Cancer survivors need tailored workplace support

This national Cancer Survivor’s Day on 5 June 2022, RedArc wants employers to recognise the significant role they can play in helping their employees during and after cancer treatment. As remaining in, returning to, or keeping in touch with the workplace is often an important part of an employee’s recovery. Employers must ensure they provide flexible, tailored support to meet the needs of individuals and not try to support everyone with a catch-all solution, warns RedArc.

There are over 200 different types of cancer and five primary forms of treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone treatment and biological therapy) which are often offered individually or in combination. The impact on the individual will depend on the part of the body affected and their reaction to the treatment, which in turn will determine the employees’ ability to work as well as the type of work they can undertake.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc said: “The first step in supporting staff who are receiving treatment for, or recovering from, cancer is a recognition that no two cancer experiences are identical. Even when two people present with the same type of cancer with the same treatment, they  can have very different experiences.

“One member of staff may react entirely differently to the treatment, their lifestyle and personal circumstances will also have an impact, as will their individual character. Some staff may need a lot of time off, others less so. Some may want to keep things more private; others will want to be open. Employers need to be prepared for all these eventualities and adapt their approach accordingly.”

It is hugely important to offer flexibility to employees not just in terms of their hours and days at work, their location of work, and the type of work but other factors may be important such as easy access to toilet facilities and a suitable rest area. This flexibility also needs to extend to the support that is offered to ensure it can be tailored to meet the needs of the individual.

Employees can benefit from access to a trusted medical professional who can:

  • explain jargon, specific terms, treatment, and act as a guide about what to expect
  • give advice about how to share their cancer experience with family, friends and colleagues
  • allow them to confidentially share concerns and receive emotional support
  • give mental health and wellbeing support
  • provide practical guidance on how to adapt. For instance, sourcing a specialist hairdresser or wigs if the employee suffers hair loss due to chemotherapy; camouflage make-up; modifications to the home, etc.
  • give advice about how to discuss returning to work with their employer

RedArc stresses that it’s also important to bear in mind that even when a member of staff is well enough to return to work, some cancer treatments can cause long-term, life-changing side effects, for which the individual may need continued medication, support and adjustments. Some employees may feel that they have been given a second chance, but others can feel that cancer still casts its shadow, which is why offering emotional and mental support needs to be a prerequisite in all workplace cancer care.

Christine Husbands continued: “It’s important for employers to acknowledge that supporting staff through cancer is complex. Utilising the specialist support that is often embedded into employee benefits is not only advantageous for employees but it can also take the weight off employers’ shoulders too: knowing that their employees are being supported in the best possible way.”