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World Cancer Day: An employer’s handbook

Written on 4 February 2022

While HR policy once consisted merely of remuneration and conflict resolution, today’s employers tend to look beyond this. Catering to numerous aspects of an employee’s professional and personal life is, in many cases, now the norm.

Being conscious and proactive when it comes to wellbeing is a major part of this. So it’s even more surprising, then, that 28% of workers with cancer said that they had either no support or very little support from their employer following their diagnosis. What’s more, Macmillan says that one-third of the two million people living with cancer at any one time are of working age.

So, with 4 February being World Cancer Day 2022, employers are presented with a prime opportunity. Now is the time to review protocols and ensure that workers receive the proper care and attention they need when dealing with cancer, whether that be pre-diagnosis, during treatment, or post-recovery.

Screening and diagnosis

Though treatment is the obvious area to consider when it comes to serious illness, preventative and cautionary measures are arguably just as critical. According to Cancer Research, nearly half of all cancer cases in 2018 were diagnosed at stage three or four. Implicitly, then, countless cancer-related deaths are avoidable.

Employees have the power to play a vital role here, starting with offering screenings for major cancer types via an external healthcare provider. In some cases, this will facilitate an early diagnosis and set the individual on the path to recovery, and for those who are cancer-free, it will offer peace of mind.

There is also an equality thread to take note of here. With employee benefits often correlated to seniority within the organisation, some individuals are naturally excluded from screening opportunities. As a result, there have increasingly been calls for organisations to start screening by risk, not by job title. In theory, handing priority to those deemed to be higher risk will enable earlier diagnoses and greater survival rates.

A quick win for employers here could be to distribute risk assessment surveys to determine priority.

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Healthcare benefits and support services

Aside from screenings, employers should also seek to bolster their wider healthcare benefits and initiatives packages.

On the most basic level, this could entail a more comprehensive medical insurance scheme with coverage included for cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 

Once again, this allows for the practical benefit of employees receiving the treatment they need and enabling a quicker and more effective recovery phase, but also the less tangible benefit of peace of mind.

The same can be said for a number of non-traditional healthcare benefits, such as specialist support services that deal with rehabilitation for recovering cancer patients.

Equally, many businesses are increasingly investing in various educational materials to raise awareness of cancer risk among the workforce and cultivate a pro-wellbeing culture in the workplace.

All of this could yield further positive results for the organisation. For instance, in its ‘Wellbeing art work’ guidance, the CIPD notes that promoting wellbeing can “create positive working environments where individuals and organisations can thrive”.

Moreover, it goes on to point out wellbeing can be a core enabler of employee engagement and organisational performance.

Recovery stage provisions

Cancer is regarded as a disability from the point of diagnosis onwards, and with that in mind, managing an individual’s return to work following a battle with cancer must be handled with extreme care and attention.

Firstly, a smooth transition from patient to employee may come down to the physical office space itself. For instance, those using crutches or mobility vehicles may require lifts or ramps in order to safely navigate the building, and those experiencing extreme fatigue may require special parking arrangements. These things are best determined through a rehabilitation risk assessment or Occupational Health involvement.

In other cases, the requirement will simply be a compassionate, understanding and patient approach from the employer. This might come down to allowing flexible working patterns for those experiencing bouts of fatigue, or increased remote working for those with mobility issues.

Management is key here – in order to ascertain what these unique needs are, open conversations must be taking place between the individual and their line manager.

In turn, then, it becomes incumbent on the organisation to equip line managers with the tools to conduct such vital and sensitive conversations in a constructive and emotionally intelligent manner.

For more information on supporting employees affected by cancer, see Macmillan’s guide for employers.

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Advice and support

It’s vital that employers understand and engage effectively around cancer, support and train managers in holding cancer-related conversations, and manage those affected compassionately and compliantly.

From help understanding your legal responsibilities and managing long-term absences to guidance on reasonable workplace adjustments and navigating the return to work, WorkNest’s Employment Law & HRHealth & Safety and Occupational Health specialists are on hand to help. For more information and to discuss your specific situation, call 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.

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