unable to manage their full workload or undertake site visits, I brought in a consultant to work alongside them. It was important to balance allowing them to work as long as possible and ensuring they did not feel sidelined with ensuring the service to the public didn’t suffer. The proximity of their desk to the toilet and to fire exits was a consideration.

As an employer, we also needed to consider how to maintain the service. This can be especially hard when the person with cancer is the only one who does a job within the organisation.

I was given a great deal of support by the HR team. They helped me to understand the council's policies, the legal obligations on the council, access the occupational health service and provided advice about the best way to deal with the difficult situations that arose through managing my team members’ decline. I am also very grateful for the emotional support they gave to me, as it was especially difficult because there was such a sad outcome. I could not have done this without support from HR colleagues, useful information from Macmillan and a brilliant team who loved the individual and wanted the best for them.

As to advice to employers dealing with cancer in the workplace, I would say that the employer needs to be sensitive to the needs of the person with cancer. The starting point for this is to ask them what support they need. People have different preferences, for example, whether to remain at work, have their workload eased and the knowledge of their condition shared. The way they would like to be treated will vary over time according to the progression of their condition and their own mental attitude towards it, so it is important to regularly check how they feel. It is important to monitor and respond to the emotional needs of other members of staff who are likely to be affected by their concern for their colleague.

I couldn’t have done it without the information from Macmillan

Manager who supported a staff-member with cancer