Following World Cancer Day (4th February), a significant concern in the corporate sector is the lack of comprehensive support for employees battling cancer. Recent studies and expert opinions shed light on this pressing issue.
A January 2024 research conducted by GRiD, the group risk sector industry body, reveals that only thirty per cent of employers offer support for serious illnesses like cancer. This is despite over one in ten employees (12%) expressing concern over such illnesses, a figure that escalates to 19% in the over 55 age group. Katharine Moxham, a spokesperson for GRiD, emphasises the necessity of workplace support for those diagnosed with cancer, stating,
When someone is diagnosed with cancer it can feel like the rug has been pulled from beneath their feet. When the time is right, being in work and all the positives that entails, such as providing stability, satisfaction, stimulation, and a sense of self-worth, are hugely important for the individual.
Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD
Effective workplace support for cancer includes access to oncologists, second medical opinion services, virtual GPs, mental health support (such as talking therapies), and assistance with physical appearance changes. Moxham commented:
It is inevitable that time off work will almost certainly be necessary… but it is certainly not inevitable that these people will call time on their job altogether. Employers need to go out of their way to ensure they are doing everything they can to facilitate this.
RedArc highlights the additional burden of hurtful remarks faced by those recovering from cancer. Examples of such comments include “You are cancer free now so you should be happy,” and “You look so well,” often exacerbating the emotional strain on the individual. Christine Husbands, commercial director of RedArc, underscores the impact of such remarks:
A poorly thought-out comment or unkind remark can be very detrimental to mental health, and that can be a lot for someone to deal with on top of their physical health.
Christine Husbands, commercial director of RedArc
The need for emotional and mental health support is crucial, especially when included within Private Medical Insurance, Group Risk benefits, or Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs). Husbands adds,
We can’t stop people making these comments, so it’s therefore important to provide the correct support for those who are on the receiving end.
Meanwhile, Towergate Health & Protection warns of the high prevalence of cancer in first-world countries and the implications for international employers. Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate, points out:
Reported cancer rates are higher in high-income countries and so, typically, are treatment costs. So it is important that employers understand the implications and have health and wellbeing plans in place to support people.
Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate
The organisation stresses the importance of early detection and screening, global cost differences in treatments, and the role of employers in educating their workforce about cancer prevention and lifestyle choices.
In conclusion, these insights call for a comprehensive approach to supporting employees with cancer, highlighting the need for employers to consider not only the physical aspects of the disease but also the mental and emotional challenges. The corporate world is urged to reassess and enhance its support systems for employees facing this challenging journey.
Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.