Aviva UK Health research: Employers struggle to help staff return to work after serious illness

Employers are still finding the timely return to work of absent employees challenging, particularly complex conditions such as cancer, according to new research from Aviva UK Health. 

The online poll found that 19% of respondents have experience of staff living with cancer. 

More than half (61%) said their primary concern when an employee has a serious condition is the health and wellbeing of the individual. However, 23% are anxious about the pressure the absence would put on other employees’ workloads.

The study also found that 15% worry about the effect it would have on morale, while 11% worry about finding the money to support the employee, or to ensure the business is unaffected.

A further 11% are concerned about getting the employee back to work.

Just 5% of employers say that rehabilitation is not an option, while 17% admit that they would find it difficult to manage both the needs of the business and the needs of their employee when faced with this situation.

A further 14% said they would be anxious about finding a way to deal with the employee without upsetting them.

Nearly a quarter (22%) of employers that have supported staff through serious illness said that the experience prompted them to review their HR policy to ensure that they know how to deal with future cases.

The government’s welfare reform bill will see many cancer patients no longer eligible to receive employment and support allowance after a year if a spouse or partner is working.

Aviva UK Health said this is likely to encourage many to return to work before they are ready, which will make the employer’s role even harder.

Dr Doug Wright, head of clinical development at Aviva UK Health, said: “When faced with a serious illness, helping staff to continue to lead as normal a life as possible makes a real difference to them.

“Having this link back to their usual life and activities not only helps with their physical but also their mental wellbeing. Thankfully, medical advances mean that many people are now living with cancer and with the right physical and psychological support, are able to continue to work.

“Our research highlights that while employers genuinely care about their employees, they often do not have the right HR policies, employee benefits and advice in place to help them back into the workplace. The good news is that there is a wealth of specialist occupational health and rehabilitation support available to help them do this.”

Duleep Allirajah, policy manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, added: “There are people with cancer who have the skills and experience to benefit their employer, and so it makes sense to help them return to work by making the necessary changes to their workload or environment.

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“Many adjustments, such as flexible working hours or allowing an employee to work from home, are easy to make and cost very little.”

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