Today (4 February) marks World Cancer Day. Kayleigh Frost discusses how occupational health practitioners can support staff and managers following a cancer diagnosis.
The shocking statistic that one in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime doesn’t get any easier to digest, no matter how many times you hear it. There are millions of people across the UK currently battling cancer. And millions more whose lives have been affected by it.
World Cancer Day is a pivotal time for us all to recognise the impact cancer has on anyone affected. Employers should strive to take part in this recognition process too.
Organisations must take action to support employees affected by cancer – it’s more than just an awareness-raising exercise. Cancer can rip the ground from under someone’s feet.
It affects every part of life, work included. Cancer leads to tremendously difficult conversations at work with managers, colleagues, and employers. Employees face worries of judgment, fear of job security and anxiety about juggling work life with medical appointments. Employers must recognise these problems and work with employees to overcome them.
It’s time the approach to cancer in the workplace changed. And for many organisations, occupational health will play a huge role in making this happen. This professional advice helps employers make the right decisions about supporting employees. It also helps employees feel supported by their workplace through this difficult time.
As an occupational health practitioner, you’ll have experience dealing with a variety of mental and physical health issues in the workplace. But like many serious illnesses, cancer is a sensitive area that requires careful consideration. Below are some tips for helping employees and employers through this process.
Help them find support
Some cancer charities offer short courses and guides to assist those impacted by cancer, for example Help to Overcome Problems Effectively (HOPE) and other resources from Macmillan Cancer Support. These charities are a lifeline for many people struggling to navigate the difficulties of a cancer diagnosis. They provide guidance, support, and hope for people during the darkest times.
You might not know exactly what an employee is going through, but it doesn’t mean you can’t direct them to someone who does. Learn what is out there and share this information with employees who need it.
Keep employers informed
For many employers, it’s hard news to hear that one of their employees is going through a cancer diagnosis or treatment. Managers tend to be the first port of call for the employee, and they could be inexperienced in dealing with these kinds of scenarios. That’s why it’s essential to communicate your recommendations well. Try to give as much detail as you can about the reasons why you’ve made them. Providing these reasons will help employers and managers understand how an employee’s role will be impacted.
Remember, it’s your essential advice that helps managers and employers support their employees to make the best possible recovery.
It’s essential to communicate your recommendations well. Try to give as much detail as you can about the reasons why you’ve made them. Providing these reasons will help employers and managers understand how an employee’s role will be impacted.”
Be sensitive to their needs
Cancer treatment and recovery can be extremely distressing and painful. Try to be as sensitive as you can to employees’ needs during this time. Consider different reasonable adjustments where possible. Flexible working hours and working from home can make a huge difference to working life when juggling appointments.
Signpost employees to any workplace mental health and wellbeing support. Many organisations now provide employee assistance programmes that offer counselling services free of charge. Mental health services can sometimes have long waiting lists, and private options can be costly. Yet they are an extremely useful avenue of support. Employees might forget the services they have access to during times of need, so ensure you guide them to the different options available.
Ensure a smooth return to work
The amount of time an employee will need off work will vary from person to person, but when they do decide it’s time to return to work, try to make this process as simple as possible.
Ensuring a smooth handover is essential. Find out what employees need to help make this as easy as possible. Some people will want to be treated as ‘normally’ as possible, while others may need more support.
As employees ease back into their roles, it could be helpful to suggest managing workloads to avoid overwhelming them while they adjust. Catch-ups with employees are also a good option. These regular review meetings allow you to check in on wellbeing and address and issues the employee might be facing.
World Cancer Day is a good time for occupational health practitioners to think about how they can best support employees who receive this diagnosis and communicate their recommendations to managers effectively.