Creating an inclusive workplace for employees with cancer
By Alison Dalziel, Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant at Remploy
Every day in the UK, over 900 people are diagnosed with cancer. For people born after 1960, the chance of developing cancer during their lifetime is now one in two.
Cancer survival rates are improving – it is now expected that around 80 per cent of people diagnosed with breast, prostate and skin cancer will live for at least five years post diagnosis and treatment, and for up to 10 years for some cancers. Currently, there are around one million people of working age (those aged under 65) living with cancer, and according to Macmillan, continuing to work is important in over 85 per cent of those diagnosed and over 58 per cent in those who complete treatment.
Looking at the above statistics, it is no surprise that employers are seeing an increase in prevalence of cancer in their workforce. Those diagnosed with cancer are protected at work automatically under current equality legislation.
It is important to recognise that all cancers are different and treatment and recovery is unique to the individual. Some people are able to carry on working during treatment, taking time off to attend appointments and/or treatment. However, others may require a significant length of absence from work for surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy and recovery.
In every case, a supportive employer who recognises both the physical and mental aspect of cancer diagnosis and treatment really does help ease the transition back to work. Having an Employee Assistance Programme offering counselling and support can help with some of the anxieties and worries that naturally go with living with such a difficult diagnosis. Financial worries are understandably common. It is, however, a positive sign of recovery when employees start to think about returning to work after cancer and one which is rewarding to both employers and employees.
A general ‘rule of thumb’ used by health professionals or in vocational rehabilitation regarding a phased return to work, is allowing a week of a phased return for each month of absence, usually up to around four to six weeks. With cancer, return to work plans may need to be more flexible - stamina can be greatly reduced and fatigue is one of the most common side effects of cancer treatment. Remploy has often recommended a return to work plan that is longer than normally expected where it is operationally viable. This can often set an employee up for success rather than force them down a predetermined timescale that is unrealistic.
Some practical adjustments that can help employees return to work after cancer are:
- A flexible return to work plan, allowing time for rest breaks to eat, drink, refocus or refresh. The return to work plan should be reviewed on a weekly basis between the employee and the line manager
- Setting calendar reminders, creating ‘to-do’ or task lists, doing work in small ‘chunks’ and allowing extra time for tasks. Cognitive difficulties can be common after cancer and people may need more time to read or absorb information
- Having a buddy or mentor as a means of support in the workplace can prove valuable to the employee returning
- Looking at whether parts of the role can be removed or re-allocated on a temporary basis
- Having the correct work environment – an ergonomic chair can help with comfort after surgery for example, or placing an employee near to the toilet facilities can reduce worry
- Allowing time off for medical appointments or check-ups
- Applying to Access to Work for help with travel to or from work by taxi if needed.
Remploy’s Workplace Adjustments Team has worked with many employers offering advice on reasonable adjustments, guidance and support for employees working with or returning to work after cancer. With survival rates improving, the icing on the cake is to have an employee return to work and retain their valuable skills. It makes business sense to ensure that the employee and employer have the tools and support to facilitate a successful return to work.
I have over 18 years’ experience in workplace adjustments, advising public and private sector organisations on best practice and leading teams to deliver exemplar services to clients.
In my current role, we’re responsible for the delivery of holistic workplace adjustments programmes to a client base that includes the BBC, BT and GCHQ amongst others to protect and develop their greatest assets, whilst enabling thousands of talented individuals to reach their full potential.
You may also be interested in reading our other blogs on workplace adjustments, including one on how best to create a return to work plan for people who have suffered a stroke and how work based adjustments can make all the difference.
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