How to better equip your line managers to support employees with cancer

Cancer hasn’t gone away. But the problem might well become compounded thanks to the pandemic. So, now is the time to better equip your line managers to help. Poor line manager knowledge of how to support employees with cancer, coupled with a perceived lack of access to relevant services, represent the biggest barriers to improvement, according to the results of a recent spot poll during a webinar hosted by Generali UK and wellbeing partner Form Health.

Cancer represents the main cause of group income protection (GIP) claims in 2019. Statistics for 2020 could look quite different as the pandemic has ensured people are putting off getting diagnosis and treatment. Macmillan estimates that across the UK there are currently around 50,000 ‘missing diagnoses’ when compared to similar timeframes in previous years. Plus, more than 650,000 people with cancer have experienced disruption to their cancer treatment or care because of Covid-19.

Our advice to employers? Encourage your people to get niggles and concerns checked without delay. Make use of all the early intervention support services available via GIP, including specialist nurse guidance throughout diagnosis and treatment, plus back-to-work support and even access to cancer detection services and virtual GPs via wellbeing investment matching. Above all though, equip your line managers to help.

We all know that old adage ‘work is good for you’. And, while many people living with – or recovering from – cancer want to work, they’re often unable to do so due to a lack of appropriate support.

So, with estimates that by 2030 as many as 130,000 employees could be returning to work with the right support – and that was before the pandemic – it could be time to look more closely at what the ‘right support’ actually looks like.

How to best support

What you say and how you say it is worthy of some consideration when addressing a cancer diagnosis with an employee. A calm, sympathetic tone is likely to be the best approach, with plenty of questions around how the employee is feeling. Coupled with respect if someone does not wish to talk in detail. It is likely the employee may not yet know the full implications of their diagnosis and any treatment plan they are facing.

Key areas of focus

  • Discuss. Consider the individual needs of your employee. Every cancer diagnosis experience and response will be unique. Ask what the employee thinks and how they feel they could be best supported. Make sure to find out how they would like the team to be informed of their diagnosis – if at all. Be flexible when discussing any concerns.
  • Consider. Take time to ensure any risk assessments are completed, where relevant. Be prepared with any reasonable adjustments that can be made to the working environment or work hours. Speak to HR, Occupational Health, or GP services so you are fully aware of the potential implications of the diagnosis, and what options there are for adjustments.
  • Communicate. Be sure to make arrangements for keeping in touch before an employee goes absent. Agree on what the team will be told and what support will be offered. Make sure ongoing support and reviews are planned and carried out. Respect any privacy requested, but also keep regular channels of communication open.
  • Review. Make contact at the previously agreed intervals and review progress regularly. Remain flexible – changes to any planned adjustments may need to be made as treatment plans change or develop.

Overall, it is important that employers understand the problems that individuals with a cancer diagnosis may face, and how to manage workplace risk. A cancer diagnosis is defined as a disability in line with equality laws, and necessary adjustments must be made.

Problems employees may face on returning to work vary widely, but may include fatigue, concentration and memory impairments, loss of confidence, and a wide range of other physical and psychological issues.

The longer-term impacts are often not well understood. Most people are able to resume normal work tasks 18-24 months after diagnosis, however for others, it may take longer, or the same work tasks may never be possible again. Communication and flexibility are key.

To request a recording of Generali UK and Form Health’s Cancer in the workplace workshop & support for HR and Line Managers’ please email [email protected]