Dealing with Cancer in the Workplace by guest author Ryan McChrystal

This article, Dealing with Cancer in the Workplace by Ryan McChrystal first appeared on Tuesday, 10 March 2015 in http://elitebusinessmagazine.co.uk/people/item/dealing-with-cancer-in-the-workplace

Serious illness – particularly cancer – can have a devastating impact on your employees and your business, therefore it is essential to have a plan in place that ensures the best way forward for all concerned

Dealing with cancer in the workplace

Cancer isn’t an easy thing to discuss. There is no shame in admitting that. However, with around 750,000 people of working age with some form of it in the UK – representing over a third of the 2 million people living with the condition – it is wise to think about your approach now before you, as an employer, have to deal with it. With people living longer and retiring later, the numbers of people in the workplace diagnosed are only going to increase. Cancer is just one – and certainly the most emotive – example of the serious illnesses that could impact on your employees, their attendance and productivity.

“The pressures put on an employee with cancer have a direct effect on their ability to manage or even recover,” says Elliott Hurst, director of health consulting at AXA PPP Healthcare, one of the biggest UK health insurance providers. The physical and emotional strain of a serious illness can be severe and, when you combine that with the potentially damaging financial impact, the result can be devastating. But that’s not to say a diagnosis automatically leads on to periods of absence.

“From an employer’s perspective, it is better to have your experienced and valued employees contributing to the workplace in some way, shape or form than not and with proper planning this can be achieved,” says Hurst. Therefore, an effective workplace policy should be in place to ensure you are best equipped to deal with cancer and other serious illnesses. As with all good policies, it is best to begin by amassing all the relevant information that’s available, including a full understanding of the law. As an employer, you are legally obliged to make workplace adjustments where appropriate, just as you would with any other disability. Access to Work is a specialist disability service delivered by Jobcentre Plus, which gives practical advice and support that may be able to help with the cost of making workplace adjustments.

“It is good to have a better understanding of the illness your employee is suffering from. Cancer, for example, is not a single disease with a single cause and a single type of treatment,” says Hurst. “Each cancer experience is different, but having a little knowledge can help you as an employer to better understand what the person is going through and how best to support them.”

A government white paper in 2011 suggested that employers need to do more about the health of their employees. Dr Gordon Wishart, a cancer surgeon and medical officer at HealthScreen UK has seen a major rise of employers offering cancer screening as part of their benefits packages. “Companies are engaging with us to explore early cancer detection for their employees, which in many ways is adding to the already existing employee benefits that are available through employers and in some cases that’s been completely sponsored by the company,” he says.

With most cancers, if you pick it up early it requires less treatment, which is a better outcome for employees and for the employers. “It means less time off work, and getting that employee back to their desk as soon as possible and back to being an efficient, productive member of the team,” says Dr Wishart. A screening by HealthScreen UK only costs around £100 and if it is paid for through a salary sacrifice, it becomes more tax efficient and an employee will only pay around £50-60, or about £5 per month.

Often a small business won’t think about the issue of cancer until it is raised by an employee, which can take managers and HR by surprise. Therefore they are often nervous and uncertain about what to say. Good quality conversations between employee and employer are essential to understand their requirements and plan for the best possible support.

“It is important for employers and managers have some kind of training or insight that allows them to understand how much a serious illness like cancer can really turn somebody’s life upside down,” says Dr Jill Miller, a research advisor at CIPD. “Have an awareness of the emotional and financial strain it puts on people and that how you respond and support employees has a huge impact on both their morale and on the rest of the workforce as they will see the organisation is a good place to work.”

There are a few things to bear in mind when having these conversations. “It is best for the manager, the employee and HR to get the expectations out at the beginning,” says Dr Miller. “It is important to talk about who the employee wants to know among the business and how they want other people to react. Do they want people to talk about it, or do they want them to act normal and talk to them as they always have done?”

Needs will differ from employee to employee and from cancer to cancer. Different cancers will have different paths and treatments will have different demands on people, so constant conversations with employees to get updates on their progress is essential to know what’s going on. “It’s important to think about what support and flexibility you can offer to help people stay in work,” advises Dr Miller.

Employers also need to understand that recovery is a process and that it takes time. Legally, they have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to support a return to work, which will depend on the circumstances, including practicality, cost and the extent to which an adjustment will be effective in alleviating any disability. Adjustments might include offering lighter duties or allowing extra breaks.

These days, many people are cured of cancer or are able to live with it for many years. Some people may have short or long-term side effects from the illness or its treatment. Therefore, they may continue to need support after their treatment ends. “Many people tell us that that work can help to restore a sense of ‘normality’ after a cancer diagnosis. Try to find out a little about the type of cancer your employee or the person they are caring for has and what the effects of treatment are likely to be,” recommends Hurst.

