Lack of employee cancer support from employers can be hugely detrimental to UK businesses and lead to a talent exodus, finds new insight from Reframe Cancer, the leading provider of specialist cancer support services.

Insights from The Employee Experience report: Living and Working with Cancer shows that 66% of employees did not believe that their employer was quick to respond and offer support when informed about their cancer diagnosis, whilst 67% also said they did not agree that their employer showed concern and interest throughout their cancer journey. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising therefore that more than 7 in 10 (71%) did not believe that their employer was fully prepared to support an employee battling cancer.

Good distraction or stressed out?

Whilst some (33%) employees believe work is a ‘good distraction’ for them during their cancer battle, 67% do not agree this is the case. Working with cancer can be complex, and almost a quarter of employees with cancer (22%) say they feel stressed whilst working with cancer. Employees in supervisory and middle management roles feel the highest levels of stress (25%) compared to just 12% of those holding more junior, entry level positions.

It is also worth employers noting that overall, 70% of employees with cancer say the emotional impact of cancer makes it difficult to keep working, 70% also say the physical symptoms such as fatigue and nausea make it a challenge, whilst 69% say the cognitive symptoms of cancer, such as brain fog, hinder their ability to work.

Lack of support contributes to talent loss

For workers with cancer, the The Equality Act provides some important rights, such as the ability to negotiate reasonable changes to their work or workplace – if they need time off work for treatment and recovery or flexible working hours, for example. The Act also provides employees with legal protection if they feel they’re being treated unfairly because of their illness. Despite this, the insight from Reframe Cancer reveals 73% of employees with cancer said that workplace adjustments were not made upon their return to work. This was most evident for women with 54% saying this was the case. The understanding of the Act amongst employees further presents confusion with 1 in 5 (20%) saying they are not aware and do not understand their rights.

It is clear that lack of employer support also contributes to talent loss, with 11% of employees saying that they plan to leave their employer because of lack of support during their cancer journey. Where colleagues also avoided discussing their cancer with them (16%), 17% want to move jobs because of the lack of support at work. Employers should consider these statistics, given recent insight has indicated that the cost of replacing an employee can cost £4,800 or more, whilst pre departure costs due to decreased productivity can cost a business £2,538** or more. Added to this picture, 69% of employees astonishingly say they did not believe they received advice and support from HR throughout their cancer journey.

Supported employees becoming advocates

Cancer can have a life-changing and profound impact on employees. It’s important to understand that with the right level of workplace wellbeing and support, workers can cope better with their health battles and return to work with more loyalty and resilience, greater compassion, and empathy. The findings indicate that overall, 72% say they are a changed person following their cancer experience, whilst 57% say they are now a changed employee. Six in ten (59%) say they have a better appreciation of life having experienced working with cancer.

Roy McLoughlin, Director at Cavendish Ware commented:

When employees are dealing with a critical illness such as cancer, they want to know more than ever that their employer is fully behind them and offering the best support possible, be it emotional and practical. With the right workplace policies in place, employers can help make an employee’s cancer journey a little less stressful and more comfortable. Hopefully more employers will take this on board and relook at their policies if needed.

Roy McLoughlin, Director at Cavendish Ware

Workplace Wellbeing Professional is an online magazine featuring news and analysis on a broad range of employee wellbeing topics, focused on a UK based audience.