Every year, almost 120,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer in the UK – a figure set to rise with survival rates improving and people retiring later. Consequently cancer is becoming a chronic or long-term condition for many, and thus a more commonplace issue for HR and line managers to manage in the workplace.
Cancer and its treatments affect people in a variety of ways: common side effects include fatigue, pain, reduced freedom of movement and depression. People may also need to take time off work for treatment or check-ups. Nonetheless, for employees with cancer or caring for someone with cancer, staying in or returning to work can be hugely positive. There is strong evidence that good work can have a positive impact on both physical and mental health and wellbeing – and it can even help with recovery.
When Julia, a teacher, was diagnosed with cancer, returning to work was important to her following her radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment. “I wanted to be working as it is something I love doing and helped me feel that life was carrying on as normal.”
However, it can be difficult to know how to support someone with cancer in the workplace, as there are a number of challenges they may face from the moment someone is diagnosed. Employers can tackle some of these challenges by putting in place reasonable adjustments.
What are reasonable adjustments?
Cancer is classed as a disability under the Equality Act or Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). This means that where reasonable, employers should make changes to help the employee with cancer do their job during and after treatment, and aid them in overcoming the disadvantage they face as a consequence of their disability (cancer).
These changes are known as ‘reasonable adjustments’, and could be anything from allowing time off to go to medical appointments to working flexible hours, or enabling a phased return to work.
Often these small changes can make a big difference, and can help support your employee to continue with work if they choose to do so. Julia’s employer supported her to be able to continue working whilst receiving treatment by making changes to the way that she worked.
“Colleagues at school were fantastic at supporting me. Changes were put in place so I could come back to work, as I wanted to do, but my responsibilities changed. I got back to teaching classes, but adjusted my timetable so I could finish early and get to my appointments.”
It is important to maintain an open communication channel with your employee, which will allow an ongoing opportunity to review the needs of your employee. It may be that over time new or altered adjustments are required as the individual improves or develops a change in side effects during their treatment.
In Julia’s case, “My head of department asked me what I felt I was able to do and following our conversation arrangements were made.” Communication was key; “My advice to anyone working with cancer would be to talk to your employer and think about what you can do and what you might need in order to continue working.”
Macmillan at Work
While many recognise the importance of supporting someone living with or beyond cancer, the capability to provide this support varies across organisations. Training or consultancy can help organisations prepare their staff to manage the impact of long term conditions. Macmillan at Work is designed to help workplaces support employees with a cancer diagnosis, or those caring for someone with cancer.