Work contributes to financial independence, provides a sense of purpose, creates structure in our lives and is a lifeline back to normality, wellbeing and recovery for those suffering. For Dr Miller, it is essential to make the transition back to work as easy as possible. “It is also important to think about employees caring for those with serious illnesses and how to respond to employees who are supporting a family member or close friend who has had a cancer diagnosis.”

There is comprehensive legislation in place to support a successful return to work. Together, the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 provide protection from discrimination. Everyone with cancer is classed as disabled from the point of diagnosis for the rest of their life, and their employer or a prospective employer must not treat them less favourably for any reason relating to their cancer. All areas of employment are covered including recruitment, promotion, training, pay and benefits.

Coming back to work can be very difficult for a patient. A recent study by Macmillan, the cancer charity, showed that 57% of survivors who were in work when diagnosed had to give up their job or change roles due to their illness. This means the total loss in productivity of survivors unable to return to paid work in England was estimated, in 2008, to be as high as £5.3bn. You must be prepared for such a possibility because small businesses often rely on teams that, while few in number, are high in skills and experience, so the impact can be particularly devastating.

If an employee comes back to work, which is often the case, there are a number of steps that can be taking to make things easier. This includes implementing a standard, phased return to work plan. You should also provide regular catch-ups to check all is working well.

More than anything, a clear policy is key to coping with cancer in the workplace. But it’s important to remember that with the devastating effects of serious illness on employees, there are no quick fixes.

Ryan McChrystal

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How Cancer Will Affect Your Business by guest author Professor Gordon Wishart

gordon wishartProfessor Gordon C Wishart MB ChB MA MD FRCS FRCS FRCS is a graduate of The University of Edinburgh, Scotland and consultant breast & endocrine surgeon at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, England.

It is calculated that, currently, one in three people in the UK will get cancer of one type in their lifetime. Cancer charity Macmillan estimate this will rise to one in two by the year 2020.

New methods used by Cancer Research UK to calculate these figures, however, suggest that the 50 percent level of cancer incidence may already be upon us. A recent survey conducted by Cancer Research UK also revealed that cancer is now the UKs number one fear, ahead of being in debt, old age, being the victim of knife crime, car accidents, having a heart attack or losing a job or home.

This, of course, is not good news for anyone – but some employers may still be wondering what this has to do with them. The fact is, whether employers choose to take action or not, cancer is going to have a serious impact on them, their workforce, and their business. The NHS has identified that around 13,000 men and women die every year from work-related cancer – but the impact is not limited to areas of work that specifically put workers at higher risk. Of the 325,000 people diagnosed with cancer each year, over 100,000 are of working age, and estimates suggest that over 750,000 people of working age are now living with a diagnosis.

Alongside this, we need to consider the friends, spouses and families of employees. One does not have to be personally diagnosed with cancer to be hit by its effects; having to care for a loved one under these trying circumstances – not to mention the psychological impact of a cancer diagnosis – can also mean increased downtime among employees who are otherwise healthy.

Little wonder then that the Department of Health is asking employers for help to fight the massive cancer burden. On the positive side, there is a lot that employers can achieve, if they choose to act. The key is cancer screening and awareness in the workplace.

About Check4Cancercancer microscope

Check4Cancer Ltd. (previously known as International HealthScreen Technologies Ltd) started its existence in Cambridge in 2006 when the two founders Prof Gordon Wishart and Troels Jordansen met. The first BreastHealth UK clinic started at Spire Cambridge Lea in April 2008.

Today Check4Cancer offers 6 innovative different services for early detection of cancer. The services are:

BowelCheck BreastCheck GynaeCheck
LungCheck ProstateCheck SkinCheck

Above 6 services cover 90% of all new cancer incidence in the UK every year.

The services are supervised by a Board of Clinical Advisors; please click here for more details. All advisors are nationally renown  experts within each cancer area.

Throughout a network of over 80 clinics across the United Kingdom private individuals and companies can access these services. 2 of the life saving services (BowelCheck and GynaeCheck) requires no clinic but are based on home sampling.

Besides services for early detection of cancer Check4Cancer also operates the largest independent network of genetic counsellors and test. GeneHealth UK offers several cancer genetic tests ranging from gold standard BRCA 1&2 tests to innovative cancer panels. Pre-conception testing is being introduced during 2015.

Breast_Cancer_1With around 1 out of 2 Britons getting cancer over their lifetime cancer is a very serious issue for individuals and companies. On this background Check4Cancer is proud to be working with some of the leading companies to offer affordable services for early detection of cancer and cancer awareness services. Please click here for a list of such companies.

Check4Cancer is working according to ISO9000 and ISO270000, regulated by CQC, complies with the requirements of the Cyber Essential Scheme, registered with ICO is very proud to have 93% of our clients rating us ‘Very Good’ to ‘Excellent’.

Gordon Wishart

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