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What more can employers do to support employees with cancer?

On World Cancer Day (4th February)[i], Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing asks if employers are doing enough to support employees diagnosed with cancer and suggests measures they could take to creating healthier workplaces.

According to Macmillan[ii] 1 in 3 (or 750,000) of the 2 million people currently living with cancer in the UK are of working age. This figure is set to rise to 1.7 million by 2030.

With cancer rates rising and Macmillan highlighting that most employees (85%) diagnosed with cancer say their work is important to them, it is likely that more employers and employees will be impacted by cancer in the coming years.

Last year a report[iii] also indicated that ‘sitting could be the new smoking,’ with researchers from Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggesting that prolonged sitting increases the risk of serious disease, including certain forms of cancer such as lung cancer.

Cheryl Brennan, Director of Corporate Consulting at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing says,

“Unfortunately, cancer will affect many employees during their working life, particularly as we are all living and working longer. There is a greater recognition that the impact of cancer is wide reaching, affecting an individual’s health, their finances and family lives. In response, more employers are treating cancer in the workplace more holistically than before.”

“Some employers are already being proactive and looking at preventative measures such as offering health screenings tailored around employee’s individual health and family medical history. But other recommendations would be for them to focus on creating healthy workplace with data led and tailored health and wellbeing programmes. They could also consider their office design and furniture and ensure there is a mix of standing and sitting desks too.”

Cheryl offers her tips on how employers can better support employees dealing with a cancer diagnosis:

Review healthcare and protection benefits

  • Employers should check what existing healthcare and protection benefits exist and if they offer good levels of cancer care. For example, do the existing benefits offer employees adequate support to enable them to remain in the workplace throughout their treatment or return to work after a period? Or do the benefits need an overhaul?
  • Companies need to have established strategies and policies for managing employees with cancer and they need to check regularly they are fit for purpose and provide the best support possible.
  • Data can help to ensure that strategies are evidence-based and spend is directed in areas where it will have most impact.

Take a more flexible approach

  • Cancer affects all individuals differently, so employers should be flexible in their approach. They may, for example, offer employees private GP services to ensure cancer can be diagnosed quickly, giving them the best opportunity for early treatments, which may also enable them to remain in work.
  • Employers may choose to provide access to alternative treatments or change the critical illness policy to ensure it will not only pay out a lump sum but also offers a cancer triage service to provide counselling support and emotional care too.
  • Employers could also offer greater flexibility in terms of working hours and schedules.

Provide solid support services

  • Train line managers to handle difficult and sensitive conversations with team members.
  • Managers should understand and be able to communicate the healthcare benefits available and be able to sign post employees to support services and information about treatment and working options.
  • Equally, there may need to be support services such as counselling available for employees who may be emotionally impacted by their colleague’s illness.
  • Finally, employers need a strategy in place to support people back to work after they have recovered from treatment. This includes reintroducing employees back into work at a pace that suits them, signposting emotional support and offering flexible working.

Cheryl concludes,

“To truly support employees with cancer, employers will need to consider all these elements when reviewing their employee benefit strategies. With cancer rates continuing to rise, World Cancer Day is a timely reminder for companies to check if their policies and support are as good as they can be.”

[i] https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/get-involved/donate/world-cancer-day-2020

[ii] https://www.macmillan.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-make-change-happen/we-shape-policy/work-and-cancer.html

[iii] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6849397/Alarming-new-research-claims-70-000-deaths-year-caused-increasingly-sedentary-lives.html