21% of managers have never spoken to employees with cancer about their illness

Evelyn Wallace

More than a fifth (21%) of respondents who manage employees who have had cancer have never spoken to them about their illness, according to research by Axa PPP Healthcare.

Its survey of 500 UK managers who have managed an employee who currently has or has had cancer, also found that 20% of respondents do not know how to talk about cancer or other illnesses with their staff.

The research also found:

  • 21% of respondents are uncomfortable discussing any illness with their employees.
  • 20% of respondents who have discussed an employee’s cancer with them feel less comfortable talking about cancer than other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.
  • 17% of respondents who have managed an employee with cancer who has returned to work admit to telling the employee’s colleagues about their diagnosis without previously discussing it with the employee.
  • 64% of respondents did not change the way they managed an employee who returned to work following cancer treatment.
  • 41% of respondents who did not change the way they managed an employee upon their return to work were worried about the employee’s abilities and therefore decided to manage them softly by removing any pressure they may have had.

Evelyn Wallace (pictured), cancer care operations manager at Axa PPP Healthcare, said: “Our research shows that managers could do more to support employees who are living with or beyond cancer, such as talking with them to get a better understanding about what they may be going through and finding out what their organisation may offer to support a phased return or flexible working arrangements, as well as information and support available to employees.

“It’s important for managers to understand that returning to work after cancer can be a very daunting experience. It can take time to recover from any serious illness and each person will want to handle things differently. It’s also likely that their recovery to a new normality will be a rollercoaster, psychologically, emotionally and physically.

“Managers should not expect a formulaic return to previous standards. Nor should they expect the same productivity levels straight away but should instead listen to what the employee needs and be flexible in the support they offer.”