Cancer in the Workplace - Advice for Managers

The associated harsh realities of the big C aren’t something we often like to spend our time thinking about, however, by 2020 nearly half of the population will get cancer during their lifetime. Whether that affects you, a family member, friend or colleague, it is important to be aware of the potential devastation it can leave behind.

Also, by 2020 the number of cancer survivors is predicated to rise to 38%, which compared to 21% in 1992 has seen great progress.

People often struggle to know how to react when someone close to them has been diagnosed with cancer, yet feel they want to do something to support family, friends and work colleagues, both practically and emotionally. It is unusual to be in a workplace where someone hasn’t been affected by cancer either through themselves or have a close family or friends going through their own experience of cancer.

Whether it’s a member of your team, a peer or a manager going through any illness, CiC have a number of methods to help and support you in your professional capacity. And as always, our professional advice line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


The First Signs

As a manager you need to be aware of normal reactions and what to expect when people are first diagnosed. These can include numbness, denial, anger, depression and anxiety. It is important to provide a safe space to allow the news to sink in, whilst providing support and comfort too.

There are also a number of considerations to think about, whether they live alone and need more support, or whether they have children and how they are going to source childcare, to name just a couple. If appropriate you should ask them what they need and facilitate their thinking through the situation as best as you can.


Coping With Work During Treatment  

As expected, people often struggle with their concentration and energy levels, isolating themselves and disinvesting themselves from work, as this is the least of their worries when life is put into perspective. It is important to come to an agreement over a manageable amount of work, and what aspects of their work they can hand over and delegate to colleagues.

Along with their workload, the number or hospital and doctors’ appointments can be fairy frequent, with little choice over when they can be made. Ad hoc cover and flexible working patterns should be thought about as these appointments can be tiring, and hard to estimate how long they might take.

As mentioned, cancer diagnosis can cause depression too, which also affects energy and motivation levels whilst at work. Read our latest blog to gain advice when addressing depression and other mental health issues in the workplace.

Be aware that treatment can start soon fairly soon after a cancer diagnosis, which can range from injections and tablets, to chemotherapy and radiotherapy programmes, and when necessary, surgery. These treatments can cause nausea, fatigue, aches, pains, mood swings and disrupted sleeping patterns. This will affect your employees’ readiness to work, and therefore quality of work could see huge dips. Be flexible as possible, often severe cases will cause the employee to be signed off work, but the best way to find out whether your employees have any further needs, whether that be organising appointments with them, cooking meals for them or even just a call to have catch up, is to ask them, open a conversation so they know they can come to you no matter the query.


Work Isn’t All Bad

However awful, be aware that working can in fact give a sense of purpose, time structuring, contact with others, independence and stimulation. Obviously, it isn’t for everyone, but many employees look forward to returning to work and to get back into a familiar routine, especially if they have strong relationships with their co-workers.

As a manager, we recommend opening up a conversation about how your employee would like to return to work, the number of hours they are able to manage and any fears or concerns they may have. A common way to manage the return to work is to start with reduced hours, then build up to their usual rota. Ensuring one-to-one meetings with their mangers to evaluate how they are coping and if there is anything more their workplace can do to support them.


What About The Carer?

It is so easy to focus all of the support of the person going through the illness, and forget about our own space and mental health. When you are supporting employees and colleagues, it can sometimes have strong effects on you too. Think about the support that you will need too, whether it is just a short de-brief from a difficult meeting or longer counselling sessions.

Ensure that you brief your team, so they know how to react too, monitor the impact that it will have on them, especially those closest to the individual affected. Encourage informal conversations and check-ins about their workload and how they have been impacted.

Relying on friends and family, as well as recharging your batteries, and allowing time for down time is just as important for your own mental and physical health too.  CiC’s support offers advice on where to turn and what to do in a range of situations.


Worst Case Scenario

It is common to try and put the thought out of our minds, but it is only human nature to be fearful around the subject of death and dying, but ultimately it is unavoidable. The person with the illness will experience feelings of loneliness, anger, despair, sadness and frustration and it can prove very helpful to acknowledge rather than deny.

All parties involved should be encouraged to talk about how they feel, instead of trying to protect one another, resulting in increased intimacy and saying final goodbyes.

Whilst emotions are being addressed, the patient is then also provided opportunity of their last wishes, organising their funeral and saying their final goodbyes.


At CiC we understand that cancer is the biggest fear for people in the UK above violence and other illnesses. However, survival rates have doubled and treatments are moving in the right direction, so bear in mind that cancer does not always mean worst case scenario.

What is important however, is gaining the right support, treatment and advice as quickly as possible and act on any fears you may have.

For more information, call us on 020 7937 6224 or complete our short enquiry form.