Working while caring for someone

You are a carer if you give any unpaid help or support to someone with cancer who could not manage without your help. Balancing working and caring can be difficult.

What is a carer?

You are a carer if you give any unpaid help or support to someone with cancer who could not manage without your help. You may not see yourself as a carer. You may just think you are helping out.

Understanding that you are a carer is important to get the support you need. As well as caring for someone, you may also have a job or children.

As a carer, it is important to look after your own well-being and health needs.

Working while caring

Balancing working and caring can be difficult. But if you decide to keep working, it can have some benefits. It can:

  • give you the chance to socialise
  • give you the chance to meet and share experiences with other carers in your workplace – this could be through a staff carers network
  • reduce money worries
  • give you a separate identity from being a carer – this can be good for your confidence.

You might feel that working is an important part of who you are. Looking after yourself when you are a carer can include having your own work goals. 

For example, you might want to do some training or learn new skills at work. You might need to make some changes or delay new training or learning. But you may also learn new skills as a carer that can help you in your working life.

If you are self-employed

If you are self-employed, you may have more control over your working life than someone who is employed. But you will not have the same employment law rights and protection.

You and your family may also depend on the income from your business. This can put extra pressure on you as a carer if your working life is affected.

You can talk through your options with a Macmillan work support adviser for free on 0808 808 00 00.

Your legal rights as a working carer

You may have certain rights at work that could help make it easier to keep working while you are caring. These include the right to ask for flexible working, or to take time off work in an emergency.

Talking to people at work

It can help to tell your employer you are caring for someone with cancer. You can explain how this might affect your work. You do not have to tell your manager, employer or colleagues that you are caring for someone with cancer. But talking to your employer can:

  • help them be sensitive to the changes and feelings you are coping with
  • help them understand your needs so they can support you better
  • mean you are less likely to have problems in the future – for example, if you ask for flexible working, they will understand your situation.

Try to talk to your manager or HR department (if you have one) about your situation as soon as possible. They can tell you about the support available at your workplace, and the ways they can help you.

You can ask your employer to keep this information confidential. This means they will not tell anyone else what you have told them.

If you do not want to tell your colleagues

You may prefer not to tell your colleagues. You might want to keep your work life as normal as possible. It is important that your wish for privacy is respected. You have a right to ask that information should be confidential and only passed on in a ‘need to know’ basis.

Do not feel under pressure to explain things if you do not want to. You know what is best for you and your situation.

Making decisions about work

It is important to try to find a balance between the support you want to give and what you are able to do. This can be difficult when you are trying to balance caring and working.

Before you make any decisions, you may want to:

  • talk to your manager or employer about possible flexible working arrangements or policies that help carers
  • talk to other people in your life about the help they can offer you or the person you are caring for
  • find out about practical or financial support that you or the person you are caring for may be able to get.

You may need to make some decisions about work. You might think about stopping work or taking early retirement to care for someone.

Stopping work could:

  • affect your finances
  • make you feel isolated from friends at work
  • mean that you cannot keep your skills up to date
  • make it harder to get back into the job market later on.

You may find it helpful to find out more about your rights as a carer and an employee before making your decision. 

For more information about this, you can contact Carers UK or Working Families. You can also speak to a Macmillan work support adviser for free on 0808 808 00 00.

Who can help me as a carer

Health and social care professionals can also support you. You can ask them questions about caring. But they cannot share medical information about the person you are caring for unless that person gives permission. This is called consent.

You can ask their cancer doctor or specialist nurse about organising a carer’s assessment. This is done by social services. It can help to find out what kind of support you might need. You may also be able to get financial help, such as benefits or grants.

  • Carers UK has information and guides on how to get a carer’s assessment.
  • Carers Trust has information about local organisations that can help with practical support.

Booklets and resources

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been approved by Michelle Rouse Griffiths, Professional Development and Knowledge Lead, Macmillan Cancer Support.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 September 2023
Next review: 01 September 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.