“Help us ease back in to work” say employees with cancer diagnosis
Contrary to what many employers may think, the majority of cancer patients want to return to work in some shape or form when they are feeling well enough, according to RedArc.
Christine Husbands, managing director, RedArc Nurses said: “We’ve helped thousands of cancer patients over the years and overwhelmingly those who have experienced less emotional difficulties are the ones who say they’ve ‘got their life back’ which very often includes a return to the workplace.
“However, the ease at which this is achieved is usually less about the patient and much more about the flexibility and understanding of their employer. In many cases, it completely takes the employer by surprise that a cancer patient would want to be back at their desk, but that’s just what many really want.”
Emotional and financial drivers
RedArc suggests that this desire to return to work is as much emotionally driven as it is financially. The company says that, as in life, cancer doesn’t exist in a vacuum, many cancer patients want to “reclaim” themselves from cancer. A return to work is a clear demonstration to themselves, family, friends and colleagues that they have regained a sense of normality, identity and self-esteem.
In addition, all the other worries such as paying bills and a mortgage can be exacerbated during an extended period of absence, so a return to earning a salary alleviates some of these associated stresses.
Support required from employers
There are over 200 types of cancer, and the effect on individuals varies as does the treatment, which can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapies and targeted therapies. Physical side effects are both short- and long-term such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting and susceptibility to infection.
Husbands continued: “With this in mind, adjustments need to be made by the employer, with the most important aspect being true flexibility. Not simply in allowing flexible working hours but in every aspect of the job.”
RedArc recommends an open dialogue between the employer and employee but also suggests five steps to help cancer sufferers return to work:
• As well as allowing flexible hours, allow the employee more frequent breaks and a designated rest space.
• Plan ahead for further employee time off – for doctor’s appointments or additional treatment. This is inevitable and employees will feel much more comfortable if this is agreed in advance.
• Consider practical changes such as relocating a desk or work area to be nearer toilet facilities, or arranging the storage of medication.
• Needs, worries and concerns can change dramatically throughout the time that an employee deals with cancer, and employers need to be aware of this. The best approach is usually to speak to the employee regularly and ask what would best help them.
• External one-to-one practical advice and emotional support from a medical professional such as a nurse can be invaluable in helping employees through their illness and getting them back on the road to physical and mental recovery as quickly as possible.
Christine Husbands concluded: “According to Macmillan, 123,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer in the UK every year and employers can’t be expected to understand the intricacies of every single illness and the associated long-term mental and physical health issues. However, by offering access to a comprehensive long-term external support service they can really help their employees when they most need it and bring about a swifter more sustained return to work than otherwise, should that be the employee’s desired outcome.”