Every day we are presented with cancer statistics in the media and the simple fact is that cancer does play a part in the workplace. Research shows then many people will continue to work after or even through their cancer treatment and for many remaining in or returning to work can help to promote recovery and lead to better health outcomes.
What are our responsibilities as an employer and what should staff expect from us?
As an organisation we have a duty of care towards our staff and as such we should support them as much as possible. Line Managers should maintain regular contact with an employee, when on sick leave and both the timing and nature of the contact should be appropriate to the situation and health of the employee. Whilst a member of staff is absent from work it is good practice to remind them that they will continue to have access to the University’s support services i.e. Occupational Health and the Counselling Service. It is also important to remember that although the member of staff may not be fit to work, they may still wish to attend informal gatherings to maintain contact with their work colleagues i.e. Summer/Christmas parties.
As a Line Manager how can I best support a member of staff affected by cancer?
Talking about cancer is a sensitive matter and many may find it hard to openly speak about the subject with their Line Managers. With this in mind Line Managers play an essential part in supporting staff both whilst they wish to remain in work and when they are ready to return. Initial discussions can often feel daunting for both parties but it is important to remember that in order to support someone properly, it is important to communicate openly. In order to encourage an open and private conversation you may wish to;
- Let the member of staff take the lead in the conversation
- Ask them how they are feeling (this may seem like an obvious question and yet many people who have had discussions with their managers report that this is the one thing the manager has avoided asking).
- Let them decide how much or how little they wish to share with their work colleagues
- Let them take the lead in exploring what support mechanisms they would benefit from
Consideration should be made as to whether the member of staff would benefit from reasonable work adjustments. These can be explored via an Occupational Health referral and areas of adjustment may be;
- Reduction in working hours/days
- Reduction/amendment of working tasks
- Flexibility in start/end times providing the contractual hours are completed each week
- Reasonable time off to attend medical appointments
Managers should also be aware that cancer does not just affect those battling the disease. Whilst 300,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year and learning to live with a long-term illness it important to remember that so are their families, friends and colleagues. Macmillan estimates that in the UK there are 500,000 people working full-time or part-time whilst caring for someone with cancer. With this in mind carers should be treated with the same sensitivity as those directly affected by cancer and reasonable adjustments should be explored in order to allow them to balance their caring responsibilities and their work.
Note. Whilst we encourage managers to explore the different forms of adjustments it is important to remember that the operational needs of the department should be taken into consideration before any arrangements are confirmed. For further information with regards to work adjustments please refer to the University’s flexible working policy or contact the Clinical School’s HR Team.
If you wish to gain further guidance as to how you can support staff during what is an extremely difficult time in their lives, then we encourage you to complete Macmillan’s free E-Learning course. The course explores some of the issues you may face is a member of staff is diagnosed or affected by cancer, gain an overview of the relevant best practices in law, identify appropriate ways to respond to a member of staff who is impacted by cancer and how to obtain further sources of information and/or support.