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How HR can help inform guidance to support employees who have cancer

Discussing her cancer diagnosis, the princess emphasised how much she was looking forward to returning to work

When sharing her cancer diagnosis, the Princess of Wales highlighted the value of work for her wellbeing. Employers need to better prepare for and manage employees working with cancer.

Cancer has taken over the headlines again, highlighting the impact that receiving a cancer diagnosis can have on an individual, their family and those around them.

In the statement given by the princess, where she shared her own cancer diagnosis, she also discussed the value of work for wellbeing, describing how her work has provided her with a deep sense of joy, and that she looked forward to returning to work when she was able.

Read more: Working with Cancer: a guidebook for HR

The profound effect of a cancer diagnosis on working-age people may not always be appreciated by employers or coworkers. Although compassion, empathy and flexibility from employers is important, so too is the embedding of positive principles and practices that will provide employees with a cancer diagnosis the best chance to thrive at work, once they decide to return.

Previous research undertaken by the Institute for Employment Studies and Working With Cancer, led by Stephen Bevan and Barbara Wilson – who both have lived experience of cancer – found that although there has been an encouraging increase in the survival from cancer in recent years, the proportion of people living with cancer who return successfully to work remains disappointingly low. The research also found that HR and occupational health professionals are not doing enough to raise awareness of the obligation to offer reasonable adjustments, a phased return to work and wider employment rights.

Read more: How HR can support employees diagnosed with cancer

The number of people under 50 worldwide who are being diagnosed with cancer has risen by nearly 80% in 30 years but research has shown that 50% of employees are afraid to tell their employers. Consequently, employers need to be more aware of how to effectively prepare for and manage employees working with cancer, so that they can be supported to return to and thrive at work – if they are not doing so already.

Read more: How should you support employees with a terminal illness?

This is why the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) is once again partnering with Working With Cancer to conduct a survey, with the aim of informing employers about how to best support employees who are working with cancer, and how to help them transition back into the workplace after active treatment.

The Bevan Employer and Cancer Survey, in honour of IES’ Stephen Bevan, who is now receiving palliative care for his cancer, invites those with senior HR responsibilities – or managerial staff in smaller organisations regardless of size, who may perform HR tasks – from all across the UK, to share their insights and current policies and practices with regards to supporting employees with cancer at work. We also ask that they share about what further support they may require for the future.

By taking part in this anonymous survey you’ll help us understand the current service provision and enable employers to develop services which can make a significant difference to the wellbeing of their employees affected by cancer.

You can access the survey here.

Zofia Bajorek is senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies