Best practice for navigating cancer at work

There is rarely a ‘one size fits all’ solution to human resources. When working with people it is important to listen and adapt, tailoring solutions to that individual and their needs. This is true for navigating cancer in the workplace as every situation will be unique.

There are many variables when cancer is involved. From the type of cancer to the stage of diagnosis and the medical history of the individual, or maybe it’s not the employee that has been diagnosed but a close family member or friend. The harsh reality is that one in two people born in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime, therefore it is a scenario all businesses should be equipped for.

From the very outset there are polices, processes and tools around health and wellbeing, sickness absence and so on, which businesses could have in place to guide managers who may find themselves in the position of supporting an individual within their team.

Knowledge is power and after initial diagnosis, people may feel a little helpless and concerned about their financial standpoint, so employees should have easy access to digital records of their contract and company policies. This could include details of sick pay allowance, private healthcare cover, conditions of employment and death in service insurance. A secure company intranet is an excellent resource for these documents and a simple check could provide the financial reassurance an individual needs.

Additionally, sharing links and resources to partner organisations such as charities or helplines can be of great benefit, and access to these types of materials and services should be weaved into an overarching wellness strategy. Macmillan Cancer Support, for example, has a number of helpful toolkits and training resources for businesses and individuals, and can even deliver cancer in the workplace masterclasses.

Communication is really important throughout the entire journey. Fostering a culture of open and honest two-way communication will be crucial when dealing with such a sensitive topic and it’s important to remember that each individual will have different needs. It also helps to establish a point of contact between the immediate family unit and the employer early on, enabling the family to ask questions or the employer to receive updates surrounding diagnosis, during the treatment period and beyond.

Flexible working policies have become increasingly popular and they can be really beneficial for people throughout cancer diagnosis, treatment and beyond, allowing adaptable working hours to accommodate appointments or fit around treatment and recovery. For some people work is their link to normality and it could help them mentally cope or prepare for their fulltime return, so it is important to listen and accommodate the individual as best as possible.

Cancer is a physical disease but it can have powerful effects on mental health, this is where a company’s benefits suite can make the difference. For example, hosting regular manager check-ins, wellbeing sessions or training, and providing access to an employee assistance programme as standard can go a long way in supporting employees.

As an employer there is a duty of care to look after the individual but also for the wider team, therefore communication for colleagues or clients should be agreed with the individual early on as there will be emotional impacts as well as physical ones on workload or temporary cover.

Statistically and regrettably, cancer is likely to affect all businesses at some point and so it is wise to be prepared and play a part in supporting employees. Trusted communication is invaluable for these situations but ultimately a common sense and human approach with a willingness to adapt is essential.

Author: Deborah Gillespie

Article originally published on 6th July here.