Tips to support employees with cancer from Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing

According to Macmillan[i] 1 in 3 (or 750,000) of the two million people currently living with cancer in the UK are of working age. This figure is set to rise to 1.7 million by 2030.

Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing is urging businesses to address the oncoming cancer pandemic and use World Cancer Day (4th February) as a talking point to raise awareness of the forgotten ‘C[ii]’ in the workplace.

The Institute for Public Policy Research estimates delays in cancer treatment could take until 2033 to clear, and an estimated 19,500 people with cancer in England have not been diagnosed due to missed referrals due to Covid-19[iii]. Research in the British Medical Journal suggests every month delayed in cancer treatment can raise the risk of death by around 10%[iv].

Matthew Gregson, Executive Director, UK Corporate at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing says, “The pandemic has had a major impact on people suffering from cancer. Missed presentation and diagnosis of symptoms and delays in cancer treatment have had serious consequences for employees and knock-on impact for businesses. As well as the physical effects of cancer and treatments, it can have wide-reaching effects on employees’ mental health; from people living with the illness itself to those who are supporting colleagues and loved ones or dealing with cancer-related bereavements.

‘’Employers have a vital role in addressing this global issue and this starts building understanding and awareness of the risks and the support available. As many cancers are linked to lifestyle choices, businesses can help employees by promoting good wellbeing that giving them the tools to take a proactive approach. World Cancer Day is the ideal time for employers to talk about cancer and remind employees of available support.

“Initiatives could include presentations about cancer awareness, so employees can learn about the signs and symptoms of cancer, what to look out for, what the risk factors are and what can they do to mitigate those risks could have a big impact and encourage people to seek early diagnosis.

“Prevention is better than cure and introducing health and wellbeing programmes designed to promote healthier habits and lifestyles and raising awareness of diseases such as cancer, is just as important as having the right polices, benefits and support in place for when someone is diagnosed.”

Here are Matthew’s tips for employers on creating a supportive workplace for those affected by cancer:

Line manager training

Train line managers to better understand the likely effects of cancer, its treatments and how to handle difficult and sensitive conversations. They need to be able to signpost employees to their employee benefits, support services and information on their working options.

Macmillan at Work provides information, training, and resources for employers & managers to help them support staff affected by cancer.

Support for colleagues
Finding out that a colleague has cancer can be a big shock and while your focus will be on supporting the employee diagnosed with cancer, don’t underestimate the impact on their colleagues. Consider offering support services, such as counselling, to those emotionally impacted by their colleague’s illness.

Be flexible in your approach

Under UK employment legislation, cancer is defined as a disability. Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace for employees diagnosed with cancer. This could include allowing time off to go to hospital appointments, working flexible hours, changes to the role, remote working or organising a phased return to work.

Keeping in touch and returning to work

An employee with cancer may have time off work to undergo certain types of treatment or to recover from surgery. Keep in touch during this time to support them, keep up to date with their progress and, when they are ready, agree a return date.

Remind your employees of their employee benefits

The employee benefits available to your employees could offer a range of support that will make a real difference to the employee diagnosed with cancer. This could include access to a private GP which could ensure a quick diagnosis of the cancer, giving them the best opportunity for early treatments, which may also enable them to remain in work.

Introduce Private Medical Insurance (PMI)

This can help employees’ access treatment more quickly and plan their treatment around busy schedules. PMI also gives people greater choice over which hospital and consultant they prefer, and in some cases access to drugs that are not widely available on the NHS.

Offer health screenings

Health screenings have come on a long way in recent years, with screenings that target specific cancers available, which are more affordable and convenient than ever. For employees in high risk groups, who are unlikely to have addressed the potential risk of cancer in the last 2 years, consider including screenings as part of your benefits strategy.

Include digital wellbeing tools within your strategy

Wellbeing platforms and apps are a simple and cost-effective way to help employees measure and monitor their lifestyle behaviours, such as exercise, diet and sleep. They can help to educate employees about their own risk factors, the impact upon their long term health and what they can do about them. Driving people to make proactive lifestyle choices. This can also create a platform for wider wellbeing initiatives, to promote physical activity in the workplace, taking time for mental wellbeing and much more.

Review your existing benefits

Do your existing benefits offer employees adequate support to enable them to remain in the workplace throughout their treatment or return to work after a period? Or do the benefits need to be reviewed? Employers should consider conducting a full review of their health and benefits strategy to ensure its fit for purpose post Covid-19.


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Lisa Baker is the Editor of International Business News. As the Owner of Need to See IT Publishing, Lisa is an experienced business and technology journalist and publisher.