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Ciarán Devane
Posted By Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive at Macmillan Cancer Research
Ciarán  Devane

Managing Cancer in the Workplace

Authors: Ciarán Devane Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive at Macmillan Cancer Support

06 December 2011


Over 700,000 people of working age in the UK are living with a cancer diagnosis and this is set to rise in the next twenty years as the number of people living with cancer doubles from two to four million. The good news is that more people are living longer with cancer thanks to improvements in the detection and treatment of the disease and therefore more people are returning to work after a cancer diagnosis. So, what issues do people with cancer face when working through or after treatment and what can employers do to help them back to work?

Not everyone who is employed when they are diagnosed with cancer will want, or be able, to return to work after treatment. But we know that many people attach a very strong importance to work and do want to get back to it as soon as they can. Working through, or returning to work after treatment however is not necessarily straightforward. Cancer can affect people psychologically and emotionally as well as physically. 

Recent research found that more than four in ten people who are working when diagnosed have to make changes to their working lives after cancer, with almost half of those changing jobs or leaving work altogether. Some survivors initially return to work, but later leave or change jobs due to ongoing or subsequent problems. Many people who leave could have stayed in work with a little support and encouragement from their employer. Discussing flexible working arrangements, maintaining good communication, being sensitive to individual’s needs and planning a phased return to work are just some of the strategies employers could put in place to help people back to work.

Employers should also consider the needs of carers. Carers are often an overlooked group who have to combine working and earning an income with their new - and often unplanned - role as a carer. There are more than three million working carers in the UK who have the difficult task of combining the pressure of working while dealing with the physical and emotional pressures of caring for someone who is ill.  People diagnosed with cancer, and carers, are protected against discrimination and harassment at work under the Equality Act 2010. Cancer is classed as a disability for the purposes of legislation and as a result, employers have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments as they would with any other disability. Reasonable adjustments may include making changes to an employee’s workload, hours or environment. Despite this, almost half of people living with cancer who were in work when diagnosed (47%) say their employer did not discuss sick pay entitlement, flexible working arrangements, or workplace adjustments when they informed them of their diagnosis. 

Employers may not always feel confident supporting an employee with cancer, and may find it tricky to balance meeting their needs and meeting the needs of their organisation. Macmillan Cancer Support has produced the Essential work and cancer toolkit especially for HR and OH professionals and managers to provide them with all the information and practical advice they need to support people affected by cancer at work.  The main resource within the guide – Managing cancer in the workplace, an employer’s guide was produced in association with the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development.

With the number of people with cancer set to double from two to four million in the next 20 years, it’s vital employers are equipped to deal with people who are working through, or after, cancer. We hope by using the toolkit, HR departments and managers will feel more capable and confident in supporting their employees affected by cancer.

This blog follows our event 'Cancer in the Workplace'. Click here for more details about this event.

Comments in Chronological Order (Total 1 Comments)


08 Jan 2012 6:14PM

bonsoir,ben que dire car mon histoire et tres longue, au bout de 21 ans de boite, il mon viré pour inaptitude a mon poste suite a deux cancers. alors qu'a ce jour jour je suis chef d'entreprise, je suis retourné à l'ecole et j'ai ouvert mon propre centre de bien-être.bien sur son l'aide de personne car suite à mon cancer personne ni l'état, ni les banques mon suivi car je suis pas une personne fiaible, aucune assurance veut me prendre en compte car au aussi dissent que je suis une personne a risque, alors que je suis une perssonne qui veut vivre dans la societe et meme prete à paye des impot!!!!!! quoi je veux me sentir vivante tous simplement et en plus de notre combat pour notre cancer , il faut toujours se justifier au pres des autres, alors que tous les grand de la tele cris haut et fort qu'il nous considère comme tout le monde foutaise...voila mon crie de colère; mais aujourd'hui je suis la preuve vivante qu'il ne faut jamais pretre confiance en soit et je suis fiere de moi et que de moi pourtant j'en est versé des larmes.