February 4th was World Cancer Day. A day on which millions of people unite to raise awareness and funds to fight cancer. Researchers have made great strides in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and although some types are becoming more manageable, the risk of cancer is increasing. This is due in part to our increasing lifespan, but I was still taken aback by Cancer Research’s latest forecast; that one in two of us will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetimes. We are living longer, and as we know, working longer too, which means we are more likely to be diagnosed while in employment. This got me thinking about cancer support in the workplace.
There are of course robust cancer plans that employers can provide for their staff. Independent or an extension to health cash plans, they pay a lump sum on diagnosis to lessen the financial burden, and also provide medical helplines and counselling services. And there are ways you can bolster cancer plans in your Employee Benefits Scheme too…
For the majority, aside for early warning signs, a diagnosis comes with little or no warning and the individual often transitions instantly from everyday life, into one of shock, fear and uncertainty. Your employee typically enters an unplanned break in routine, attending hospital visits, learning about their prognosis, and preparing for life changes in the coming months. They may have to take a leave of absence or reduced hours, and have questions over their role, job security, workloads and so on. Work colleagues will be adjusting too; we frequently count colleagues as friends and so it’s not just the practical implications of increased workloads across the team to consider.
So, how can you plan for and support employees with cancer?
Be Prepared – planning for cancer support makes a distressing time easier, if the employee, colleagues and line managers know exactly what support they will receive and the role they play, your employee is more likely to feel supported.
Be Flexible – people deal with cancer differently. While some prefer or are required to take time away from work, others wish to maintain life and business as usual as much as possible. Make sure line managers in particular are briefed and know how and what support they can offer including flexible work patterns and access to advice and counselling services.
Be Responsive – Draw on experiences from your own employees, what did you do right, where could support have been better, how could you monitor and evolve your support mechanisms in the future?
Be true to your values – if your company lists its values they most likely refer to employee well-being and culture. Stand by your values and create a support plan that gives your employees support, security and guidance. It will pay dividends with your employee, their colleagues and help reinforce your employer brand and engagement.
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Neil Bowen, Director, You At Work